How one British-owned online jeweller is giving the traditional Dubai diamond trade an e-commerce shakeup.
In the heart of sunny, fast-paced, glamorous Dubai, Nottingham native Fergus Appleton sits in the Jewellery & Gemplex building examining a triple XXX diamond intended for a customer in Australia. The customer, like many of Dubai Rocks’s clients, will be in Dubai for a quick layover on his way to the UK, and will pick up the ring during his brief, 10 hour stay in the well known Emirate.
“We’re an online business with a twist,” explains Appleton, “And most of our customers don’t live in Dubai, which makes the designing process interesting,” he laughs. “We use free apps like WhatsApp for pictures and videos to show customers the diamond and the quality of the setting they’ll be getting. We also have a physical workshop which customers can visit, if they need the peace of mind and to see our work in progress. ”
For someone who’s spent his career in facilities management, Appleton has built up a highly successful fine jewellery business in Dubai, specialising in engagement and wedding rings – and he’s accomplished that in just 18 months.
“We’re a little different from what you typically get in Dubai,” he explains. “While the diamond trade is huge here, you tend to get retailers with rows and rows of rings that are mass produced for no-one in particular.
“Dubai Rocks is more like a Swiss watchmaker: we have a workshop and we have our website, and our specialty is bespoke, custom-made pieces. Everything we produce is a one-of-a-kind and this really stands out here, especially at the prices we offer.”
Despite only having been trading for a year and a half, Dubai Rocks has built up a large customer base, and has already seen many repeat purchases. “I’ve been amazed at the how quickly we’ve grown,” says Appleton – “we’ve already had customers who’ve been back to buy from us three or four times since we started, which is incredible when you consider the time we’ve been trading”.
One of the main USPs for Dubai Rocks amongst all the bulk sellers in the Emirate is their jewellery creation process, which is overseen by master craftsman Robert Saroukhan, who earned his loup with 15 years in Los Angeles’ Diamond District before settling in Dubai.
With over 35 years of industry experience designing for the big names and private collectors, Saroukhan is confident in what he offers.
“We don’t use pre-set moulds – we’re not a factory – we are creating pieces of art,” he says. “Each piece is created fresh for each customer, every time. First we do a sketch of the piece the customer has envisioned and then, depending upon the design, it’s put through our CAD 3D printer or the wax mould is completely designed by hand.”
Dubai Rocks employs several Thai craftsman, widely recognized as the best in the industry, to create the settings and fit the gems. Each piece is then finished off by Saroukhan himself.
But often, customers are coming to Dubai with one focus – price, so Dubai Rocks has made sure its business model – and its prices – are right.
“Competition in the Dubai diamond market is stiff which means the margins aren’t very high”, says Appleton. “We’re really pleased with the niche that Dubai Rocks has found creating Cartier and Tiffany quality pieces at wholesale prices directly from the workshop. And the public has really responded to our offering which is fantastic.
“Another obvious appeal for our customers – who are travelling into Dubai from places as diverse as the UK, Australia, Switzerland and Germany – is that these rings are tax-free, so they’re getting the best international quality at Dubai prices,” Appleton explains happily. “Customers make a tax saving and of course prices here are lower generally so it’s a win-win – typically customers will save between 20-30% on online prices in Europe and Australia.”
In addition to selling to travellers on a stopover, the company has a steadily growing customer base in the UAE, as well as offering international shipping. And, unlike other online jewellers, Dubai Rocks doesn’t require full payment up front – just a 10% deposit to begin designing, and then full payment upon collection or shipping.
“In Dubai, we have to stay competitive, especially when [customers] get dazzled by the low prices from the bulk sellers. But in 18 months, we’ve never had a dissatisfied customer, and we’re aiming to keep it that way – sometimes I won’t make the sale because the diamond a customer wants simply isn’t Dubai Rocks quality.”
A quick look at the company’s Facebook page reveals that Appleton’s claims aren’t just PR fluff – there are dozens of reviews from people enthusing over their jewellery – and the theme is clear: customers have taken their Dubai Rocks rings back to Hatton Garden (or their country’s equivalent) and found out it’s worth double or triple what they’ve paid for it.
Cyril Kamya, a medical doctor from Bristol, told Professional Jeweller that he took the ring for valuation at an antique jeweller in the UK and was pleasantly surprised by the valuation: “Not only did they give me an excellent valuation, they then remarked that it was one of the best quality rings they had seen in a long time.”
The next step for the start-up is simply to continue to build on their strong customer base and to spread the word.
Sarah Williams, Dubai Rocks’ marketing manager, is an experienced journalist from the US who worked for a long time in the UK, and is excited about the company’s fast growth.
People are initially so nervous about buying a diamond online, especially for something as emotionally-charged as an engagement ring. I spend an hour researching and reading before I buy shoes online, so it’s understandable!” she laughs.
“Our marketing strategy is essentially to just take that fear factor out of the purchase process – that can sometimes be a challenge, as showing the quality of jewellery on a computer or phone screen has its obvious drawbacks,” Williams continues. “That 10% deposit rather than the full payment helps, as well as the money back guarantee, but no one’s ever used that, which is great.”
“But the moment they open that jewellery box is my favourite to watch – people are so shocked. They look up at us like it’s Christmas! Most of them have never seen diamonds of that quality at such reasonable prices. We’re rapidly expanding and showing an ever increasing number of people that Dubai Rocks diamonds really do rock!”
Dubai Rocks is the only British-owned diamond trader and fine jeweller in the UAE.