INTERVIEW: Joel Storfer, UJT Ltd

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With the strapline ‘Jewellery Excellence’ and a brand new look, diamond and precious gemstone jewellery specialist UJT Ltd is on mission to provide exceptional quality pieces without the wallet-busting price tags. BenchPro meets director Joel Storfer to find out more.

“All the back-end work has been done and our transition into manufacturing is now complete. Now, we are in a position to work on the front-end of the business and develop it more,” explains UJT Ltd director Joel Storfer as he shows us round his company’s impressive stand at Jewellery & Watch Birmingham.

UJT has been supplying retailers in the UK and Europe since the early 1990s, but it is the company’s recent shift into manufacturing and emphasis on coloured gemstone jewellery that has set it on a new, and exciting, trajectory.

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“In the past we were playing the traditional wholesale role and we would buy finished product from here, there and everywhere and sell it on. That particular model is not attractive to us anymore and we enjoy the flexibility of being able to design and produce,” explains Storfer, whose personal relationship with the trade dates back generations to his great-grandfather who was a diamond merchant in Poland.

In a romantic twist, Storfer’s grandfather supplied jewellery boxes to F. Hinds — a company he now supplies with gemstone and diamond jewellery. Storfer is particularly focused on sourcing gemstones and diamonds, noting “it is something that I have learnt over time and I’ve done a tremendous amount of travelling and looked at a lot of stones. I’ve gone all the way back along the supply chain to get as close as possible, just short of putting on a hard hat and going down into the mines.”

UJT went through a transition four years ago, which culminated in the introduction of its own manufacturing facilities in Mumbai. “There are tons of pitfalls when it comes to manufacturing and I have fallen in most of them,” he jokes, “but it has been a few years and now we’ve got it down to perfection that culminates in this.”

The ‘this’ he is referring to is UJT’s impressive array of diamond and gemstone jewellery, which has been given a classic-yet-contemporary overhaul by creative director and Professional Jeweller Hot 100 alumni Ivonna Poplanska, who also spearheads its stand-alone brand Boudici.

Storfer continues: “Predominantly we are specialists in both diamonds and coloured stones and I think that is where our strength lies.” The company works in two diamond qualities; G-H I1 for 9ct pieces and G-H SI for its 18ct offer, something which, according to Storfer, ensures he has something “that would suit many CMJ customers and Houlden Group customers”.

In terms of gemstones, emerald, ruby, tanzanite, aquamarine and pink tourmaline are its focus, with tanzanite performing particularly strongly.

UJT coloured gemstone collections range in quality from AA+ to AAA. Precious gemstone collections are available to retailers in 4 qualities or ‘categories’ — a simple system that allows them to buy into certain price brackets without having to opt for cheaper or inferior designs.

Entry quality offers presentable gems for price-point focused jewellery, while Medium offers good colour and lustre for retailers looking for a more luxurious 9ct offering. The Superior category features gemstones with a richer colour and better lustre and is regularly chosen by leading high street multiples, while the Exclusive quality is favoured by high-end boutiques, especially in 18ct gold settings.

With this kind of flexibility and ability to supply consistent qualities and sizes of precious coloured gems at good value, it’s understandable that UJT has enjoyed considerable growth over the last few years. Storfer explains: “2014 was a year of growth for us, but there’s always room for more. We have a fairly large team of staff, including a full-time product manager, designers and a creative director, but the UK is by no means saturated for us.”

In terms of its collections, Storfer credits creative director Ivonna Poplanska with making UJT’s offer more coherent, in-line with its classic-contemporary aesthetic. Little touches, including heart-shaped claws on its Par Amour range, in combination with accessible price-points is what Storfer hopes will encourage retailers to come knocking on his door.

He explains: “We are very selective over the quality of the gems we use, so when you put a 9ct G-H I1 quality piece next to the G-H SI [offer] it is very hard to discern the difference. We achieve very attractive price points for pieces that look very expensive — that’s our guiding principle.”

Price targets are also maintained by keeping sourcing and manufacturing in house, with Storfer spending ample time at the Bharat Diamond Bourse in Mumbai.

He comments: “We are specialists at sourcing both diamonds and gemstones, because, knowing both trades well, I know the gemstone market doesn’t understand diamonds and I know the diamond market doesn’t understand gemstones. But we understand both, as well as jewellery manufacture, which means we have a beautiful product for a unique price.”

Additionally, cutting out an independent manufacturer has allowed Storfer to compete with Hong Kong and the Far East in terms of price, something which he says surprises his retail partners.

Throughout 2015, UJT will focus on developing its burgeoning gemstone jewellery business, while Poplanska will refresh the online presence of both UJT and Boudici, which has achieved significant success among independent jewellery boutiques.

In terms of collections, more contemporary designs in 18ct gold will be added to the mix, as well as rose gold pieces. Storfer concludes: “We have a nice customer base and a healthy turnover but we are now in a position where we can go out and target any major retailer and say ‘we can do it’ and ‘we can do it at the price of your Far Eastern suppliers’.”

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