Cover The Alekhya Collection by Tanishq for Diwali 2022 (Photo: Tanishåq)

Ajoy Chawla, of Indian conglomerate Tata group, reveals that jewellery sales this Diwali are expected to be higher than ever, and explains the challenges the industry will face as a result

Diwali is one of the most culturally significant days of the year and a widely observed festival within South Asian communities all around the world. In Hindu mythology, it represents the triumph of good over evil and the return of exiled Lord Rama after defeating the King of demons, Raavana.

“It also marks the beginning of a new year for Hindus, as well as the arrival of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity,” said Ajoy Chawla, CEO of Titan Company’s jewellery division, which is under Tata Group, India’s largest conglomerate.

See also: Gem Talk with Vincent Meylan

For those who celebrate this 2,500-year-old festival, which usually last five to six days, Diwali begins with a jewellery investment, symbolising opening the door to a bright and prosperous year ahead. While other metals can stand in place of gold, gold is preferred because “the goddess Lakshmi is associated with purity, prosperity and abundance—properties that are synonymous with gold”, Chawla explained. Also, gold is associated with the sun, which “gives life, light, and a new beginning—everything that the festival stands for.”

For those who cannot afford substantial quantities of gold, but do not want to buy other metals—whether that is a watch or even a piece of utensil, even though that is still considered acceptable and auspicious—many brands, including those under Chawla, offer digital gold for their more tech-savvy customers. This allows them to invest in as little as 0.1g of gold at a time, and much like keeping money at a bank, digital gold can accumulate like savings. This is not only a convenient investment option, but it also enables consumers from all economic backgrounds to make small but meaningful investments that can be exchanged for tangible gold at a time that suits them.

Meanwhile, consumers who can afford gold and jewellery cause what can be best described as organised chaos behind the scenes at jewellery stores across India during the festive season.

In case you missed it: Why Is the Kohinoor Diamond, Inherited by Queen Consort Camilla, So Controversial?

Every year, religious gurus announce a sacred time to buy gold on the festival day, resulting in massive crowds queuing outside stores at odd hours. Pre-ordering jewellery or gold coins is now common, but it is critical to pick up the jewellery or accept its delivery at a specific auspicious time. Chawla says it’s not at all unusual for stores to open up at 6am and remain open until 2am the next day.

It's also not unusual for storefronts to see customers waiting for hours in serpentine lines, so there is a need to focus on in-store hospitality. “A lot of emphasis is placed on optimising time,” says Chawla. “We ask customers to make pre-selections on an iPad [while they wait] in order to shortlist products, and visitors to the stores are also served refreshments and Diwali sweets, to keep the atmosphere festive.”

Without a doubt, this effort to keep customers happy and willing to spend is well worth it. “Typically, Diwali month will see doubling of sales for most categories,” Chawla tells Tatler, and says for certain categories, like jewellery, sales during the festival are easily more than double its average. “On the first day of Diwali, [jewellery sales] go up to ten times, or sometimes even 12 times, more than the average daily sale. That is the kind of fervour and excitement the festival brings. By the end of the day, three to four per cent of the year’s sale targets are achieved.”

As exciting as hitting those targets are, he says it also means a lot of extra work for every team—“whether it is human resources, who hire freelancers to help relieve full-time [staff in the stores], or the admin team, who work out logistics for 290 stores in 174 cities… every team is ready to roll up their sleeves.”

In fact, Tanishq, one of the jewellery brands Chawla oversees, has designed three different collections this year to meet the growing demand. Each collection is tailored to a specific region of India to cater to different aesthetics, traditions, and sensibilities, which the brand began working on a year in advance. “There is a ‘Chozha’ collection for South India, that is inspired by the architecture and symbols from the Chola dynasty, one of the longest-ruling empires in the world,” Chawla explains. “The ‘Alekhya’ collection is inspired by miniature paintings and [17th century traditional artform] pichhwai, and the karigari (craftsmanship) involves intricate enamel painting; and the third collection is called ‘Aishani’—made with ‘Pujo’ elements that celebrate the goddess of strength in east India, [which is] very colourful and joyful.”

As hectic as Diwali season is for retail in India, they are happy problems to have compared to those Chawla faced when he stepped into his role as CEO three years ago. When there were many challenges faced by the jewellery industry, many of which he knew nothing about. “A lot of it felt like running onto [an already] moving train,” he recalled, and highlighted the need to find his bearing quickly to ensure he didn’t slow down the train when, “in fact, it should accelerate”.

There were also other challenges that were bigger than the new job jitters most of us are familiar with. “In addition to the Covid-19 pandemic, there were other unsettling factors such as geopolitical tensions—the consequences of which have been on microeconomics—supply chain disruptions, gold price volatility, diamond inflation, and demand volatility created by start-stop situations”, he explained.

While tackling the challenges has been no easy feat, and remains an on-going battle for business leaders across the world, with his 32 years of retail experience Chawla has emerged triumphant and as an important voice when it comes to consumer behaviour and leadership expertise. “Frankly, I think all stakeholders were anxious. [This includes] business partners, franchisees, vendor partners, internal teams, board members, external folk, analysts, and investors” Chawla said, and emphasised that “as a leader, the biggest role I could have played was to ensure all our people are well taken care of” so whenever the pandemic ends they can be the first ones out the gate towards a better future.

With that in mind, the brand has now set its sight on expanding to the Middle East and North America, where it enjoys a great response from the Indian diaspora in these regions, but any plans for East Asia will have to wait. Chawla predicts an increased footfall of Non-Residential-Indians visiting India to see family and friends, further ensuring a brighter, bigger, more prosperous festive season. “It is a very exciting time and everyone is eagerly looking forward to it,” he said.

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.