Legacy of Leadership

Despite being a first-generation entrepreneur, I decided to pursue a solid education in gemmology from GIA to build a successful career and establish a reputable business.

– Mohideen Sultan, Proprietor, Sultan Gems & Fine Jewellery and GIA GG®

The GIA credential is like a springboard, providing a foundation for success in a rapidly evolving industry.

– Yasir Sultan, Business Development Director & Creative Head, Sultan Gems & Fine Jewellery and GIA GG®

What inspired you to start your own jewellery business and what were the challenges that you faced when you first started out being a first-generation entrepreneur?

Sultan: After completing my graduation in 1979, I started visiting Sri Lanka for holidays. During my visits in the 1970s and 1980s, I gained a lot of insight and knowledge about the industry, like the journey of a gemstone from mining to cutting and trading in Colombo.

What amazed me was the lack of scientific knowledge in the entire chain of the gem business. People were buying and selling gems without any scientific knowledge, relying only on the knowledge passed down from their elders. I saw this as an opportunity to bring a professional approach to the industry.

Despite being a first-generation entrepreneur without any guidance in the field, I decided to pursue a solid education in gemmology from GIA to build a successful career and establish a reputable business. Breaking into this field was a challenging task, but obtaining my GIA Graduate Gemologist Diploma helped me gain the confidence I needed.

To succeed in this field, you need to have a deep understanding of the subject matter and be able to navigate the supply chain with confidence. My professional knowledge helped me overcome this initial challenge and set me on the path towards a successful career.

What inspired you to take over the family business? And again, if you can also talk a little about how you have built upon the legacy that your father spoke of.

Yasir: Initially, I didn’t have any inclination to join the family business, even though we had a great platform. My father started the business many years ago, but he never asked me if I wanted to take it over. I was a science student and graduated in biotechnology because it was a booming field at the time. During my college years, my father brought me along to jewellery shows in Hong Kong and Las Vegas. I didn’t help much, but I enjoyed being around the global leaders in the industry and looking at the beautiful gemstones.

One year, I went with my father to a GIA Alumni gathering, and I was impressed with the way the people there connected and interacted. I decided to pursue gemmology, and the obvious choice was GIA. My science background helped me pick up the subject quickly, and I ended up loving it. I also studied jewellery design and manufacturing at GIA, and I was ready with a complete package of skills.

When I started working in the family business, it was challenging to live up to my father’s name and win over his clients. I spent the first few years observing and learning how things were done. My experience in the IGC Group also helped me implement some changes in our business.

Please share a few moments in your life that are close to your heart.

Sultan: The first two milestones of my life were the most memorable because they were a part of my academic career, which gave me the platform I am on today. The first milestone was when I ranked first in the gem-cutting program at the Gemstone Training School in Jaipur, which was initiated by the GJEPC Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council of India in 1980. The then Commerce Minister of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, awarded me the certificate. The second milestone was when I received my GIA Graduate Gemologist Diploma from the legend of modern-day gemmology, Sir Richard T. Liddicoat, back in 1984 in GIA’s Santa Monica campus. These two moments are the great moments of my life that I have cherished throughout my life.

Mohideen Sultan receiving his Graduate Gemologist certificate from ‘the father of modern gemmology’ Richard T. Liddicoat at the esrtwhile GIA campus in Santa Monica, CA, US, in 1984

Yasir: I had the opportunity to take a photo with a life-size statue of Mr. Liddicoat in Carlsbad, not knowing who he was at the time. It wasn’t until I shared the photograph with dad, who mentioned that he had in fact presented dad with his certificate. Another special moment I want to share is about our family’s gemstone museum, which contains over a thousand specimens collected over my dad’s 30-year career.

It was inspired by the display of gemstones in the foyer at GIA’s Carlsbad campus, and our aim was to educate people about gems. One of our visitors was the former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Mr. Raghuram Rajan, who was impressed with our collection and gave us valuable feedback. We still get visitors from universities and interesting people who inspire us to continue our journey in gemmology.

How do you get to resolve any sort of conflict of opinions that may arise amongst yourselves?

Sultan: My policy is to simply agree to disagree. I also strongly believe that in addition to teaching, you must also learn at some point in time. Changes occur frequently, sometimes every year or even every month. Therefore, I do not believe that the old should give way to the young, but rather that the old should learn to live with the young to stay young.

Yasir: In family-run businesses, there is often interaction between generations, and I find that customers always seek the older generation’s opinion. Even after speaking with me for 30 minutes, they will stop and ask my father’s opinion. It can be nerve-wracking because I hope he conveys the same information I did. However, 90% of the time, we are on the same page. If not, we have a private conversation. This happens quite a few times, and it’s something I’m used to. Every day is a learning experience, and customers want both new and traditional feedback.

What do you think has been a critical factor that made you succeed in a traditional family jewellery market?

Sultan: As a first-generation entrepreneur, breaking into the family-run jewellery business in the 1980s would have been a challenge for me. However, my professional background and expertise, gained from GIA, paved the way for my success in this industry.

Yasir: A formal education is crucial for anyone looking to enter the jewellery business. With customers becoming increasingly knowledgeable and discerning, having a strong gemmological education background allows us to answer their questions and provide them with the confidence they need to make a purchase. The GIA credential is like a springboard, providing a foundation for success in a rapidly evolving industry. While experience is certainly valuable, formal education equips us with the latest developments in the business. As a young entrepreneur, I believe that having a formal education is even more important, as it allows me to stand out and differentiate myself.

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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