Today we’re shaking up our usual format with a reverse interview of AsiaLounges’ founder, Simon Dussart by none other than gemologist and award-winning photomicrographer Billie Hughes of Lotus Gemology.
We’ll be talking about our brand genesis, what it stands for, and what we believe in.
Hope you like it!
Simon in Hong Kong in 2014
Billie Hughes: Tell me about yourself and about your company, Asia Lounges.
Simon “Sai” Dussart: My name is Simon Dussart. I was born and raised in France until I was 14, when my family emigrated to Barcelona, Spain, where I got my first taste of living outside the borders of my country. I guess in hindsight this experience led to my moving to Thailand, where I’m based today.
I obtained a masters in International Management and Marketing at the ESC Toulouse and nothing really predisposed me to work in the gem trade at first, save from a long lasting fascination with Asia and Asian Cultures. This is actually what pushed me to move to Asia in the first place.
My entry into the world of gems and jewellery was a complete coincidence. I was looking for a job in Asia and the first company that took me in was a fashion jewellery company here in Bangkok some ten years ago. From there I moved to Shenzen, China, where I had the pleasure of working alongside my first mentors in the trade. They were all master jewellers and setters that had worked for the best in the industry before creating their own company.
This gave birth to my love of gems and jewellery. They taught me most of what I know today when it comes to jewellery, and planted the first seeds of my love for gems. What sealed the deal though, was the sight of a Burmese sapphire, the very first capital gem I saw, that one of my mentors was keeping in his safe. Eventually, a few years later, I came back to Thailand and decided to set up my own business in the very trade I fell for.
By 2014 I started Asia Lounges as we know it today, with the aim of providing top gemstones to jewellers and end buyers while giving them the possibility to mount them in customised, high end jewellery.
Billie Hughes: What inspires your designs?
Simon “Sai” Dussart: What is important in our designs is how they come to life. We usually make bespoke jewellery. Therefore, the designs stem from the vision each client has, to which we give a certain twist, that Asia Lounges flavour.
When it comes to my background in jewellery, I’ve always liked art deco jewellery, architectural and animal motifs. That’s why people like Lorenz Bäumer and JAR, to name only them, are of particular interest to me. That said, we always create unique designs and don’t accept orders for copies. If people want say, a Cartier ring, I’d suggest meeting with them directly. However, if what they are looking for is an original AsiaLounges custom design then we’re more than happy to assist our clients in their quest.
Billie Hughes: Who is the ideal AL client?
Simon “Sai” Dussart: The perfect AL client would fulfil any or all of these three criteria.
First, we love people who are interested in colour, that understand or are willing to learn more about the world of coloured gemstones and through that understand that gems are seldom perfect. Yet, they come to us because they are looking for that very perfection and therefore accept that it may take time and resources to find the gem that is the best fit.
This leads us to the demographic of our clients. They might already be purchasing from brands such as Cartier, Van Cleef, and Boucheron, or would be in the position to do so. However, they are more interested in the quality and style of the piece than in paying for branding alone. The trade off here is that the gem is what really makes the value of the piece rather than the signature of the brand itself.
All in all, clients come to Asia Lounges because they understand that they will get a nicer, cleaner, and bigger stone with us than they would from the big brands for the same budget. Essentially, we understand that much like us, our clientele is quality and value conscious. It doesn’t mean that our pieces are cheap, it means that every dollar invested goes towards the purchase of an exceptional gem and the creation of a unique piece of jewellery rather than advertising.
That being said, price is not everything. As I like to say, you can always get things cheaper, it doesn’t mean you should. One thing we never compromise with at AL is quality. We will systematically advise you against a low quality option, even if it costs us the sale. Instead, we will try to recommend alternatives. For example, if a client asked for ruby, but their budget does not allow for a ruby of high quality, we may propose alternatives such as spinel, garnet, or tourmaline.
Billie Hughes: What makes AL unique?
Simon “Sai” Dussart: What makes AL unique is you, the client. As opposed to a traditional jeweller, most of our clients do not come to us because they have seen a piece in a shop display, although it happens too. They come to us because they have an idea, and our role is to make that dream come to life.
Each piece of jewellery is unique in the sense that every client comes to us with an idea, a design, or a colour in mind. No two pieces are identical, and because we always take the extra step to find your dream gem, we will work with you to find the right stone even if we don’t have it in stock.
