Yannick Mandaba (profile)
Creation Director, Gemstones Buyer, Founder.
(Imaginative French Gemologist reconverted into jewelry creation and production.)
Talking about jewelry creation :
"It's all about general proportions and smallest details. What is in between anyone can do."
Talking about jewelry design and manufacturing :
When I was young I could never answer the question "What do you want to do when you grow up?"
The world was too vast, and choosing a direction was equivalent to drop all the others.
Finally I did what was asked from me : scientific studies, earth science and biology in high school, in case I want to be a doctor like daddy, then I tried and passed an exam to enter a reputable computer engineering school in Paris (I just took the most reputable one accepting me so I entered E.F.R.E.I). In the end electronic and computer systems are tools to achieve other things. I was found of computers but I was not seeing myself building electronic circuits or optimizing code and networks for the rest of my life. I lost motivation and did not finish the 5 years program.
I started in the field for gemstones and jewelry in 1998 at HRD, Antwerp, Belgium. The same happened with Gemology, lapidary, gemstones trading, I got bored of working in such specialized fields because they are tools and the final destination of the stone in the jewel. This is the creative and exiting end of the long life of a gemstone.
When I was young if someone asked me "Do you ant to make jewelry?" I would have answered : "Isn't jewelry for girls? It is pretty useless anyway, so when there a crisis who will buy your jewelry?".
Well I would have been wrong…
Jewelry was already there at the beginning of time and primitive art is one of the first signs of civilization, as jewels were created by men to please their women and enhance they beauty.
Also whoever makes it through a crisis will still want to please himself and the people he loves with gifts, surrounding himself with beautiful things. There is always a lucky one or a smart one to succeed when everyone else is down and there is always a demand for art and luxury.
Thinking about it, today, Art, Literature, luxury goods, and beauty are always in demand no matter if people are at war, or in the middle of a crisis. Not because such things are useful but because they are essential to make life and interesting experience.
Talking about our mission:
Our primary role as Creation Workshop is to inform and guide customers while we create together and bring their concepts to reality. Then if we did our job well the production and sales will make it sustainable and even make profit alongside with our customer.
The last challenge will be to balance the pricing and the labor force to have enough capacity when needed to follow an eventual success of one of our customer, but without taking the risk to end-up with unnecessary workers in case customers globally don’t make orders for the products we developed for them.
How it all started
An aborted project:
The founder Mr. Yannick Mandaba is French by his mother a pediatrician from Britany whose parents where industrials doing lemonade and real estate, and from C.A.R. in Africa by is father a pediatric surgeon who studied at a French Catholic Missionary offering him a chance to finally obtain a diploma in France and meet his mother.
He started in the field of Gemology in 1999 in Antwerp, Belgium, then to French University of Nantes, and finally came to Thailand after his projects in Africa (in the Diamond Mining Industry) turned out to be impossible due to the political situation that followed the loss of his father the professor Jean-Luc Mandaba who was a surgeon, a sport lover, and one of the last pillars defending human rights in this region. J.L. Mandaba received a price from Amnesty International for his long fight against dictator. After resigning from his position as Prime Minister in an apparent democratic regime, he presented himself as independent candidate for the next elections, with the mission to banish tribalism and corruption, but unfortunately he died of unknown reasons shortly after a dinner organized for his former party's anniversary (ironically he was a medical expert for the tribunal, but he own death remained mysterious).
After his departure the current government was overthrown by a military putsch, and then another one by the SELECA finalized to accentuate the tribal and ethnical racism that finally tiered the country apart, weakening the fragile equilibrium, which ended-up by a tragedy between Muslims and Christians in a country of tolerance where religion was never an issue. J-L. Mandaba was known as the quot; federator " for his efforts of tolerance, always trying to conciliate ethnical and political issue for the benefit of the nation. After this loss and given the situation Mr. Yannick Mandaba, had no interest in risking his life to conduct diamond related project in Central African Republic.
