What is in a diamond?
Founded in 2015 by brothers Low Ziwei and Low Ziyin, Malaysian jewellery label ZCOVA is touted as one of the only brands to offer dual-certification—from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and GemEx, an institution that measures diamond brilliance—for its diamonds.
The inspiration behind the inception of the brand is a personal one. When Ziwei was planning on proposing to his then-girlfriend and looking for the right bijoux piece, he found the whole process confusing and filled with discrepancies—which was pointed out by his brother Ziyin, who was at the time working as a gemologist in Lebanon after obtaining his GIA certificate. During the search, the duo realised that similar diamonds from more prominent jewellers were priced a lot higher than it’s actually worth—even though most of the stones came from the same suppliers. A light went off in their heads and they decided to set up their own jewellery label, one that would see customers getting their money’s worth in diamonds—literally.
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After building their brand and consumer base from the ground up over the last five years, the brothers decided to expand their business into Singapore last month. Which isn’t an uncommon phenomenon, except that we’re living in the middle of a global pandemic. However, contrary to what you may think, they’ve witnessed an uptick in diamond and jewellery demand during these last months. So what does the future hold for them?
We speak to the duo to find out what expanding a jewellery business amid a pandemic is like, what dual-certified diamonds really entail, how to care for jewellery at home and more.
Can you tell us more about ZCOVA?
Ziwei: At ZCOVA, we prioritise the value of dual-certification. Through which we are able to guarantee the value that we bring to our customers. The GIA certification is prestigious due to their strict grading standards and is considered the gold standard for diamond quality.
GemEx on the other hand measures the brilliance of a diamond. We are honoured and privileged to be the sole distributor of GemEx certified diamonds in Malaysia and Singapore. What this means is that customers can be confident in purchasing diamonds from us as we are able to guarantee its sparkle. We also aim to educate the society that a diamond’s brilliance is not subjective to naked eyes but is now measurable thanks to GemEx.
What else does dual-certification entail?
Ziyin: What we are really passionate about is educating consumers on that fact that not all triple excellent round brilliant diamonds are equal. In fact, we do see triple excellent diamonds not meeting GemEx’s requirements. And they won’t issue a certificate if the diamond does not achieve a triple high for brilliance, fire and scintillation. So we do make the extra effort to ensure that all of our triple excellent diamonds meet their standards. If for some reasons, our diamonds don’t meet GemEx requirements, we will make a full refund to our customers.
Also, it is increasingly evident that the 4Cs—cut, colour, clarity and carat—are no longer the only standards for choosing diamonds. We are educating consumers that a diamond’s brilliance is also equally as important.
Most brands only offer dual certificates for diamonds of the highest grade and charge 20 to 30 percent more for them. However, we choose to offer this as a service, providing the best diamonds at the best value, hoping to ultimately make it a norm in the industry.
As an online retailer, how to you bridge the gap between your customers and the in-store experience of purchasing diamonds?
Ziwei: At ZCOVA, we do not believe in hard-selling or up-selling our products. Instead, we let our products speak for themselves. We prioritise educating our customers and encourage them to make an informed decision when it comes to purchasing diamonds.
Then when it comes to the actual retail part of our business, we try to mimic the in-store experience as much as possible—minus the pressure. Through our virtual consultations, our customers are able to get a diamond education complete with the 4Cs and fluorescence, get real-time recommendations, and be able to pick their perfect ring—all at their own convenience.
Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, seeing a diamond online is actually much better than seeing it in person. In fact, most gemologists and diamond buyers refer to the pictures and videos of the stone before making their purchases. This is because manufacturers tend to invest heavily in their imaging technology to bring the best image and video quality to ensure that their product is well represented.
That said, some customers still tend to ask to see the diamonds in person to verify the brilliance of the diamond. And to that end, we are able to assure them of it through the GemEx certification. This way, customers no longer need to worry about it, as it’s guaranteed.
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Tell us more about your fashion collaborations.
Ziyin: Since ZCOVA’s establishment, we’ve collaborated with notable Malaysian designers to launch co-branded accessories collections. Take our partnership with Khoon Hooi, for example. We worked together on an exclusive jewellery collection that celebrates the beauty of culture, love and marriage, underlined with an oriental theme. Another great example would be our collaboration with Malaysian designer Alia Bastamam for her Raya 2019 collection.
Many of our customers actually come to us to create bespoke pieces that represent their love story or family heritage. And during the consultation with our jewellery designers, the customers share their story and vision, and we translate them into a piece of jewellery that truly embodies their story.
We aren’t like traditional jewellers where we restrict what we do and don’t do when it comes to customisations and collections. We give our designers the creative freedom and platform to express themselves. We believe that this approach gives us the ability to curate exquisite pieces. We also acknowledge the designers who came up with the designs by naming collections after them. This freedom of creativity is something we believe in upholding as we think it’s lacking in this industry.
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What motivated your decision to launch in Singapore amid a pandemic?
Ziwei: Amid the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in demand for diamonds online—not just in Malaysia, but in neighbouring countries such as Singapore, Brunei, and other countries across Southeast Asia. So we thought it would be a good idea to launch in Singapore. The lockdown in Malaysia catalysed an entirely new online industry, causing diamond sales to bloom—especially with physical stores closed. It has now become the new normal to shop online, and it’s much more convenient than ever.
Although Malaysians have gotten accustomed to buying diamonds online, it hasn’t always been like this. In the first two years of starting up, gaining their trust has been our biggest challenge. But we’ve managed to do just that. We foresee similar challenges launching in Singapore, but we’re confident that because Singapore is a more technologically advanced country that consumers will be able to catch on our brand much faster. With our competitive advantage and dual-certification, we think they’d be more inclined to seek our services.
To what extent has the pandemic affected the diamond industry, in your opinion?
To be honest, we aren’t too worried about the pandemic’s effect on the industry. It’s quite the contrary, actually. Due to the pandemic, online sales have gone up and we see a shift in the overall industry as more and more customers are taking advantage of online services and are becoming increasingly comfortable with our virtual consultation services.
To add on, many of our customers are also beginning to buy gold and diamonds as investments rather than accessories. Unlike gold prices, diamond investments have less volatile pricing and are more stable.
And at ZCOVA, our diamonds cost about 20 to 30 percent lower than our competitors because of the elimination of rental costs, middle-man costs and sales commission costs. Our customers are truly just paying for the diamond’s value.
What are your top three tips on shopping for diamonds and jewellery online?
Ziyin: (1) Always set a comfortable price range for yourself. (2) Do your own research online to find your ideal ring setting design and diamond shape. (3) Leave the rest to our consultants. The above-mentioned are the only two things you need to provide our consultants with.
What are your top three tips on caring for diamonds and jewellery at home?
Ziyin: (1) Remove your jewellery when you apply lotion and skincare products as the accumulated build-up can cause the diamond to look dull. (2) As and when you think you need it, use an alcohol swab as a quick way to clean your jewellery on the go. (3) Every one to two weeks, soak your jewellery in warm water with some baby shampoo, and then scrub gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush. These steps should keep your jewellery sufficiently clean at home.
Lastly, what can we expect from ZCOVA in the near future?
Ziyin: We aim to be the company that’s top of mind for consumers in Southeast Asia. Also, similar to our collaborations in Malaysia with Alia Bastamam and Khoon Hooi, we’re looking forward to collaborating with local personalities and artistes, so as to create a vibrant design scene in Singapore and contribute to the local design community.