Despite suffering a paralytic stroke and losses in his business, gemstone trader Frank Fernandes managed to keep himself going with a can-do attitude, writes MICHAEL FISHER
A paralytic gemstone trader, Frank Fernandes, never knew that that he was positioned in the middle of a speculative bubble.
Frank was manufacturing gemstones for designers who would sell it for five times and more than the actual price in the export markets. The designers were making vast sums of money from the middle and lower strata of the American and European societies who flaunt them as status symbols.
It was in 2007 when it all went bust, leaving millions of ordinary citizens broke as their gemstones could not fetch even five per cent of the market value they had earlier purchased, Frank deplores. This had a rippling effect on Frank Fernandes’ business in Jaipur which he had to wind up. With his daughter Neethi Anna, they begin the entire process all over again, this time in Goa.
In 2012, Frank registered a proprietor firm ‘House of Anna Fernandes’ in Goa (Anna). It introduced a new line of lightweight gold-plated jewellery in brass with an anti-tarnish coating. The firm manufactures and designs in pure metal and also with natural gemstones such as tiger’s eye and green onyx, synthetic and American diamonds. In the past few years, they have been exhibiting at Taleigao, Don Bosco and M/s Caifil in Tivim. Their products are also on sale at a number of resort hotels and showrooms around the state.
Last year was more of a rehabilitation programme for paralytic Frank whose right side and hand is paralyzed. Frank and his daughter are both artistes in their own unique ways. They first visualise a product by drawing it on the computer and then work on the production line and price points. They have custom-produced for hotels and small resorts ergonomic designed furniture such as lamps, clocks, trays, cutting boards, coffee tables, among others. The company has made machine crafted wood murals in the shape of St Francis Xavier, Ganesh and others.
The story begins in 1982, when Frank, then 22, graduated as a geologist from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. He was fascinated with gemstones brought by a college friend. After completing his graduation, he decided to venture into trading in loose gemstones. He got himself registered as a dealer and had many buyers from different states. He was trading in ruby, emerald, sapphires and gemstones. In a few years, his yearly average business turnover was roughly Rs 10 lakh which was fairly satisfying, he says.
In 1988, business was slow but to his joy a lovely baby girl Neethi Anna was born. It was always his dream to venture into cutting and polishing gemstones and he did that in 1990. He was advised by a friend to come to Jaipur. His wife, Shyamala, a gemologist, had an opportunity to join the gem testing laboratory, Jaipur and they shifted to Jaipur, the gem hub of India. One gemstone cutter (late) Ambalalji realised Frank’s potential and taught him the many nuances of cutting and faceting.
In 1996, Frank established “Neethi’s” at Jaipur. He mastered the art of cutting a rough stone to a finished gem. Initially, he took up small contracts and job works. At times, jobs would come in a rush and at times there was little to do. He purchased rough stones from Zambia and Brazil.
In 2002, he developed the rare art of concave faceting which gives three to four times the luster to gemstones. He introduced the concept of fusion gemstones in 2004 – a combination of different natural stones to produce a flow of visual colour effects. In 2008, he introduced precision carvings in onyx stones with unconventional metal fillings and stone in stone designs.
Neethi’s made its debut in trade shows at the India International Jewellery Show, Mumbai, in 2002 and till 2008 was an active participant. The company’s stones have featured in award-winning designs over many years. Its clientele included high-end jewellery manufacturers and gemstone companies.
“We try and maintain a fair degree of quality control and are capable of meeting our deadlines. To ensure this, we have qualified personnel and regular quality controls,” he affirms.
By mid-2007, Neethi’s was doing a healthy turnover with a workforce comprising 16 staff. In April, out of the blue, Frank had a paralytic stroke and his entire right side was paralyzed. The next three months was difficult but the company continued to churn out its gemstone orders.
It was at this time that his daughter Neethi returned from Mumbai completing a three-year diploma course in jewellery design and manufacturing in SNDT College. She joined her father’s firm and today, more or less, runs the show under the watchful eye of her father.
The House of Anna Fernandes (originally a subsidiary of M/s Neethi’s, Jaipur), with Neethi Anna as its proprietor, was officially launched with an exhibition-cum-sale at Bengaluru, followed by participation in various exhibitions in India.
In October 2007, the US stock market lost more than 50 per cent of market value due to the credit crisis and housing bubble burst, and the last straw on the camel’s back was when well-known banks declared bankruptcies. This had a rippling effect on the gemstone market. American citizens went out to sell their jewellery and found it was barely fetching 5 per cent of its market value, he says. Since then, consumers lost faith in semi-precious stones. “The crash had a ripple-effect on our business as our clients were major exporters,” he recalls. The semi-gemstone market crashed, and Jaipur was hit, the worst being the suppliers’ centre.
“With my physical disability, nothing was working in Jaipur, so we decided to return to our roots and start afresh in Goa in October 2010. The first few years were all about finding ourselves again in a new place, with new regulations and new suppliers. But we were confident that we would come through and make our mark yet again,” says Frank.
Today this Goan father and daughter duo have made their mark among Goans and are slowly and steadily finding their place once again in the land of their ancestors. Neethi Anna is by default a natural gemologist, designer and manufacturer. What else is needed to start a gemstone industry, says mother Shyamala.