Does Zarian have any special capability or niche that makes it different from other companies in the jewellery manufacturing industry?
Yes, we do. We've become known for being able to achieve consistently high standards in solving complicated technical problems in prototyping and manufacturing premium jewellery. Few other companies can handle the kinds of challenging orders that we undertake for our clients. And few competitors are even willing to try, because they know that difficult orders can eat up all their profits. Yet over the years we have worked hard to succeed at this.
Why don’t clients just change their designs so that they are easier to make?
Quite often the most distinctive and beautiful ideas are the most difficult to realize. Unfortunately, the clients are coming to us when nobody else can do the job.
Why do you say 'unfortunately'?
Unfortunately, because we, too, would like to produce easy things.
What enables Zarian to handle these technically challenging projects?
One advantage is that I not only run the company as managing director, but I myself have been a goldsmith for 50 years now. I was also an appraiser for 36 years, working as a legally sworn expert and certified by the Austrian court. I wrote articles about the great jewellery houses of the 19th and 20th centuries. Over the years I examined more than 100,000 pieces of jewellery, including some well-known collections. Now, when you work as an expert appraiser of old jewellery in addition to continually improving your professional practices as a goldsmith and silversmith, then you tend to gain a variety of special knowledge that is difficult to obtain in any other way and that is of value to clients like ours.
Do you have any special approach to the process of collaborating with your client?
We like to work with people on a long-term basis. I believe it takes a minimum of one year to really get to know a client. That's when you can really manage to think like the client. And that's when you achieve what the client wants.
And the interesting thing is that it has nothing to do with quality. It has to do with different tastes. So there might be three clients who all want the same high quality of work, but they each have a totally different view of how the work should look.
So it’s the quality AND their personal approach?
Exactly, their personal wish. And, it is also, from my side, a lot of psychological manipulation to influence the designer, who is now named an 'art director'. But in any case, what we are doing in the end is helping our clients to be successful.
So it’s not just prototyping or manufacturing, but solving problems through a consultation process?
Yes, in the beginning of a new collection, we serve like a consultant for them. We put in all our knowledge, and try to achieve their wishes.
What's interesting is that in all the big companies there is the art director, the production manager, the marketing director and very often the CEO, and all four can have different opinions. And so I very often have to work to bring them together, and I am able to do this only because of having some seniority.
By seniority, you mean that you have worked in the industry a long time, and clients respect that?
Yes, they respect experience. It’s also helpful to clients when they get an entrepreneur’s perspective, as mine is. It’s not always so comfortable for employees to view things from this perspective, or to make entrepreneurial kinds of decisions. Thinking entrepreneurially can be risky, creativity can be risky, but very few employees would like to take risk. So we help them through this process.
And we also have to make sure that nothing gets ‘lost in translation’. So we pay attention to ensuring good communications, dialogue.
Another issue is that very few people can think three-dimensionally. Some of the designers have no sense of three dimensions! They need to have the mold, they need the tactile feeling to make a decision. I’m able to help, because I can look at the sketch and make the right choices.
To sum up, we help clients strengthen their internal capacities with additional or different skills or viewpoints: a “big picture” perspective, technical expertise, rapid understanding of how two-dimensional sketches become beautiful and makeable jewellery in the three dimensions of the real world.
CRAFT MARRIES TECHNOLOGY
What happens when the consulting phase ends?
Then we are ready to work on the molds. We have six computer designers. Three came from the drawing side. They are trained to create a design by doing a sketch, and then they became computer designers. And three are master goldsmiths. This is very important. Here we are better than the others. We have master goldsmiths, who we trained to also be computer designers.
Why do I say it is important? Because the drawing-trained designer has very little idea of production methods. The master goldsmith can already implement the production technique within the computer design.
On the other hand, the designer trained in drawing has a much better feeling for proportion. So, together our team works on reconciling all the different demands in producing a good mold, so that the piece will not only look fantastic but be producible.
Then after the mold comes casting. Do you have any special approach?
Yes. What we have found to work the best is to have the most modern 3D printing machines as well as a CNC machine sitting beside very skilled model makers, who are master craftsmen trained by us.
But how can you combine craftsmanship with 3-D printing? They sound like completely separate approaches.
I’ll give you an example. I did a project with Gianni Bulgari, who is for me a genius. And he said, ‘You have to get the perfection with a machine, and the imperfection by hand. Then a piece of jewellery comes to life’.
The human touch is so important! That makes a piece special. This is really what we have long been working on.
What others are doing now is to just print it out! Just cast it, file it, set the stone, and then they think it's done! That’s exactly the wrong thing! The real work is putting 20 or 100 parts together.
Then what about the setting phase?
Setting the stones is crucial. Most manufacturers use just one, two or three sizes of stones on a surface of 10 mm by 10 mm. But we use a minimum of seven different diameters of round stones, and it is much more work! It looks much more beautiful, however. That is how jewellery looked for centuries, and it all was lost when manufacturers started printing things out.
A lot also got killed by laziness, and by saving labour. At our workshop, not one piece comes out without mise à jour. There never should be a round hole on the back. It must always be like in the old days when you turn it around.
