Today, for the second consecutive chapter and third opus of our Nomad’s Arc we interview our pal Sébastien Bahri.
Sébastien brings the French touch to our favourite nomadic team by co-hosting the sales and marketing chair with Josh Saltzman in Nomad’s Bangkok office.
Today we’ll learn of Sébastien’s path and colourful daily activities.
Seb, the floor is yours,
Welcoming Sébastien Bahri and his Tanzanite from Nomad's in the Lounges - Photo Credits: Nomad's Co., Ltd
AsiaLounges: First of all thank you Sébastien for being with us today in the Lounges. Can you tell us more about yourself? Who are you Sébastien Bahri?
Thank you, Simon, for the interview opportunity! I see you are already starting with the tricky questions!
“Who I am?” I will try to keep it simple. I am 36 years old, was born, grew up, and studied in France, close to Paris.
Life is full of interesting journeys. I now live in Bangkok and I have been with Nomad’s for the past 10 years already, working as a sales representative as well as managing the stock and pricing stones.
I consider myself to be pretty lucky, as I do not work. By this, I mean that I am passionate about gemstones and when you have a passion, it’s not really work anymore. For the last decade, I never woke up in the morning, saying “oh dear Lord, I don’t want to go!”. Not once.
In this world, that is an incredible blessing and I am very grateful for it.
AsiaLounges: What brought you to the world of gems, Sébastien? Was it a family trait or a passion you acquired as you grew up?
Yes, it is a passion I’ve had my entire life. When I was a child, I used to pick up little rocks and pieces of white quartz in the school yard.
I was born into a family with a great appreciation for books of every kind; astronomy, arts, cooking, religion, novels, history, marine biology…you name it, there was probably a book about it somewhere on one of our shelves.
As such, there were also a few books about minerals and gemstones. I began reading them and felt pulled into that world. Then I started collecting gemstones, going to local gem shows, and reading more about the subject. Pretty quickly it became a passion and something I wanted to do with my life.
Much time has passed since Sébastien's graduated from picking up quartz in the school yard. Now, he plays with delicious looking Malaya Garnets - Photo Credits: Nomad's Co., Ltd
AsiaLounges: How did you discover Nomad’s as a company and what makes it stand apart from others in your opinion?
Before I discovered Nomad’s, I was already friends with a Swiss woman, Céline, who was working for the company at the time.
My first “encounter of the Nomadic kind” happened in the Bangkok show in September 2008. I was studying gemology at the time and I was in Thailand with my teacher and a few other students to visit local gem businesses and the trade show.
When I walked to Nomad’s booth to talk with Céline, I was absolutely blown away by the showcases. Displayed inside were, simply put, the best colored stones I had ever seen in my life. It shattered my previous perception of what quality was and completely redefined it in the span of an hour.
About a year later, I had finished my gemological studies when Céline called and asked if I was looking for a job. She was leaving the company (on good terms) to continue her career with a jewelry maker and there was a position open at Nomad’s. She told me to send my resume to her and that she would forward it. So, I did. A few days later, I got a phone call from Slavik, one of the Nomad’s founding partners.
It was a pretty funny phone interview and after maybe 5 minutes, he said “OK, the Tucson show starts in 5 days, we need you there. Book a plane ticket if you are interested by the job and I will pick you up at the airport.” In a split-second decision, I said yes, booked the ticket, packed my bag and a couple of days later I was flying to the US.
That is how I started! It was a pretty unconventional way to start in the business, but Nomad’s is anything but ordinary.
How does Nomad’s stand apart from the rest? The stones are an obvious answer, but the first reason is the extraordinary people working there. When you meet us, you will find people with completely different backgrounds and plenty of stories to tell, all tied together by our common love and passion for gemstones, travels, and the arts.
AsiaLounges: If you had the possibility to work exclusively with your favourite gem, which one would it be and why?
