The Low brothers tell Hanna Sheikh Mokhtar how they took the online route to sell diamonds
THERE is something about diamonds that entice. Diamonds don’t shine, they sparkle! In a perfectly cut diamond, the sparks will literally fly when light hits it and is reflected in all directions.
I love to look at diamonds, especially those with exceptional quality, as these present the most stunning visuals. I’d look at them in amazement and adoration before putting them down and walking away as I simply can’t afford them.
Here’s where Zcova, a local e-commerce marketplace where customers can buy diamonds and gemstones at a much reduced price, makes a difference.
GIRL’S BEST FRIEND
Diamonds are associated with what every woman or girl needs, or should have. The iconic jazz song Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend, made famous by Marilyn Monroe in 1953, helped cement the idea and spur the US$72 billion (RM291 billion) diamond industry globally.
Helping this idea along are the four iconic words coined by De Beers (the world’s leading diamond company) for its advertisement since 1948 — A Diamond Is Forever! This slogan perfectly captures the sentiment that a diamond, like a relationship, is eternal. With that slogan, diamonds became the symbol of love and commitment, with some couples sealing their love with a diamond engagement ring.
Making the diamond yours forever isn’t as easy as it seems though, as there’s usually a hefty price tag attached to it. In fact, the diamond that you purchase in retail stores may be up to 50 per cent more expensive than its actual worth.
From the time it leaves the mine, the diamond has to pass through many hands, from traders, to wholesalers and retailers before ending up in the ring on your finger. That means that at every level, the price of the diamond increases until it reaches a point where it becomes ridiculously expensive.
This was among the concerns that brothers Low Ziwei and Low Ziyin wanted to address when they set up Zcova. Zcova seeks to both modernise and personalise the way consumers purchase naturally formed diamonds by disrupting the traditional or conventional way of selling them, i.e. through brick and mortar establishments.
By eliminating the cost incurred by traditional brick and mortar establishments such as store rental and a physical inventory of stock, Zcova is able to sell diamonds at a cheaper price. Diamonds in essence are commodities, and their market prices fluctuate based on supply and demand, among other factors. By not adding these on the market price, Zcova can help customers save money.
HOW IT BEGAN
A few years ago, when he bought a proposal ring for his then future wife, Ziwei, an auditor by training, did not have much knowledge about diamonds or gemstones. He ended up paying through his nose for diamonds that were not of top-notch quality. Till this day, he is still sore about his first diamond purchase.
His younger brother Ziyin had always been interested in art and design, and had majored in jewellery design at the University of New South Wales, Australia. After that, he enrolled in a nine-month intensive course in London under the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to gain a comprehensive knowledge of diamonds and coloured stones as well as to get technical expertise and practical skills to evaluate gemstones by the 4Cs (colour, clarity, cut, and carat weight) following the International Diamond Grading System and the Coloured Stone Grading System.
Here, Ziyin learnt all about gemstones — learning about their chemical properties, how and when they are formed, how to grade the stones and certify them using gemological equipment and procedures, and how gemstones go from formation to the retail counter.
After graduating, Ziyin travelled to Beirut, Lebanon to work with a diamond and gemstone company. The job gave him valuable knowledge and experience to start his own jewellery business.
TWIST OF THEIR OWN
Ziyin and Ziwei researched the current diamond and gemstone scenario and found that there were start-ups and companies in the United States that were already selling diamonds through e-commerce platforms. They decided that this was what they wanted to do, albeit with a little twist of their own.
Rather than relying solely on personal selling, or on automaton, Zcova sets out to combine different aspects of the business. It offers a platform that customers can log into, and submit a request based on the kind of diamond they are looking for by selecting a pre-determined set of options based on the 4Cs.
Once customers submit their request, Zcova will contact them to further understand their needs. These include what the diamond is going to be used for, such as an engagement ring, or a wedding anniversary pendant and, most importantly, their budget.
Based on these requirements, Zcova will narrow down the selection to around 10 stones, and give recommendations to customers. Prices quoted by Zcova will be significantly less than those offered in the Malaysian market. “We are able to keep our prices down as we do not have to incur costs that brick and mortar retailers have. We will never open up a retail shop because this will help keep our prices down,” says Ziwei.
To remain cost-effective, Zcova does not keep stock of the diamonds. Once customers have made their order and completed payment via bank transfer, wire transfer or credit card, Ziwei and Ziyin will immediately place the order with any of their partnered companies and brokers from around the world.
The diamonds will be delivered to Zcova’s office and customers can opt to either pick up their diamonds there or have them delivered by insured couriers.
When I first heard of the concept, the question that popped into my mind was, “How do I know if the diamonds are legit and not fake?” After all, even though they are cheaper than the market price, the diamonds sold by Zcova can still reach into the millions.
“We only sell GIA-certified diamonds,” assures Ziyin. The Gemological Institute of America is a highly respected institute for gemological research and education in the United States. GIA operates the Gem Trade Laboratory, which is GIA’s sole diamond-grading authority. When a diamond is “GIA certified,” it means it has been graded for by GIA gemologists, and a grading report from the Gem Trade Laboratory (GIA Diamond Grading Report or GIA Diamond Dossier) should accompany any GIA-certified diamond.
Even with such assurance in place, however, Ziwei feels that the average Malaysian consumer is still hesitant to trust online businesses, especially when the transactions involve a large amount of money. Both he and Ziyin hope that this will gradually change and that local consumers will be ready to make online purchases for diamonds just like they make other purchases.
“After the first transaction, they’ll trust us and will definitely recommend their friends and family to buy from us,” said Ziwei.