I’d like to add that on occasion, unlike the vast majority of our peers, we do create jewellery for clients that already have a gem. We do not limit our creations to our gems only, and we’re happy to design a piece around your treasured heirloom.
Billie Hughes: What question should every client ask when buying a gem or piece of jewellery?
Simon “Sai” Dussart: Traditionally I’m the one asking my clients the questions actually. The vast majority of the time, clients come to me with statements, rather than questions. Usually after my first round of questioning, they realise that they have more questions than they originally thought.
Anyone making custom jewellery should ask themselves whether they want a stone because of the material’s name or fame or if what truly matters to them is the color. Do I want a ruby because it’s ruby, or because it’s red? Am I buying something because I want something nice to wear, or because I want to make an investment?
The reason I would encourage these questions is because one would look at dramatically different items based on whether it’s for personal enjoyment or for investment.
Billie Hughes: How would you differentiate investment gems from more “normal” gems then?
Simon “Sai” Dussart: First is the price. Anyone coming in asking for an investment at a $3,000 price point isn’t looking at the right investment vehicle. When it comes to investment class gems the price tag and time frame for the return on investment is very much alike that of real estate. The returns and associated risks however are very different.
Second is the origin of the stone. When looking to making jewellery for yourself, origin doesn’t matter. What does matter is appearance. Whether you like the stone, whether you find the colour pleasant. In the case of investment gems origin becomes paramount and the price difference, again, is flagrant between a premium origin and a so called commercial origin.
Third is whether a stone is treated. The reason this matters is because if it’s for personal jewellery and your priority is how it looks in a ring, a heated gem may not be a problem. For investment, however, you have no other choice than to go for the best of the best 3+ cts gems, absolutely loupe clean, with the most premium origins. There exists notable exceptions to that rule but you get the gist.
Finally I’d consider the type of gem itself. While it pains me, garnets are my favourite gems, they are not traditionally seen as investment class gemstones. Does that mean that they’d make for a bad investment? Not at all, I can name a few gem dealers that managed to buy lavish properties from the profit of Mandarin garnets alone…. As per usual, all is relative and finding someone that understands your needs will make the difference between a good and a bad purchase. That is also part of our commitment towards our clients: to provide solid advice on gems.
Billie Hughes: Usually we expect fine jewellery brands to be based out of Paris, Geneva, or London. Why do you choose to work out of Bangkok?
Simon “Sai” Dussart: While it may not seem apparent at first, one needs to remember that AL did not start as a jewellery company, but as a gem trading company. That is important because Bangkok is the world capital of coloured gemstone trading. Therefore, we tend to have access to the newest and best gemstones before anyone else.
The second part comes to the jewellery side of AL. Thailand is actually a historical high jewellery powerhouse.The Thais have been working gold for jewellery, both with and without gems, for centuries and have been catering to the various royal and imperial courts throughout Asia. Therefore, it’s no surprise to see that the vast majority of international high jewellery brands are producing here too.
Billie Hughes: What’s the biggest challenge for you in your work?
Simon “Sai” Dussart: The biggest challenge as a first generation gem dealer is precisely that: being first generation. In a trade that puts such a high value on family bonds, arriving in the trade as a nobody makes your start in the trade significantly more complicated, especially in a time where the market is constricting. Newcomers are not always welcomed.
That said, I’ve surrounded myself with excellent professionals that have opened their doors and taught me tremendously over the years. This includes the Irsutti family, my buddy Tariq, the Hughes family, Jeff “Master” Bergman, Isaac “Chachi” Stern, Gonzague Zurstrassen, to name just a few. Without them, I wouldn’t know even half of what I know today.
Billie Hughes: What’s a common misconception about the gem trade?
Simon “Sai” Dussart: The typical one is actually the reason why I started my blog, A Gem Dealer’s Journal.
A lot of people outside of the trade think gem dealers are a bizarre mix somewhere between Indiana Jones and Han Solo, a blend of adventurers and smugglers.
While it may have been partially true in the past, these bygone days are nothing more than that.
Today, our industry is becoming increasingly transparent and is doing everything it can to educate the final buyers in the same manner any other industry would.
Billie Hughes: I’m glad you brought up the idea of transparency, because that’s important for a lot of people today. What is ethical and transparent to you, and how is AL making this a part of its business model?
Simon “Sai” Dussart: For me, being transparent and ethical is making sure that the client is properly informed of what he or she is purchasing. This includes, but is not limited to, explaining what treatments a stone may or may not have, and the incidence it has on the short or long term life of the gem they purchase.
