Posted on April 3, 2013
The continuation of yesterday's post...
Upon entering Lorenzo offices, we were greeted by Mabel Hau, an indispensable team member and the unofficial right-hand man of Lorenzo Yih, the company’s chairman and CEO. Mabel escorted us around the factory that day, along with Albert Lai, a director who was brand new to the organization.
Mabel Hau and Albert Lai of Lorenzo
Our first stop was the rough room, a vast warehouse space filled with more than 200 tons of gemstones. Sacks of citrine, amethyst, black tourmaline, and more were piled atop one another, with some open revealing the treasures within. The gems looked like candy, ready to be scooped up with a little plastic trowel à la Mr. Bulky (but these treats would be savored in a wearable way!).
The rough stone room
Lorenzo has such an ample inventory not only because his operation is so robust—the company supplies a number of the American majors plus television shopping networks and department stores, as well as his own chain of 254 Enzo stores in mainland China—but also because his family moved from China to Brazil in 1949, where he was introduced to the country’s wealth of gemstones. The move stuck with his younger self, and as an adult, he purchased one mine in Brasilia and licensed several others to have a source of beautiful stones and also to protect the environment, exercising recovery efforts after mining is complete.
Safety first at Lorenzo
We moved onto the polishing rooms, filled with rows of dozens of employees sitting at workbenches with desk lights and polishing wheels, everyone outfitted in a dust mask for safety. In the slice department, stones were refined further, giving them the careful faceting that brings their beauty to life; here, vacuum tubes were fixed onto the stations to collect microscopic dust particles.
Gem polishers at work
Where faceting takes place
Employees at faceting stations
Fine faceting work
Next were the color sorting and grading departments—again with dozens of employees sitting at well-lit stations, culling through bags of polished gems to match colors for finished jewelry. There are more than 2,000 employees working within the Lorenzo factory, many coming from great distances for the work. They live in Lorenzo-provided housing (which we didn’t see) and travel home to visit families at set times of year.
Amethysts ready for sorting
A stone sorter takes a closer look at a gem.
Amethysts being matched into pairs
Gems ready for jewelry
Diamonds being sorted in the diamond department
In the stone setting department, loose rocks were being set into silver mountings for what looked like mass market pieces, not Lorenzo’s higher-end goods (which we were getting closer to seeing); and in the design and casting rooms, trees of sprues were being plucked and readied for casting. We saw freshly cast rings, and one means of polishing flat-backed items that I’d never seen: A massive red mound of wax with dozens of crucifixes pressed into it ensured that pieces didn’t bend in the polishing process.
Stone setting department
Stones ready to be set
A closer look at a set piece
Lorenzo's design department
Sprues being pulled from wax trees
A wax ring model
Rings after casting
Polishing cast pieces
After the tour, we met Lorenzo Yih in an airy and modern conference room in a separate building. He had a warm, genuine smile and a calm manner. We sat down to talk about his newest project: making his luxury Enzo brand a fixture in fine jewelry stores across the United States—a well-planned strategy that he started formulating in 2008 once the economic crisis hit. “In 1991, labor in China was $35 month per employee, now it’s $800 to $1,000,” he explained. With production costs growing, he decided to move into a brand direction, gearing up to specialize in more better-made goods, like a stunning nearly 140 ct. t.w. aquamarine necklace with diamonds and sapphires in 18k gold that was on display in an in-office showroom. The company it kept was equally as intoxicating: a $522,000 Paraiba and diamond necklace and nearly 62 cts. t.w. of deep, eggplant-colored amethyst in another multistrand number for $62,500. With suggested retail prices of 18k gold Enzo styles starting at $2,500, Yih hopes to gain entry into untapped U.S. luxury retailer terrain, offering merchants mine-to-market values that few others can match.
Santa Maria necklace in 18k gold with 138 cts. t.w. aquamarines, 22.87 cts. t.w. diamonds, and 3.94 cts. t.w. sapphires; $324,000
The designs are definitely western- and European-inspired, with colored stones painting vivid palettes in contemporary classic settings. Yih is going after America’s fashion-loving luxury clients who change up colors seasonally—and he’s got the stone resources, design staff, and gemological credentials to help close those sales. He was the president of GIA Hong Kong for eight years, having helped to establish a school and lab in Hong Kong in the mid-’90s, and currently has 11 in-house graduate gemologists in Shenzen. Yih already has made strong inroads into popularizing colored gems in China, a country of gold lovers who buy most pieces at Chow Tai Fook, China’s biggest jeweler. But his dream expansion of 1,000 stores in China by 2020—and new plans to grow the Enzo line in the United States—may prove to be a thorn in the side of larger competitors.
Walking us out of the building after the visit, we said our goodbyes—but not before Yih started chuckling, motioning me over to the white BMW we saw when we first arrived. “Did you see this?” he asked, clearly amused by his own vanity tag. I was delighted to see his sense of humor, and to learn that for a multi-continent gemstone and jewelry magnate, he also didn’t take himself too seriously.
Meet Yih and see the Enzo line in person at JCK LUXURY 2013.
Chief Operating Officer Alfonsa Au, JCK publisher Mark Smelzer, chairman and CEO Lorenzo Yih, and myself