Legacy of Leadership

I wasn’t initially convinced what I wanted to do and was considering other career paths. Enroling in GIA changed everything for me.”

– Ashraf Motiwala, Managing Director, A. S. Motiwala and GIA GG®

Can you tell us about your journey as a fourth-generation jeweller and establishing a successful brand?

My great-grandfather travelled to the Persian Gulf in 1905 and 1915 to pick up Basra pearls, and he was known as the “pearl man” or “Motiwala” when he entered a court or durbar. The surname “Motiwala” caught on and has been used ever since. My grandfather revived the business purely on his father’s name and credit. When he walked into the market 20 years later, he was able to get people to trust him and hand over parcels for him to sell. My father helped my grandfather run the jewellery store in Bandra, Mumbai, when he took over in 1983 and took the brand international. He started exporting gold and some diamond jewellery. He also established the family’s reputation for ethical and simple business practices.

I joined the business about 20 years ago and learned from the grass-root level. It was tough love because I had to learn from the grass-root level. I wasn’t initially convinced that this was what I wanted to do and was considering other career paths. However, attending GIA in 2002 changed everything for me. When I started studying diamonds at GIA, I realised how fascinating they are as a subject. The magic happened there.

When I started understanding the subject better, I realised that diamonds are such a fascinating thing. Why should I be looking out anywhere else? I saw the potential in continuing the family business and building on the generations of hard work and reputation.

Do you believe technology will play a vital role in the future of your business? How have you integrated innovation and technology into your operations, and was this easily accepted by your family?

Yes, technology has played a significant role in our business, especially during the lockdown in 2020. We used to rely heavily on face-to-face interactions with our customers, but with the pandemic, we had to pivot and adapt to new ways of doing business. We started using video conferencing platforms like Zoom to communicate with customers from other countries, and this was a game-changer for us. For example, we were able to make a sale to a Saudi Arabian royal family for a princess’ wedding within 45 minutes with the approval of 20 family members, which would have been a lengthy process in the past.

Ashraf’s great-grandfather’s passport issued in 1915 detailing his travel to Bahrain for the purpose of “business in pearl”. Courtesy: A. S. Motiwala

We also launched our brand ‘Faith by A.S. Motiwala’ online, which we had not thought of doing before. Faith has a digital catalogue that allows customers to browse and shop from anywhere and at any time. This has been especially helpful for customers who live in different time zones and cannot visit our physical store during regular business hours.

Additionally, technology has helped us with inventory management, and we are continually exploring new ways to innovate and integrate technology into our operations.

As for my family’s acceptance of our technology initiatives, they have always been supportive of me, even if they didn’t fully understand what I was doing. They have faith in me and my vision for our business.

How has A.S. Motiwala preserved its cultural and traditional values while adapting to changing market trends?

A.S. Motiwala has held onto its ethical principles, such as honesty and not cheating customers, as passed down by my grandfather.

I recall an incident from the first day I joined the business. My grandfather sat me down and said, “Son, remember that if you tell a consumer that the piece has 1.09 carats of diamonds, and if they ever must open it, it should turn to be

1.10 carats and not 1.08 or anything less. Same for gold, if you say it is 18 karat gold, it better be 18.1 karats and not 17.9 when melted.” I thanked him and was ready to get started, but he advised me to go back home and think about what he had said. Today, when I think about this so many years later, it’s only because he sent me home, or I else I might have forgotten it because of the excitement. To honour his legacy, we’ve added an extra zero to the carat weight to ensure complete honesty, for example 1.090 carats.

Additionally, we’ve partnered with the Taj Group of Hotels, placing Faith stores in 11 Taj locations, as a cultural and luxury fit. The strategic partnership has been successful due to the appeal of A.S. Motiwala’s designs to well-travelled customers and the shared cultural values between the two brands. Our association with the Tata Group through their brand Khazana has further cemented our connection with the luxury market.

Could you share with us some memorable customer experiences that you had during your journey?

I have had many memorable experiences catering to HNIs, including the top 15 richest people in India. But what makes these experiences truly special is the 1-on-1 interaction I have with them as a private jeweller. There’s no secretary or CEO involved, just me and the person buying the jewellery for their loved one. We get to know each other on a personal level, exchanging love and wealth talk, and even having coffee together. It’s a unique process that not many professions can enjoy. Connecting with them and understanding their availability and choices can be challenging. But it’s all worth it when you get to see the joy on their faces when they receive their customised jewellery.

A. S. Motiwala store in Bandra, Mumbai. Courtesy: A. S. Motiwala

Recently, a man came to me with a pair of earrings my grandfather designed in the 1970s for his wife. He wanted to replicate them exactly for his two daughters. I tried to use technology to replicate the earrings, but I realised that the charm of the piece was lost with the person who made it. It was a beautiful example of passing down a legacy from one generation to the next, and it made me both proud and sad that the piece could not be replicated.

What advice would you give to students who are about to graduate or have just completed their courses in this industry?

My advice would be to not only focus on money or recognition but to also be passionate about the industry. Instead of getting caught up in the rat race and feeling insecure about competition, create something special that is an extension of yourself. It’s important to innovate and work hard, but also to keep yourself agile and wear “horse blinds” so you don’t waste time and energy comparing yourself to others. Believe in yourself and create something spectacular with passion, as this will help you weather the ups and downs of the industry.

Excerpts taken from GIA India’s Legacy of Leadership Knowledge Series interview conducted live on Zoom. Attendance by invitation only. Register on collective.GIA.edu as GIA alumni to get notified about upcoming events.

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