We do the stone-setting under microscope. We have about 110 people setting. We can even set in steel. Very few people can do that. It’s horrible work, but we do it.
What about other steps?
When the final mold is finished, we sit together and make a production plan. The plan gives us the ability to understand how long it will take to produce.
At the same time, the order goes to our stone-buying office, where we have 20 experts doing nothing except to select stones, for the right sizes, clarity and shapes.
All the information is gathered and processed by our own internal business application system, or IBA, which we have been developing over the past 14 years. This helps us with all aspects of planning, scheduling, sourcing, costing and so on.
QC is continual, not a single step. At every step of production we have a quality control mechanism, which must always follow the ‘four-eyes’ principle.
So that’s about eight steps?
Yes, as many as eight, each with QC. I would name it 'brutal' quality control. And still it happens that we make a few mistakes, but we catch them.
Keeping to production schedules, delivering on time seems to be a problem in this industry. How does Zarian perform, especially considering that you handle difficult orders?
We have a 95% yield in unit terms as regards timeliness. So, 95 of 100 of all individual items get delivered to our clients by the projected due date. We were ranked by one of the biggest brands as the No. 1 supplier in 2013.
Only 5% get delayed, but not, interestingly enough, because of a production problem. They get delayed because market supplies of raw materials are short. We are talking about more complicated diamonds, and certain kinds of coloured stones and certain colours.
ONE STEP FURTHER
Let’s go back to your claim to be able to produce technically challenging designs. How are you able to do that and be cost-effective?
It’s not 'cost-effective', unfortunately, at least not for us. Cost effective is the wrong word. It’s cost-intensive. But often this is what is needed when making something that is distinctive, beautiful and very high quality. It’s about the discipline and innovation that we provide.
Let me help you understand. A client was asking us to do a totally invisible hinge in a piece of jewellery, so that you don’t see anything from the front, and it opens like magic.
I can show it to you. I went for one day to Haefele, the architectural fittings company, and I looked at all the hinges of kitchen doors. I found one that you push in and it comes out automatically. So I bought it, and we made it 8 mm x 3 mm, with a little bit of adjustment!
And sure, it took, whatever, two weeks or three weeks, to perfect so that it works. It was definitely not ‘cost-effective’ for Zarian. But we achieved it.
And, for instance, I worked on invisible techniques for setting stones for over 30 years. Nobody else does it in that way, because we are really setting the stones, and not sliding them in like other producers, or pushing them in, like others. We are setting each stone into the groove.
And we do it even with round stones. Other manufacturers wanted to copy our approach in doing this, but it was too work-intensive.
What about polishing?
When we began our company, we brought in a master polisher from Japan to train with our people. Because everybody believed that the Japanese are the best platinum polishers. But it was nothing else than what I learned 50 years ago in Vienna. So, after pre-polishing, we use wood and plain paper, and we get a wonderful surface.
Polishing is feeling. You need to feel. You can enhance a piece with polishing, or you can destroy it with polishing. We are one of the few workshops that even polish the mise à jour.
How about burnishing: do you have a special approach?
Burnishing has to do with the skill of the foreman and the teaching of the proper techniques of filing, sawing and soldering. These are processes that we perfect in our own private school. Most of our craftsmen are from our in-house school, where they learn the proper methods. We take trainees and we teach them from scratch. It takes them about two years to be ready to join the production process.
What about laser welding?
Yes, we do have laser welding machines as well as laser engraving machines. But we also engrave a lot by hand. The human touch...
What about Zarian's procurement of precious metals and stones?
As member of RJC we have responsibilities. The sourcing is done by my partner. 95% of the metal is from a German-Belgian company, the top in the world, and the diamonds are from Antwerp, India, China, Israel. The colored stones are all sourced in Bangkok. All is under the rules of RJC.
Do you have any special advantage in sourcing?
Yes, my partner has been in stone trading for 40 years and has developed an outrageous amount of knowledge. And he has the calm nerves needed to handle all the different kinds of dealers. They can be a pain...
The most important thing is, you have to select every stone, even when it is under one millimeter in diameter. You have to classify.
Because you can’t trust a bag full of stones?
Exactly. In diamonds, we are, on average, using a maximum of 30% of what they are offering us as ‘quality’. Sometimes only 10%.
What about measures to protect your client's intellectual property rights?
We give top priority to guarding against theft of intellectual property. We lock up all the molds in a strong room. And if two different clients want to produce a design that is similar, say, because it is in fashion, then we follow of policy of making the item only for the first client to request it. First-come, first-served, for the sake of fairness.
How is your company structured?
There are more than 260 employees across several linked companies:
- Zarian Fabrikation, Salzburg is the headquarter for Europe and for part of the product development and assembly. It handles logistics for Europe and sourcing of raw materials. It is also responsible for final quality control at its joint-venture workshop in Vienna.
- Zarian Co. Ltd., Bangkok produces parts, especially very labour-intensive ones, meeting standards higher than those achieved by most Italian companies. It also sources diamonds and coloured stones. It is approved for privileges under the Thai government’s Board of Investment.
- Zarian Ltd., Hong Kong is the headquarter for sales and marketing and logistics worldwide except Europe. It also sources diamonds.
Member of Responsible Jewellery Council