His name is Zyubenko, Dmitry Zyubenko and the trade has about as many urban legends about his past as there are stones available.
Today we receive the cheerful Dmitry to learn more about his path and his trade.
Today we get to see another facet of our Eastern friends and the east European gem trade!
Dmitry, tovarish (comrade), the floor is yours!
Dmitry Zyubenko is with us in the Lounges today - Photo Credits: Dmitry Zyubenko
AsiaLounges: Privet, Dmitry! Thank you very much for being with us today. Let’s start with learning a bit about you. Who are you Dmitry Zyubenko?
Dmitry Zyubenko: Thank you Simon for such an intriguing introduction. I will try to measure up to your expectation and provide you with an interesting story.
That being said, you are introducing me as an Eastern European friend yet, the biggest part of my life was spent in Western Europe, South East Asia and New Zealand. So, the Eastern European in me really only stems from my Russian heritage, Russian passport and love for dill pickles.
AsiaLounges: Can you tell us how you entered the trade? There are about as many legends in the trade as I’ve seen stones from you. What is the reality? Family business, late encounter with the trade? Reconversion from diplomatic background? Russian Gems Bond? Which it is?
Dmitry Zyubenko: Had we met 25 years ago there would have been no conversation about gems and that is because I was in a different business then, far from gemstone trading.
My original business field, back in 1983-1989, “aeronautic and space technology engineer’’ sounds awfully sexy and might be where some of the urban legends you mentioned earlier came from. My destined job, then, was to build space shuttles and rockets for the USSR Space program. But then, in 1989, the Soviet Union collapsed and university graduates had to look for any kind of employments to make ends meet.
Buran space shuttle at Baikonour Space center (Kazakhstan) where Dmitry could have ended up working if not for the fall of the USSR - Photo Credits: Baikonour Cosmodrom
I went to Western Europe, to Italy to be precise, because I could speak Italian quite well. And you will be surprised to know what I was selling ….pasta (spaghetti and other 256 kinds of pasta). I was not selling pasta to Italians though, I was selling to Australia, to Japan and to South East Asian countries.
After a while I realized that I could not grow any more in this business and had to move on. Soon after, I got an offer to work for a furniture company in the North of Italy, near the lake Como. It was a small family run business. They specialized in high quality, made to order, furniture. It was quite an experience but not quite what I craved for.
I had to re-invent myself in the insurance business and, upon graduating in finance, I went full on in this industry for a while. There too, I felt I was not really in my element. The corporate environment was not for me.
In 1998, I took all that I had learned, all my belongings and I headed back to Moscow. All I had learned until then would eventually define who I am today or so I believed.
It is while I was soul searching in Moscow that I encountered, quite randomly, the world of gems. I came across a book about gemstones that I swallowed in a matter of days and decided to write my appreciation to the author as well as to ask a few questions.
To my surprise, the author, Dr. Nonna Dronova, replied and invited me to meet for a course of gemology in the Academy of Valuation in Moscow. I instantly signed up for the course and again to my big surprise, I was the only student attending this course.
Shortly after, upon digesting all of my teacher’s knowledge, I was told to go on a sort of quest. I was told to experience the gem trade for myself for only that would truly teach me what gems are. I left for Idar-Oberstein, the German gem capital, to follow my mentor’s instruction. I stayed there for a while, learned some more and decided to head closer to the mines where I felt my knowledge would improve more and faster.
In 1999, my peregrinations brought me to Burma where I stayed for 5 years. It was a fascinating time. Burma was under a military regime at the time, where only 2000 Europeans lived, mostly diplomats and staff of international missions. I was lucky enough to take part in organizing gem emporiums across the country all the while building my own business, expanding my horizons, meeting with local dealers and traveling to the gem mines of the legendary Mogok Valley.
I was blessed with working exclusively with unique rubies, sapphires, spinels on a daily basis which is how I became the gem dealer that I am today.
Picture of a gem mine in West Mogok, Burma, that Dmitry has invested in - Photo Credits: Dmitry Zyubenko
AsiaLounges: We first met you with Jeff “Master” Bergman and, much like him, you have been known to dealing with some very fine Burmese material for both investment and jewellery. Today, we see a different facet of your trade with more accessible, commercial gems. Is it an evolution of your trading ground or just a diversification imposed by the rarefaction of the investment grade materials?
Dmitry Zyubenko: Ever since 2003 I have been very active with auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s placing some of my clients prized possessions “under the auction’s hammer”. As you know, the nature of our business requires time. When it comes to exceptional gems, it is even more so as, given the value of the gems, it requires our clientele to take the time to ponder the validity of the investment.