Pretty difficult question! Allow me to mildly disappoint the readers by cheating a bit with my answer; I will give you some of my favourites:
Both spinels and garnets have really grown on me ever since I began working at Nomad’s. Cut and polished well, they are absolutely fantastic stones with an incredible brilliance and wide array of hues.
I am also quite fond of chrysoberyl! The hues can be quite unique, and coupled with its durability and sharp brilliance, it makes a truly attractive gemstone. Very underrated in my opinion.
Been wondering what a Chrysoberyl looks like after hearing Seb talk about them, here's a fine example from Nomad's collection of course - Photo Credits: Nomad's Co., Ltd
AsiaLounges: In Mikola’s interview we got his thoughts on what does Nomad’s stand for as a company and what the name means to him. I’d like to know more about your vision of things on this particular point. What does Nomad’s stand for in your opinion? And what does the name mean to you?
I believe Nomad’s stems from a passion for gems, art, and the desire to share with people. When you have this mindset, these ideas, to guide you, then everything else naturally follows suite. In our style of cutting of course, and in the way we interact with our clients.
When you have passion for gemstones and appreciate their beauty and rarity, you will have respect for them and want to do what is best.
When you have love for the Arts, you find inspiration in the rough gems to craft great faceted gemstones. The love and respect for craftsmanship and your sense of aesthetics push you to be better than “good enough.” You have to aim higher and find the right balance between color, brilliance and contrast, shape, proportions, symmetry and patterns.
When you have passion, you want to share it with people. To share your knowledge and stories and also learn as well. If you believe in sharing and having conversation on an equal footing, then you have to be open when you engage with others.
Which means, for instance, writing the price clearly on our boxes and not a code; disclosing the treatment if any; disclosing the country of origin and so on.
All the information is given to you. We are not hiding an ace in our sleeve; the card deck is completely open, face up.
That would be the vision I have of Nomad’s and its philosophy.
Here are some of the toys we like to source from the Nomad's team, behold the mighty Aquamarines, and they shall know no fear XD - Photo Credits: Nomad's Co., Ltd
AsiaLounges: As a seasoned salesperson yourself I’d like to hear your opinion on the situation the trade is in at the moment. We are in 2020, hopefully finally reaching the end of the COVID 19 crisis, yet we can anticipate that it’ll leave an enduring mark in the way exchanges are done. How are you, at Nomad’s planning on dealing with these changes?
We were already working on several long-term projects, even before Covid-19 came into the picture, that would help deal with changes like these.
One of them is our website. After registering, jewelers can shop at any time from the comfort of their home or office.
We are frequently adding more and more of our gemstones to it so there is always something fresh and exciting for our clients.
We are also experimenting on new features to improve the user experience and make it a practical, easy, and modern way to select gems.
This is our main focus right now, and hopefully as the situation with Covid-19 improves, we will also be able to meet people in person again, on an individual basis.
Popular and finally regaining her ranks among the most coveted and prized gems our world can count on, here is a fabulous example of vibrant red Tanzanian Spinel (5 cts + if you were wondering) - Photo Credits: Nomad's Co., Ltd
AsiaLounges: Further to the last question, fairs are being cancelled left and right, Basel show is but a shadow of its former self, what is your opinion on the future of trade shows? Are they obsolete or do they still have a place of choice in your commercial strategy?
The internet brought a lot of changes; in the way businesses advertise, interact with their clientele, and sell. It’s a serious challenge for all trade shows, and not only in the gem and jewelry industry.
This being said, I don’t think trade shows are obsolete - they still have an important role in our sales strategy. We noticed on our end that both our online activity and trade shows work in a very complementary fashion and support each other.
Some of our clients prefer to go to the trade shows to see stones, some prefer to work through internet, others will use both channels. It all depends on the client.
Trade shows, person-to-person meeting, internet…they are all different yet equally valid ways to buy and sell.
A set of some of my favourite gems: a Mandarin Garnet and a delicious Minty Tsavorite - Nomad's Co., Ltd
AsiaLounges: In your opinion what is the place of luxury products such as gems and jewellery in post COVID world? Are you worried or believe that it’ll kick back as soon as the situation clears?
