On a trip to Thailand, Meera Murugesan steps into Gemopolis to watch how sparkling accessories are made
CHRISTMAS is just around the corner and in a quaint little place called Gemopolis, thousands of “elves” are hard at work.
There is little talk. Their heads are down and their little fingers are deftly busy with tiny tools that help them churn out sparkling jewels which light up the room.
Ever wondered what Santa’s toy workshop in the North Pole looks like?
It might surprise you to know that you don’t have to make a trip through a snow storm with the red-nosed reindeer to find out.
We actually have something much closer. All it takes is a short flight to Bangkok, Thailand, and a road trip to a place called Gemopolis where Pandora Production Co Ltd is located.
The jewellery brand’s production facility in Bangkok looks and feels very much like Santa’s secret workshop. There are 7,800 employees, young, eager-to-learn Thais dressed in uniform (maroon T-shirts and black pants) and each with a dedication to duty that could rival the mythical elves themselves.
They work in various different sections of production, in rooms with long wooden tables and low hanging lamps to create the whimsically beautiful charms, eye-catching bracelets, earrings and rings and elegant necklaces and pendants that Pandora is famous for.
It is by no means easy work. Making a single Pandora charm requires significant time and effort and every stage of production calls for extreme precision.
It can take almost one month to produce a single charm. Each goes through 25-35 different stages of production. They start as a design developed in far away Denmark, where the brand was founded.
This is followed by the creation of a 3D model of the design in cooperation with jewellery craftspeople in Thailand and once approved, a “’jewellery master” is created. Stones and other materials are then selected, the charm is crafted, decorative components added, stones individually set by skilled craftspeople and the charm is polished.
It is a lot of effort for a single charm, yet the Bangkok factory is able to produce about two million charms a week. What’s even more amazing is that the employees are able to pull this off with just seven months to one year of training.
DEDICATION TO DUTY
It may seem like repetitive, monotonous work to the outsider but the Pandora “elves” obviously don’t think so. They can sit patiently for hours at their no-frills workstations, fingers and minds focused on the task at hand, the only nod to their youthful passions being blare of Thai pop music over the intercom.
It’s not the kind of work environment that one usually assumes would draw young people. During working hours, it’s strictly work and no nonsense. There’s no time to go online, surf the net or check Facebook accounts although such facilities are provided at the Pandora edutainment centre for after work relaxation.
During the work shifts however, focus and commitment is crucial as production targets must be met and quality never compromised. It is a credit to Pandora that they are able to pull this off with a youthful team.
John A Murphy, chief operations officer of group manufacturing for Pandora Production Co Ltd, says: “Our employees are knowledge workers. When they come to work, they are constantly using their skills, knowledge, experience and judgement. They make thousands of decisions everyday that impact the quality of our product.”
Pandora began manufacturing in Thailand in 1989. In 2012, it produced 56 million pieces of jewellery and last year, made 73 million pieces. It’s hard to imagine even Santa doing a better job.
Being able to deliver a product that truly delights customers and keeps them coming back for more is what sets Pandora apart from other brands, says Murphy.
“The concept of jewellery as a form of self expression and storytelling and capturing unforgettable moments also really resonates with our customers,” he adds.
Each Pandora charm tells a story as it is often bought to mark a happy or memorable occasion and the fact that the wearer decides which charms to buy and how to combine them on her bracelet, allows for individual creativity and expression. The silver heart is Pandora’s global best-seller.
The brand was founded in 1982 by Danish goldsmith Per Enevoldsen and his wife. From the beginning, the goal was to offer women high quality, hand-finished modern jewellery at affordable prices.
This led them to Thailand where they discovered not only precious metals and gemstones but also highly skilled jewellery craftspeople with expertise in creating hand finished products.
The idea of developing a charm bracelet that women can style in a personal way, became a reality in 2000 with Moments, the original name of Pandora’s signature charm bracelet. It heralded the brand’s international breakthrough and very quickly allowed the company to expand into important new markets such as USA, Canada, Australia and Germany. Today, it’s available in more than 80 countries.