Although I grew up around it, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the family business. As a little kid, it was the very last place on earth that I wanted to be. While all of my friends were doing fun and festive things, I dreadfully spent every summer and every holiday season helping my dad at his one-man workshop.
From inadvertently annoying the customers to purposely annoying my dad, I did it all. Ultrasonic cleaning was my preferred specialty coupled with haphazard ring polishing and ill-advised finger size consulting. In between all of that, I would take a nap or hang out at Ken’s Barber Shop right next door. My greatest feat, however, may have been managing to time the ebb and flow of all the stoplights across the street so that I could quickly treat myself to a well-earned kid’s meal without my dad ever noticing.
At best, I was a curious albeit mischievous jewelry apprentice. At worst, and in retrospect, I was likely a nuisance to my dad and the benefit of me being at the shop did not outweigh the detriment nor my fast food kid’s meal tab. Nonetheless, and to my astonishment, my dad kept encouraging me to “help” him at the shop. I guess he was teetering on the brink of hope and optimism that I would somehow miraculously take over what he started nearly 50 years ago.
It was some time during my high school and college career that I begin working more and more at the shop. I still wasn’t convinced though, so I decided to follow my instincts and explore the world of politics and law— two of my interests to this day. I studied Political Science at the University of Virginia, graduated with distinction in 2012 and truly enjoyed every moment of my college career. After college, I worked at the shop while studying for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). A Law degree was on the horizon for me! After all, isn’t that the quintessential degree for most publicly elected officials? I thought that I had finally found my calling.
By studying for the LSAT at the store and by virtue of sheer osmosis, my interest level and knowledge of the day-to-day operation of the business were on the rise. Also on the rise were my responsibilities and level of commitment both to the business and my law school endeavors. For a very decisive person, I was torn. Do I pursue my interest in politics and law? Or do I pursue my newfound passion for business?
By now, I’m sure you’ve guessed which path I chose.
The Jeweler’s Path
I was extremely cognizant of the fact that the year was 2012, the economy was still in shambles, and I was entering the feeble world of luxury goods at the most inopportune time. Did I mention that I studied politics? That helped a lot!
Nonetheless, I rolled up my sleeves and began by tackling the daunting task of transforming “the shop” into “the store.” The intersection between gemology, jewelry, and technology was where I aimed to stand. Getting there would be a challenge, but I believed it would open many doors.
An old African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” With that in mind, I began forging relationships with industry leaders, business professionals, and of course, the world-renowned GIA®. In hindsight, I probably annoyed each person I spoke to and emailed to a molecular level. But it was all in pursuit of best practices, so it was worth it!
A Graduate With Gratitude
Before long, I walked out of the GIA in Manhattan with a Graduate Gemologist Degree. Given the difficulty of the coursework and the time it takes to complete the degree, it was one of my proudest moments. Gemology is an intriguing field and has become a true passion of mine. I immersed myself in the world of gemology and jewelry and introduced state-of-the-art technology to the family business— DND Jewelers.
Before I go any further, I’d like to go back to my African proverb about going places. The truth is, I would go nowhere — fast or far — without the relationships that I strive to build with my clients. They are the most integral part of my business, and I am thankful for their loyalty, support, and unwavering trust. Without them, I may have been in a courtroom presenting a dreary case to an irritable judge, instead of selling a 5-carat diamond to a lucky buyer. My clients are what keep me engaged, challenged, and in the perpetual pursuit of providing the best possible product and experience at any given moment. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a smile on their faces.
The same sentiment extends to my family, particularly my dad, who took me under his wing while encouraging me to take risks and pursue my dreams. I have since moved on from his mischievous jewelry apprentice to being the bearer of his legacy that he worked so hard to build. His hope and optimism have miraculously transcended into reality.
I had a vision of a new, ultra-modern jewelry store with few interior walls — a store focused on customer experience. So I opened Chrysella, my second store, which opened in November 2018. We chose a location across the street from the Apple store in Woodbridge, Virginia. One look at Chrysella’s sleek glass exterior and you understand that I found inspiration in Apple’s iconic openness inviting exploration — precisely the experience we want to offer.
When someone enters the store, we say, “Let me show you the shop. Let me show you the 3D printer. Let me show you CounterSketch® or come and see how the jeweler micro-finishes each custom design.” We include customers and share our passion for all aspects of jewelry creation. When a customer is buying a diamond or gemstone, we give them an hour-long class showing them the differences among a wide range of stones and presenting designs they can choose.
Inviting Customer Engagement
These days, I spend a lot of my time speaking to clients, consulting with them on custom designs, gemological services, and more. It’s about building relationships through customer experience. With custom jewelry, you don’t walk in and out, so I sit down with each customer, and explain to them, “This might take longer, but we’re going do it the right way.” I need to know who they are to understand their needs.
Over 15 years later, I still time the stoplights and run across the street. Only this time for a much-needed coffee! I guess the French are right: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! “The more things change the more they stay the same!”