The economy is chaotic by nature and unforeseeable at large, which is why people trying to predict the future are usually flat wrong. It will probably come back to haunt me later, but I will try to answer your question!
One axiom I found to be true: the best stones are always picked up and sold first whether in good times or economic downturns.
If you have fine gemstones, not necessarily the most expensive (although the two are often tied together), but with a pleasant color and nice cut, you will be able to sell them.
That is also why the high-end part of the market will rebound first after the situation improves and travel restrictions get lifted. The mid-range and commercial parts of the goods will eventually get back on track as the economy recovers. It always does, but it might take some time.
As far as the future goes, I feel quite confident.
I believe that, as the world continues developing technologically, and everything becomes fast paced and quickly obsolete, there will be an increased contrarian reaction to seek out long lasting things.
Beauty and Art have always been deeply embedded into all of us and this is exactly what gems and jewelry are: beautiful works of art. In that sense, they are eternal.
This is why I’m truly optimistic about the future of jewelry and colored stones in the long term.
A rare photograph of two wild Nomadic Russian Demantoids Garnets - Photo Credits: Nomad's Co., Ltd
AsiaLounges: As you know already, we love asking our guest about their take on the topic of 2019-2020: the whole Ethic! What do you think of it? Is it just a marketing tool or something that is real and necessary? Perhaps a bit of both?
More and more people are concerned about environmental and social issues, especially in the younger generations, and there is a clear perception shift. In general, there is a growing demand for answers to the questions: “where is the stone coming from?” “how is it mined?” and so on.
These are legitimate concerns and questions from customers which the trade needs to answer.
As you said, it is a relatively new topic in the trade, so as a whole we are still in the early stages of knowing what actions to take and what processes should put be in place to answer these questions. We’re definitely taking steps to work on tackling these questions though.
Organizations such as ICA and AGTA for instance, already have a code of conduct and ethics for their members.
In addition to these rules, we gladly share with our clients all the information we have on the gemstone they are interested in and we are currently working on creating a new internal traceability system for our stones.
AsiaLounges: We are reaching the end of our interview and now comes our traditional three advices to Loungers willing to follow in your footsteps and three books that, in your opinion should be in every gem lover’s library?
Your reputation and relationships are your main assets in gem trade. Take great care of them; having good friends in the business is the right way to go.
Acquire as much knowledge about stones and the market as you can. There is always something new happening, so it is a perpetual job to keep yourself updated.
The gem trade is very efficient and fiercely competitive, but if your company introduces something new to the business or if you do unique and different things, you can succeed.
If you are a beginner, I would recommend “Secrets of the Gem Trade” by Richard W. Wise and “The Gem Merchant” by David Stanley Epstein. They are good introductions to the trade, filled with information and are easy to read.
“Ruby & Sapphire” by Richard W. Hughes is also a must for your library.
As a bonus for the French speaking crowd reading this, try to get the “Larousse des pierres précieuses” by Pierre Bariand and Jean-Paul Poirot if you can. It was one of the first books I got and was on my bedside table growing up.
AsiaLounges: Last but not least, how can loungers reach you or follow your work should they so wish?
Once the Covid crisis subsides, please come to visit us at the trade shows, we always like to chat! And if you come in the afternoon after 4pm, there are always some port wine and chocolates waiting for you at the booth.
AsiaLounges: Thank you very much Sebastien for being with us today, I am convinced that our readers, the Loungers, have enjoyed this interview as much as we did enjoy writing these lines.
As for us, we will meet you again soon in the Lounges with more exciting content! If you have enjoyed this interview please let us know by liking, commenting and sharing our work with your family and friends on your favourite social media platform. Don't forget that you can also support A Gem Dealer's Journal through our Patreon's Page. It helps us a lot and takes but a second!
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See you again in the Lounges,