Thailand, land of the free, land of opportunities :
Thailand became a land of opportunity for him when he arrived in 2005 invited by Vincent Pardieu who was at that time director of A.I.G.S. Laboratory and Teacher at the A.I.G.S Institute. After a few part time jobs in laboratories, as night course teacher in Gemology, website and article publishing for a Tsavorite mining company and finally as marketing manager in a German cutting factory Mr. Yannick Mandaba founded Manja-Thai Company Limited, in 2006 for a trading activity mostly. After a year of activity he started to feel that the final destination of the gemstone is the Jewel. Designing and creating jewelry was far more interesting than mining, cutting, trading or examining gemstones in a laboratory.
In 2007 he joined a friend and founded A.G.A. LLC in America, then hired a few Designers and started to focus on 3D Design Services, Models and molds making for Brands while doing gemstones and diamond trading on the side, and a few projects making unique pieces of jewelry for individuals only, learning the jewelry manufacturing process with Thai jewelers.
Very soon customers (Brands) started to ask samples to be delivered together with the molds to ensure they were working properly and to serve as models for manufacturers. Then some customers asked if we could produce small series and we started with Charriol Genève and the “Signatura Ring” (The highlight product for the 25t anniversary of the Brand) to produce our first serious line of Gold Jewelry with diamonds and cut-to-order gemstones.
In 2008, with the crisis, everything falls apart in the Thai Jewelry industry many jewelry factories must close, unable to pay the salaries and the suppliers. In the West things are not much better and like most of our important customers, Charriol Genève will reduce orders worldwide, and Mr. Charriol sends us a very kind letter explaining that we should be careful and that we should not expect much orders from his company in the near future. Yannick Mandaba sold his shares in America to his partner deciding that having a large structure is not helping in time of crisis, and decide to run everything from Thailand, to re-center our activity on Creation and start over but this time we would try to help all the small start-up Brands and creators, to be less dependent of a few large accounts.
challenge in Custom Manufacturing: The Dependencies.Very fast the multiplication of projects is bringing a lot of work, and we faced a new problem : a few promising customers started to create with us an important amount of very complex designs requiring us to focus on their business and to hire more staff. Doing so we passed on other opportunities trying to give birth so the collections and hopefully to be in charge of a nice production.
Unfortunately the sales did not go as well as planned for them, and as we were required to do more and more creation and development (but no real orders yet) we needed to raise our prices because an important part of our staff was working only on models, molds, samples and optimizations.
The new Brand designing the most complex products (technically unsolved most of the time) seemed to accept our new conditions and signed a contract for continuous development in a very cooperative manner, but finally in a sudden twist they retrieved all the 3D files that we fixed for months, the masters and the molds hoping to find a cheaper partner somewhere else.
This American designer still fails today to deliver his products to Net-a-porter and Bergdorf-Goodman when our products samples and first productions did pass their requirements QC at the time of our cooperation in 2011-2012.
So in the end we both lost an important business after months of preparation of multiple collections able to cover 2 or 3 seasons in advance as per the requirement of the boutique stores.
Various reasons for this result :
1) The designer was lacking experience in Jewelry and built designs for gold at a very large scale, out of range for the price point of the shops. From the start we gave our advices to make smaller but they wanted " glamorous jewelry" with many diamonds. They did not study their market. In the end they had to redo 50% of the products smaller to meet price points and they started to pressure us on the costs from re-design and creation, when we knew from start it was too heavy with too many diamonds.
2) They did not care at all about our workflow, trying to develop too many products at a time, very intricate products at the limit of what is possible to make, often we had to draw the line. All along the creation they promised results to boutique stores with fixed dates when important technical challenges were not even answered in their initial concepts, leaving to us a huge work to find technical solutions in no time.
3) No consideration for the manufacturer. Finally the customer realize the mistake in the initial concept of "Glamourous means big", so we had to resize the entire collection, save diamonds, etc. We focused and we did build 3 collections with more than 75 references, but we had to raise the prices for our services and for the samples orders. At first the project was presented like is they had customers lining-up and other collections already selling so we did not charge the creation very high.
