Hubert Burda Media

Stefanus Lo: A Matter of Trust

The entrepreneur behind Mondial and Frank & Co on how jewellery is a treasure asset that holds both investment and heritage value.

For Stefanus Lo, trustworthy jewellery retailers play a special role in society. “Unlike expensive cars, branded leather bags and so on, the jewellery industry is not merely about luxury consumption,” asserts the 50-year-old founder and CEO of Central Mega Kencana (CMK) during an interview at the Frank & Co. store in Plaza Indonesia.

“Jewellery is a treasure asset that holds both investment and heritage value. Customers will own the pieces for themselves and they will pass them on to the next generation. Therefore, they have the right to receive correct information about the quality of the jewellery, prices as well as after-sales service.”

“Becoming the only clean-and-clear jewellery retailer in Indonesia, that’s our mission. We take this business seriously. Diamonds, precious stones and precious metals are serious commodities. Therefore, the jewellery industry is a very serious industry. Because of our values, we are attached endlessly to each and every piece of jewellery sold by our brands. Our responsibility for every sold piece is timeless.”

Growing a family business that was founded by his father, Lo Kurniawan, in the late 1960s, Stefanus Lo opened the first Frank & Co. store at Pondok Indah Mall in 1996. Just over two decades later, his company has four brands (Mondial, Miss Mondial, Frank & Co. and The Palace) serving from middle to high-end segments. It employs some 1,700 employees and has 50 stores.

Lo is in expansion mode. By 2020, he aims to have 100 stores and to take his company public. Born in Jakarta, he earned a degree in civil engineering from Universitas Katolik Parahyangan Bandung. After his father retired, he became founder and CEO of Frank & Co. Jewellery in 1995, and Chairman of CMK in 2001.

“The most important thing my father taught me was the importance of trust in this business,” says Lo. “Unscrupulous dealers can easily cheat their customers. How do people know whether the jewellery they are buying is of the quality the dealer says it is? This is why trust is everything in jewellery retailing. When customers buy gold and diamond jewellery in our stores they can be sure they will not be taken advantage of.”

Lo claims that CMK has grown to become the biggest jewellery retailer not only in Indonesia, but in Southeast Asia. How has he done it? “It wasn’t an easy path, but it all paid off because of our consistency,” he says. “Each of our brands caters to a different target market and has a unique approach in terms of design. Central Mega Kencana and its four brands are all about high quality and exquisite design. The characteristics of our female customers are those who know how to define success. Their definition of success ranges from being happy and healthy, raising happy and healthy kids, and good family relationships.”

Before Lo launched the Frank & Co. chain, jewellery retailing in Indonesia was a mom-and-pop store business. “In 1996, the time was right to upgrade,” he recalls. “At that time, jewellery stores in modern shopping centres started to become a trend in Singapore and Hong Kong. In Indonesia, modern shopping malls were also being introduced. We saw this as a big opportunity to bring our passion for jewellery to the next level.

“Being a pioneer is not an easy job. Being a pioneer in jewellery retailing in Indonesia is something else. Jewellery lovers were so used to shopping in traditional stores. But Frank & Co. launched a new concept of a jewellery store in a shopping mall, completely run by professionals, not owners.

“We were the first in Indonesia to introduce F colour and VVS Clarity diamond jewellery guaranteed by certificates of authenticity. We put an in-house mini laboratory in each store to assure customers about the quality of our pieces. Our jewellery representatives are consultants, not sales persons. They are there to educate customers about diamonds and gemstones, to ensure that every purchase is worth making.”

“Selection is the key to our growth. We set strict parameters. Only 5 percent of top-quality GIA diamonds pass our selection process, making our quality unrivalled in Indonesia. We strive to provide what customers want. It’s really important to understand customers, not just in terms of providing exquisite designs but also excellent service from our representatives and after-sales service.”

CMK’s most upscale brand, Mondial, offers one-of- a-kind jewellery and rare pieces such as its Light of Mondial diamonds. These stones are selected only from the world’s top type IIA diamonds. Of all diamonds, type IIa stones are the most rare and valuable, and, therefore, the most sought-after by collectors and investors. This type represents just 1 percent of all diamonds. The reason why these stones are so exceptional is that they contain very little nitrogen or none at all within the crystal lattice, so they do not easily absorb short-wave light. The result is that light is easily able to pass through and bounce back at the beholder’s eye, producing a stunning appearance. Because they are almost pure carbon, white diamonds are remarkably colourless, unless they contain an inclusion that absorbs certain light. Fancy colored diamonds of this type can be pink, grey, yellow, brown, light blue or light green. Type II diamonds have differing fluorescence and no visible absorption, no nitrogen impurities that may cause a yellow or brown tint.

Additionally, type II diamonds form under remarkably high pressure for longer time periods, and tend to have an irregular shape. Mondial’s diamonds are sourced directly from two international sightholders, as well as being certified by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the world’s foremost authority in jewellery. A sightholder is a company on De Beers’ global list of authorised bulk purchasers of rough diamonds. The London-based De Beers Group is the world’s leading diamond company, the largest producer and purveyor of Lo says Mondial employs stringent selection criteria to ensure that its hand-picked diamonds are of the highest standards. This has enabled the brand to achieve many patents and accolades for premium collections such as Mondial Excellent Cut, the world’s first beyond GIA-graded Triple Excellent Diamonds, selected under 49 parameters.

“We source our diamonds from legitimate sources all over the world,” says Lo. “Diamonds are the ultimate symbol of love, so it is very important to ensure that every piece is a responsibly sourced natural diamond. We have been partnering with a few credible sightholders to ensure that our diamonds are conflict-free natural stones.”

“With man-made CVD stones being aggressively distributed all over the world nowadays, we pay extra attention to the quality of our diamonds. We are very particular when it comes to choose partners to collaborate with. Our long time partners understand all our parameters, and they strive to deliver.”

CMK’s Miss Mondial brand targets the young and affluent market, offering statement pieces with bold designs. Frank & Co. offers timeless, classy pieces, while The Palace is a mass-market affordable jewellery brand. Wedding bands are big business for CMK, accounting for about 30 percent of total sales. The company collaborates with fashion designers, notably Sebastian Gunawan, Anne Avantie and Tex Saverio, to create exclusive wedding-band collections.

Says Lo: “We recently launched The Greatest Love Collaboration with Sebastian, Tex and Anne. These three are undoubtedly the maestros in their own expertise. Each of them has a similar DNA with our brands. It’s every bride’s dream to wear one of their designs.”

CMK uses social media to promote its brands, but e-commerce is a low priority for the company. “We started to invest in digital two years ago,” says Lo. “It was essential to mark our presence digitally, especially for the millennials. We tap into the young and affluent market through our social media channels, campaigning mostly gifting ideas and bridal jewellery items.

“To be honest, we don’t believe in e-commerce in the jewellery industry. Our market still cherishes the journey of going to the store, holding a piece of jewellery and trying it on. It’s about enjoying the moment when our jeweller presents the pieces inside our exclusive velvet box.”