Diamonds can mean different things to different people. To some, they are a girl’s best friend. To others, they are worthless bits of coal elevated by the biggest marketing scam the world has ever seen.
To brothers Stanley, Jadon, and Zen Zeng, though, diamonds are a legacy of their family business.
A family business
Together, the three 30-something-year-olds are the owners of Michael Trio, a homegrown custom jewellery business — this means wedding bands, engagement rings, precious gems, and of course, diamond rings, just to list some of their repertoire.
The brothers take on different roles in their family business. Zen is the resident designer while Stanley and Jadon focus on accounting and marketing respectively.
The Zeng family didn’t start out specialising in diamonds, though. The brothers’ grandfather started a medal manufacturing business called Royal Medal in 1978. Their father branched out into jewellery manufacturing in 1987.
That was when the company became RoyalKing Jewellery. RoyalKing Jewellery exists as a business-facing wholesaler that specialises in gold and diamond jewellery.
“We started out crafting gold jewelry,” explained Jadon. “Back then, our manufacturing plant was in Singapore while our main export market at that time was to the Middle East.”
It was only in 2013 that the brothers started a retail business selling customised diamonds to customers — all because of their mother.
Growing up, the brothers noticed that their mother always insisted on wearing the first ring that their father proposed with — a humble 0.9 carat diamond set on a classic gold ring. This was despite the fact that as a jeweller, she of course had access to many larger, more expensive diamonds.
Her reason was a sentimental one.
“这个够了。其他的跟这个不一样,” Jadon recalls her saying.
(Translation: This is enough for me. Others are not the same)
It was a memory that stuck with the brothers and inspired them to provide customised diamonds for their customers, propelled by the belief that it is not monetary but sentimental value that gives significance.
If you’re wondering about the name “Michael Trio”, Stanley revealed it was inspired by their father, Michael Zeng, who passed on in 2011.
And Trio? Because it’s run by the three of them now, he adds with a smile.
Their father’s passing was also a trigger for his sons to rethink their family business.
“We had been doing manufacturing for so long, so we thought, why not create another brand that targets consumers?” said Stanley.
With e-commerce taking off, they found the opportunity to venture into the online retail space in 2013, which, they say quite honestly, helped them cut down on rental expenses. A couple of years later, they opened a showroom in Tanjong Pagar that has seen a steady increase in customers over the past few years.
Varying journeys into the family business
Armed with a degree in accounting and finance from the University of Melbourne in 2003, Stanley originally had his heart set on entering the banking sector.
However, his dad had other plans.
“Jewellery this kind of business you need trusted people to do it because it’s high value stuff. So once we graduated he pulled us into the industry to learn,” said Stanley.
Slowly, Stanley shared, he began to better appreciate the family business and grew to enjoy the work.
For Jadon, on the other hand, joining the family business was always part of the plan.
“Since young we would come to the factory quite often, just hang around. I think that was where I got the interest,” said the Business IT diploma graduate.
Jadon shares that tagging along with his family to trade fairs also cultivated his interest in the family business. Trade fairs are usually the only avenues for wholesalers like themselves to reach overseas markets — and buyers.
“Sometimes these are the only points of contact we have with the local retailers and shops,” he said. “They will come to the fair and purchase our goods.”
Think of it as an IT Show or a baby fair, but with diamonds.
The brothers tell me that such trade shows were the grounds where they got their feet wet running the business first-hand.
It was difficult, they all say, but they all agree that their father was a key figure in helping them learn the ropes.
“He always said: ‘We have to let our customers trust us. We have to make sure that they are able to ‘profit’ from buying from us’. In that sense, we always want a return customer,” says Jadon.
Stanley’s most significant observation of his father is that he was one who led by example:
“He’s always one of the earliest to the office. If work starts at 9am, he would arrive at 8.30am. He always stayed until the office closed. He showed that as a boss you need to perform your duties.”
And one of Zeng senior’s most important lessons to his sons: the necessity of thinking and acting in the interest of the customers.
“We don’t want to hardsell our customers. We want to educate them to make sure what they get is within their budget and most value for money. We want to give them good service so that they will come back.”
Giving top-notch service, no matter what
They might only have been running Michael Trio for six years, but the Zeng brothers have already had their fair share of challenges with customers.
A few months after she bought a ring from them, a customer came back to the shop with half of it and claimed that it broke after a few wears. What was missing was the top part of the ring, including the diamond, and because of this, she demanded a full refund.
“If you were to bring back both the diamond and the setting, we will understandably help re-set the diamond onto the setting. However, we may waive the resetting fees on a case by case basis,” said Stanley.
“We might have to bear the labour cost but it is an extension of service for our customer’s loyalty towards our brand.”
