Merrill Gaisano is a 29-year-old woman who wants her newly revved-up jewelry company Royal Gem (formerly known as Metro Jewelry) to become Manila’s equivalent of Hong Kong’s ubiquitous Chow Tai Fook.
Her mother Vivian already cautioned her against setting such a high target for the family business. After all, Metro Jewelry (established in 1982) already enjoys a niche market.
But Merrill remains unfazed. The plan is not just to sell high-end jewelry as investment, but also to expose clients to various styles and gems and allow them to enjoy jewels for their own sake.
“It is part of our culture to buy jewelry for investment,” Merrill observed. The purpose of buying jewelry is to have a financial fallback in case the owner finds himself in trying times.
Factors like design and rarity of stones are of secondary importance. Merrill wants to change this by offering bolder designs and bigger stones that might be a bit ostentatious for some.
Royal Gem’s resident gemologist and merchandising manager is confident that it is only a matter of time before current and prospective clients warm up to more adventurous pieces with stones other than diamonds. After all, influencers like Hollywood stars and popular websites are encouraging customers to shun conservative pieces and go for intensely colored precious stones.
Merrill noted that after actress Angelina Jolie walked the red carpet with Gobstopper-size emeralds dangling from her ears, the erstwhile Metro Jewelry was deluged with orders for customized teardrop-shape emerald earrings. She said many customers also visit the websites of jewelry stores like Cartier, Tiffany, Chopard and Chaumet and are inspired to place orders for pieces patterned after high-end baubles.
But first, a refashioning of the old Metro Jewelry. Merrill’s mother was the one who nurtured the shop—which initially produced low-end jewelry that used 12-karat gold and silver—even as she admitted she was not confident at first about the business, since she was not very keen about diamonds and gold content.
Merrill was a very young girl when she was exposed to Prime Asia, the family’s pawnshop business with over 150 branches that operate in Cebu and Mindanao. Whatever she learned became useful when she apprenticed for Metro Jewelry in 2012. The jewelry business grew and Merrill realized she needed to learn more about sparkly stones and precious metals.
The Gaisano scion flew to California to study precious and semiprecious stones at the Gemological Institute of America. When she returned, Merrill immediately pulled out her drawing board, called her contacts and soon began selling pieces never before seen in Metro Jewelry.
(Vivian was wearing an impressive choker of saturated emeralds and diamonds during dinner with reporters. The choice was obviously influenced by Merrill, who agrees with her mother that emeralds are a standout among precious stones.)
Rechristened as Royal Gem, the store now showcases six main collections of stunning jewelry that could adorn a woman, whether she faces daily life or memorable moments.
The Ultra Collection, for example, boasts of one-of-a-kind multicarat diamonds. The Celestia Collection’s light and airy pieces are perfect for jeans and casual attire. The Imperiale Collection presents dramatic emeralds, rubies and sapphires, while the Decadent Collection has semiprecious gems like amethyst, citrine, blue topaz, peridot, rose quartz, garnet, aquamarine, morganite, opal, turquoise and jade.
The Pristine Collection has basic studs perfect for framing the face, while the Enchanted Collection combines pearls and diamonds.
Merrill said as long as women want to mark milestones in their lives with jewelry, purchase some to reward themselves for jobs well done or decide to treat themselves just because, there will be a demand for Royal Gem’s pieces.
She is confident that the dream to rival Chow Tai Fook’s 3,000 or so branches in Hong Kong is attainable.
“Filipinos love to dress up, so that’s a good thing. It’s also part of Asian culture to be interested in jewelry. Right now, there is a market for it since the economy is improving. It’s very evident in customer behavior,” she said.
Royal Gem stores are in Market! Market!, Alabang Town Center, Marquee Mall in Pampanga, Metro Legazpi and Ayala Center Cebu.