That is the very reason why you, and other prominent actors of the trade, are seeing me “diversifying” my portfolio with other gems. Gems that are no less precious than the rubies and sapphires we mentioned earlier, just a little less of a rarity perhaps. Gems that are aimed at collectors, jewellers and or other dealers.
That is why you may, on occasion see me provide market actors with beautiful gems of slightly lesser price such as unheated tanzanites, spinels, padparadscha sapphires etc. Much like you guys, what I search with these stones is that they be untreated, clean to the eye (Ndlr. also known as jewellery grade material), well cut and of exceptional and or unusual color.
Dmitry Zyubenko and Jeffery Bergman smiling brightly at the camera at the Hong Kong Gem Show - Photo Credits: A passing Trader
AsiaLounges: Speaking about gem dealing and gems you carry in inventory. A question we like to ask during the interviews is, should you be free from all market concerns and could only trade with your favorite gem, which one would it be and why?
Dmitry Zyubenko: I’m follow two business lines:
1) Working with investment gems such as Burmese rubies and sapphires or Sri Lankan and Kashmir sapphires only when it comes to investment. These gems grow in price every year as their availability isn’t infinite thus registering a steady increase of value overtime.
2) Fulfilling customers’ orders. In this respect I work with different gems: precious and semi-precious stones depending on orders. And thanks to the contacts I have made over the years, I can easily find out what’s in who’s collection and fulfill my clients’ requests.
That being said, I’m already blessed with working with some of the nicest gems Nature has created. What else could I ask for?
One of my leitmotiv in life, which is very much applicable to the trade actually is: Life’s too short not to be lived with passion. A gem, and I’ve seen you guys say similar things, is like a lady, a life partner. You would not share your life with someone that you do not appreciate fully. You would not share your life with someone that has flaws that you cannot understand or appreciate. A gem’s the same and choosing a gem is very much like falling in love.
So, do I have a favourite gem, one that I’d like to work with more than another? I don’t know. When it comes to gem I just cannot be loyal to one alone as I love them all equally. (Laugh)
Here is Dmitry inspecting a gemstone for a customer - Photo Credits: Dmitry Zyubenko
AsiaLounges: Back to the present, we are starting to exit the COVID 19 worldwide confinement and I’d like to know your opinion about its impact on our world of gems and jewelry. What do you think will happen from now on? Back to “normality” or are we heading in a New Direction for Gemology and the trade in general?
Dmitry Zyubenko: COVID has forced a new reality upon us. It has forced us to re-invent ourselves and will likely continue to do so. That being said, one thing the fall of USSR has taught me and my fellow easterners is that change isn’t necessarily bad though it is often painful when your not prepared for it.
Much like in 2001 with the World Trade Center attack, the COVID will force people to adapt in the way they communicate, in the way they exchange and in the way they travel. But one thing COVID will not do, is to completely stop all that for more than a few months. Even that is very much unsure. Look at what happened in the trade during the lockdown, the trade has exchanged more knowledge than ever before. You guys have published / republished interviews at an increased rates, webinars and other online meetings are popping up from all sides and the Christie’s sold more than ever with their online auctions… If that is not encouraging about what’s to come I know not what is.
Now, looking at the retail level, right now, yes, business is at a standstill but, birthdays will continue to happen. So will weddings and anniversaries. Babies will keep on being born and with them a number of new traditional occasions to offer a stunning piece of jewellery.
For all these reasons I do not think that our industry will suffer on the long run from this crisis. The trade has no monopoly to speak of and no-one has come up with a functional colour gem Rapaport like system, though many have tried. I believe the free market will balance the situation naturally and everything will work out eventually.
Dmitry inspecting rubies in Burma - Photo Credits: Dmitry Zyubenko
AsiaLounges: The trade in general has relied heavily, in recent years, on the expansion of the Chinese market to grow. Do you believe that it will continue to be so or do you, on the contrary think that China is the new Japan and a new “super market” will eventually take its place?
Dmitry Zyubenko: Many are dreaming of China because they only see the numbers it potentially represents. Much like Japan in its time, both of these markets are extremely attractive and reactive to the gem trade. Both places are also known to be very closed countries with strict regulations making it extremely complicated to breach without a local partner.
China is currently in slumber, taking a break if you will but, as soon as the GDP goes back to a two digit yearly increase and the ruling party relaxes a bit on international transfers then we’ll see them coming back in the gem trade.