We have also seen that the issue of origin determination is becoming increasingly important to some buyers. This is why starting from January 2019, every single one of our gems will come with a Lotus Gemology report, whether semi-precious or precious. Every piece of information about each gem can therefore be provided by a neutral third party.
Furthermore, we realise that the vast majority of end buyers do not necessarily know how to use tweezers and loupe. That’s why we have macrophotography taken by Arjuna Irsutti, which virtually gives each client the ability to see what they would see by using a jeweller’s loupe, without having to have the technical skills behind it.
It is far from being favourable to our stones as you can imagine but I prefer to see the client have a good surprise when they receive the goods they purchase rather than a bad one. That is also the reason every single one of our clients is a repeat customer.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, one of the things we do in order to be more transparent with the end buyer is providing education. For that we have both our blog series (A gem dealer’s journal and Introduction to Gemology) as well as pop up reunion with end buyers during our trips where we either prepare a topic of discussion or we engage in an evening long Q&A sessions with clients in order to answer as many question as we can.
That last part is actually very interesting for us too as it provides a return of experience. By that I mean that it allows us to understand better what people may or may not know and, more often than not, allow us to spot potential blog post ideas. So a big thank you to all the people out there asking us questions about the trade.
Billie Hughes: What’s a typical day like for you?
Simon “Sai” Dussart: You have to understand that we, gem dealers, are hard workers, so we start early, somewhere between 10-11 AM, because we work with the light. Seriously now, it’s traditionally understood that to buy a gemstone, one needs to look at it in natural sunlight between 11am-3pm. Earlier or later would tend to add a couple darker tones to your gem, which could mean the difference between a good deal and a bad one.
That being said, I usually recommend clients check any gems they intend on purchasing in different lights and specially in unfavourable lights. It may appear counterproductive but, since I also happen to be a jeweller, I understand that most of the pieces we are making are bound to be worn in office environments or in candlelit restaurants. So, in order to being able to enjoy a gem to its fullest it is important to know what it will look like when you’ll wear it instead of just at the time of purchase.
Finally, while we do start a little late in the morning and office hours aren’t the longest, we do tend to stay on call late. The reason is simple. I’m in Bangkok, but the majority of my clients are abroad, either in Europe or the US. Therefore I often get phone calls until 1 or 2 in the morning.
Billie Hughes: What’s going to be the biggest trend in gems and jewellery in the next year?
Simon “Sai” Dussart: Far be it from me to predict the future, but traditionally the colour of the year in jewellery follows the fashion world, so one can look to Pantone, which has declared “Living Coral” the Colour of the Year (2019).
That said, this only gives you an indication of colour or shade. This does not tell you what types of gems will be successful and what gems will not. Many of my peers, when they heard “Living Coral” was the colour of the year, immediately thought that padparadscha sapphires would sell. I, on the other hand, prefer to showcase other gems such as tourmalines and garnets that have similar shades but are not the obvious pick.
If your questions is more geared towards “What is anticipated to sell best in the next few years?” I’d say that spinels and garnets have a very high potential.
Spinels, specially red ones because they are, unfortunately for them, considered as a substitution to the ruby. This tends to have them nicknamed as “a poor’s man ruby,” a nickname I condemn whole heartedly since I much prefer them to their ruby counterparts. Vivid pink spinels are also meant to go up in price, I think, for their natural sexiness and their increasing rarity. I have yet to see a hot pink sapphire rival in colour and intensity with a spinel. Not saying you can’t find them, just saying it’s unlikely.
The gem family that I believe will rise the most though is the garnet family. They are by far my favourite gem family, come in nearly all the colours of the rainbow and truthfully are highly undervalued if one considered their rarity. What makes garnet undervalued is that most people outside the trade only understand garnet as the dark red variety that was found in eastern Europe in the past. That said, whenever I take out one of my mandarin garnets or one of my minty tsavorite garnets the answer is always the same: “Wow!”. That alone shows me that we have a lot of work as an industry to educate our clients and to allow them to fully enjoy our rich and colourful world.
AsiaLounges: Thank you very much Billie for coming up with this reverse interview and hope that our readers liked reading this interview as much as we did making it!
As for us Loungers, we will meet you again very soon with new article and interview.
Until then, as per usual, should you have any questions or wish to know more about us, our jewellery, our gems or anything at all about the gem and jewellery world, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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See you in the Lounges,