In Custom Jewelry Manufacturing we cannot rely on customer’s experience, on customers marketing strategies, or even on a good productions running just fine. We must secure agreements to make projections and make sure we do not hire too much staff.
This experience cumulated all the mistake to avoid at all costs. We did so much work for this Brand that we lost many other customers and we could never really benefit from all this work. When they arrived in our office for the first time they could not find anyone to build the products properly, the small workshop could not, the large factories were not interested. Today they could not enter in big distribution channels, but they use the result of our hard work to sell limited editions and special pieces to celebrities.
What is unfair is that we have to stay in the shadow after teaching so much to this customer and after bringing so much into a project that will benefit other.
Conclusion:We are your partner, not your supplier:
This experience teaches us that a good cooperation between a Customer and a manufacturer is not a buyer-seller relationship where each party just negotiates a punctual deal. To be successful it must be run like a venture where each party understands the needs of his partner in order for the relationship to last longer.
We must protect ourselves, save our energy for promising projects, and secure a fair exit plan if we are not to be producing the products we spent time to develop (Exit Fees to adjust the rate of the creation as standalone service whe our "know how" is to be exported).
We now have a new way to cooperate with customer so we can grow and shrink according to our the amount of customer, their success, high/low seasons, crisis, etc.
We give priority to Production over Creation, to Planned Production Agreements over Punctual and sudden large orders, to long term partners over new customers asking for cheap-fast-high-quality-creation for an eventual production which could take place anytime, or not at all.
We are a workshop for Custom Made Jewelry Lines, we are not a factory selling from a catalog..
To survive we must have many skills, handle various types of jewelry, and most importantly we must be flexible.
We have to secure the supply of specific materials for each customer style.
We have to regulate the amount of workers for everyone, with respect for our staff working conditions and life stability. Skill must be rewarded with respect.
These are the challenges and the reasons for our conditions to guaranty capacity with quality. When we cannot offer both we will guaranty quality only and it is the responsibility of the customer to give us some guaranty of continuous orders and allow us to also commit on capacity.
Our minimum structure for a flexible production:
- Around 5 staffs in production management, with help from designers (who are wax modelers and jewelers as well, not just designers) and the 3 Directors and assistants.
- Around 8-10 permanent jewelers with specific skills (handmade jobs, filling, welding and chains assembly, details cleaning and finishing), all able to supervise small teams of temporary workers in their field of excellence.
- Temporary workers are hired for 3 month minimum periods, just like our production plans..
- Permanent workers are all paid well over the minimum salary in Thailand of 400 USD per month, they have social security and temporary workers are offered an insurance if they don't already have one.
- Only 2 permanent master setters in the workshop, very skilled and able to work invisible setting, will supervise other setters hired only according to our real need. They do the setting QC for punctual needs and less sensitive jobs that are handled by our close partner (a workshop doing exclusively setting work with around 20 setters at all time) able to handle our quality standard.
A worker can clean around 40 piece a day of simple products, 6 pieces of a complex ring design.
A setter can do 150 stones a day.
It is not a large factory but it is flexible enough to adapt to customers projects involving a wide variety of techniques.
New Challenge starting in 2015 : Our catalogSince the beginning our concept was that we cannot ethically create our own products if we are being entrusted with other Brands designs and concepts.
Nevertheless Custom Manufacturing as sole activity is no safe to provide continuous work. It is pushing us to require too much commitment from our Customers.
In order to lower this pressure on our customers, we decided to start our own catalog but we will produce only accessories and classical products. This should create a base of constant work and maintain a higher level of labor force allowing us to venture with more important Brands and to offer more capacity without conditions.
Rendez-vous is October for the first products to be available for direct orders.
Useful Links about Jewelry and Gemology
Laboratories & schoolswww.aigslaboratory.com
Field trips in the mines
The best seller
Another famous gemologist
Blog gemmology and opals
Blog gemmology and opals
Free gemology courses and resources
Forums & Networkswww.gemologyonline.com
The rendez-vous gemology
All about prices
Mostly about prices
All about everything
All about everything