AsiaLounges: As you are most likely aware of, the words of 2019 and 2020 have been “Ethic” and “Transparency”. What do you think about it? Is it just another fad or is this highlighting a deeper and more legitimate concern coming from the end buyers?
Dmitry Zyubenko: Ah! Ethics, Transparency… To me it is obvious that it comes from the retail sector. While it is understandable and legitimate that the end buyer would want to know what they pay for, the reality is that few are actually made aware of the differences between origin, treatments etc. For the majority of people a ruby’s red and a sapphire’s blue period.
What clients really want to know is whether the stone has a gemmological report, whether there is the gold stamp on the ring and that’s about it. The rest is mostly stuff that people in the trade want to know more so than the end buyers per-se.
As far as I am concerned, I have always followed the principles of ethics and transparency without even paying attention to it. Not because I was asked or because it was a marketing necessity but simply because, in my opinion, knowing who I’m dealing with and where is the stone or money coming from was paramount to maintaining what I consider to be my business and personal integrity.
Dmitry discussing gems and travels in a trade show - Photo Credits: Dmitry Zyubenko
AsiaLounges: Back to the gems, and more specifically investment grade gems. Do you think that the push from the jewelry groups to ban Burmese gems from their inventory, on ethical ground, in favor of Mozambique gems, in the case of rubies, will have a real impact on your sales? Do you think it will have an impact on the importance of origin in the sales gems in the future?
Dmitry Zyubenko: I’d answer by asking you to look at major auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Few, if any, Mozambique rubies can be seen there. Why? The reason is that Mozambique rubies have not yet achieved the legendary status of the Burmese gems.
Also, the perception is that it is easier to find a 5 carats Mozambique ruby at the moment than a 5 carats Burmese ruby which is no longer coming off the ground and needs to be found from private collections.
(Ndlr. Mozambique rubies have been discovered circa 2008 and have seen since a steep rise in their demand at international level though never achieving the prices that their Burmese counterpart command. The Mozambique deposit is rumored to be the largest precious gem deposit ever found and exploited at the time this interview was written.)
Now, back to the Burmese gems ban. My opinion is that it’s politics only. It doesn’t stop private customers from ordering a piece of jewellery with a Burmese gem and it certainly does not stop the brands you talked about from fulfilling such orders…
So far, I don’t see any tendency to blur the lines between the different origins when it comes to investment stones. Origin has a big influence on the price and its unlikely to change in my opinion. On the other hand, in the commercial realm, the country of origin of an aquamarine or an amethyst doesn’t really matter to me or my clientele.
AsiaLounges: By the way, what is an investment grade gem for you?
Dmitry Zyubenko: By investment stones I mean unheated Burmese ruby 5 carat up, Burmese sapphire 20 carats and up, Sri Lanka sapphire 40 carats and up, red spinel 10 carats and up, non oiled emerald carats and up, some fancy color diamonds, natural pearls and imperial jade (for Chinese only).
Example of investment type gem, here a spinel - Photo Credits: Dmitry Zyubenko
AsiaLounges: We are slowly reaching the end of this interview and we’d like to finish on our traditional note: please give our audience three advices as well as three books you believe they’ll need to be able to follow in your footsteps.
Dmitry Zyubenko: First of alll, thank you very much for reading this interview till the end.
My advice to people getting in the gem trade is to listen to their instincts. To listen to that little voice murmuring in their ears as they are looking at a gem, that’s usually their guts figuring out things their eyes have yet to see. Do not shy away from the advices of seasoned professionals, they are here to help no to trump you. And finally, do not be afraid to invest in gemstones. They are a stable and reliable investment vehicle.
For reference about gemstones’ investment potential, according to the sales results of auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s, in the 2000 – 2020 period, Burmese rubies prices have been multiplied by 80 and sapphires of the same origin by 26. Bit of a better investment than putting money in the bank no? Imagine what these 150,000 USD in 2000 you used to buy an apartment with would look like today...
As for books, I would recommend to own in your library Richard Hughes “Ruby & Sapphire”; Ted Themelis “Mogok. Valley of Rubies & Sapphires” and “Gem Mines of Mogok”.
Here is Dmitry checking out a sizeable star sapphire - Photo Credits: Dmitry Zyubenko
AsiaLounges: Last but not least, how can our readers see your inventory or reach out to you?
Dmitry Zyubenko: I’m always open to new contacts. Here are my contact details where you can reach me:
Tel. +668 76823238
Instagram: Dmitry Zyubenko
LinkedIn: Dmitry Zyubenko
Favorite restaurant: Nadimos Silom
AsiaLounges: Thank you very much Dmitry 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.
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