The brothers admitted feeling slightly suspicious of what they felt was a rather tall-sounding story — Jadon said he observed that the ring (or what remained of it) was full of scratches, indicating that it had been frequently worn.
Despite that, the Zengs decided to give her a full refund in the end.
It needs to be clarified that the above scenario does not warrant a refund. Like every other merchant, Michael Trio does not need to bear the cost of damages inflicted by customers themselves.
However, this little anecdote illustrates the lengths the brothers go to in order to provide excellent customer service — something we were also able to verify from their Google reviews.
It has an average rating of 4.9 stars out of 5 culled from more than 140 reviews, many of which highlighted their knowledge and impeccable service:
Apart from top service, Michael Trio’s appeal is in no small part due to their price point. Prices at Michael Trio are generally 20 to 40 per cent cheaper than traditional retail.
Engagement rings start from S$1000 while wedding bands go from S$2000 a pair – it’s not cheap, we’ll admit, but they won’t break your wallet if you’re shopping for rings.
Are Singaporean millennials not buying diamond rings?
There is also the challenge of demand outlook — after all, the Zeng trio would certainly be all too aware of the impending economic downturn that will inevitably see tightening of purse strings, not to mention a trend of millennials seeming to prefer “experiences” over luxury purchases like jewellery.
Even in the Financial Times, the prevailing notion does seem that way.
But from where the Zengs are standing, it sure looks like interest persists — and they should know, given how they’ve positioned their business as a chiefly-online store with an appointment-only showroom (walk-ins are very rare).
In other words, Michael Trio customers are young, savvy, deliberate and discerning.
“I guess in the past, it was not so easy to get all the information, so people would just watch the TV and they’d think they must get a branded ring. Now it’s more open. People can source for their jewellery online, the options are more and they can buy from anywhere in the world.”
Even taking this further to consider the trend of young people choosing other types of precious stones over diamonds, they’re still pretty resolute in their belief that diamonds continue to be where it’s at.
“Most of them still want to get a diamond proposal ring,” said Stanley.
Jadon was also quick to add that ladies can opt for a gemstone or a birth stone instead of a diamond, if they so prefer:
“We do have those options in our showroom. When they come to us, we can educate them and show them what we have and the properties to look out for.”
For the less adventurous or studied (in the wide range of stones and gems), the Zengs say the way customers now deviate from traditional styles is by going for interesting diamond cuts and ring designs.
“In the past people like round. Nowadays, people are more open to fancy cuts like princess or a heart shape,” said Stanley.
Going big on customisation
Jadon also notes that ring settings today are a lot more refined and delicate. In the past, rings were largely simple bands, but today many customers want unique jewellery, exploring structures with different colours and finishing. Some even approach the brothers with their own designs.
It certainly does help, though, that the family owns a manufacturing facility dedicated to their products in China.
What this means, explains Stanley, is they have the flexibility of making any ring based on any design, as compared to other jewellers who can only sell the range of designs that they procure.
Also, if a customer has a special request to produce a ring within a shorter-than-usual timeframe, they’re able to expedite the order at their factory, too — again something that another jeweller may not be able to do.
The company also maintains a close relationship with a few workshops in Singapore that assist with services like polishing or tightening.
“It’s actually cheaper if we gather everything and send back to our factory in China, but the lead time will be longer, and there might be risks (sending them overseas),” said Jadon.
“So we don’t mind spending a bit more to shorten the lead time, and provide assurance to our customers.”
Being purveyors of diamond rings does have its perks. All three brothers customised their own engagement and wedding rings for their wives.
“I proposed to her with a specially made engagement ring set with a 1.2 carat heart-shaped diamond pronged in a 1 carat diamond setting,” said Zen.
According to him, it was specially crafted such that the diamonds can be seen from all sides.
Stanley, on the other hand, created a simpler engagement ring which didn’t outshine the main stone:
“I bought for my wife a 1.31 carat signature ideal stone set on a classic six-prong ring. As for the wedding band. Mine was a simple two-tone ring with matte finish so that if I scratched it accidentally, the scratches don’t show as much. Since her engagement ring was very simple. She went for an elegant full eternity ring for her wedding band.”
Jadon, on the other hand, wanted a ring that has more heft:
“I went for a thicker ring that fits my hands as they are bigger. My wife loves something with more “bling”, so she customised both her engagement ring and wedding band to have more diamonds.”
But what is it about diamonds that hold their interest?
“I really admire the beauty of the stones,” said Jadon. “I also appreciate how much time effort is it to bring a stone from its raw form to a perfectly cut diamond. Knowing that no two diamonds are alike, like their owners, each have their own characteristic and personality.”
If you’re interested in getting a diamond ring (or any form of jewellery) from Michael Trio, you can visit them at www.michaeltrio.com or their showroom at 91 Tanjong Pagar Road.
Credits: Mothership (10 February 2019)