Երկուշաբթի, 26. 02. 2024

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Conference at the French National Assembly: “ARMENIA, GATEWAY TO THE EURASIAN ECONOMIC UNION MARKET”

Presentation of the jewelry industry – by Mr. Hovel Chenorhokian

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I represent the Association of Armenian Jewelers, an international association of more than 3,000 members, from Sydney to Los Angeles, comprising of the various business sectors of jewelry, trade and cutting of precious stones, and watches.

I personally come from a family linked to the watch-making world for generations, so it was with surprise that I discovered the importance of Armenians in the jewelry industry, once I joined the association. It was at the international show in Las Vegas, which exhibited more than 100 companies run by Armenians. I was literally astonished to see the hall of jewelry designers occupied almost only by Armenians.

Certain trades are inherited by a particular group of people, and if there is a sector where Armenians are renowned for their excellence, it is surely that of jewelry. As the Persians are the masters in the work of carpet weaving, Armenians have been the masters at the work of gold and precious metals since the dawn of time.

Before talking about the jewelry industry in Armenia, I would like to make a personal testimony.

In 2001, in association with a luxury Swiss watch-making brand, I established the watch company – Armenian Watch Industries.

I went to Armenia to personally take care of the installation of assembly workshops and for the recruitment of executives. This was my first ever trip to Armenia; I was thoroughly impressed by the country, the people, and more particularly, the quality of human resources.

AWI watch – made in Armenia
AWI watch – made in Armenia

The first thing that struck me was the level of education and the liveliness of the people. People in Armenia, in general, have a very rich culture, and are very smart. During the Soviet era, Armenia benefited from a high standard of culture and education, made available to the general population; Culture, books, theater, opera were very accessible at the time; and in the Soviet context, Armenians had to develop an instinct for survival.

During my career, I established several companies. The year before my visit to Armenia, I undertook a similar operation in Asia, and the difference of Armenia was blatant. Indeed, it is very significant to have a partner who understands you in a heartbeat. And then again, people in Armenia are ingenious.

We often encounter technical problems during the assembly of a watch; a dial too thick or too thin by a tenth of a millimeter blocks manufacturing. In such cases, people in Armenia are champions in finding a solution. They are simply amazing.

To return to the field of jewelry, historically, be it in the Ottoman Empire or the Russian Empire, the sultans and tsars made appeal mainly to Armenian jewelers. The Soviet Union had seen this talent among Armenians and so they focused on Armenia’s jewelry industry and cutting of the diamonds.

During the Soviet era, the Yerevan Jewelry company employed 2,000 people and another 2,000 people were employed in diamond cutting.

The diamond armchair of Tsar
The ‘diamond armchair’ of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, the most elaborate of the royal thrones, was made by Persian Armenian craftsmen in 1659 and gifted to the tsar by merchants of the Armenian Trading Company. The throne is made of sandalwood faced with gold and silver plates with foliate ornamentation.

Currently, in Armenia, there are six medium-sized companies, which employ 100 to 200 people. There are many smaller workshops, and a mall dedicated exclusively to the jewelry trade, hosting 7 000 people, composed of artisans and merchants.

In order to develop the activities of the sector in Armenia, our association has undertaken a project of industrial free zone dedicated to jewelry.There must be about 15 000 people working in the jewelry sector in Armenia, but the number does not matter. Armenians are good with their hands, be it in jewelry and more generally in the craftsmanship.

To accomplish this project, a building complex was purchased by the company Meridian Free Economic Zone, a privately held corporation. This complex includes several buildings accumulating 50,000 m² of premises on 15 hectares of land, within 20 minutes of walk from the center of Yerevan. In October, the famous jewelry exhibition “Yerevan Show” was held on the premises.

 

 

A stainless steel sculpture of Charlie Chaplin carved by Edward Ter Ghazarian, placed in the needle hole/ Every single Ter is done by hand using traditional tools made by Mr. Tez Ghazarian
A stainless steel sculpture of Charlie Chaplin carved by Edward Ter Ghazarian, placed in the needle hole/ Every single Ter is done by hand using traditional tools made by Mr. Tez Ghazarian

The purpose of this project is to create a unique platform for jewelry manufacturing, diamond cutting and watch-making companies, with infrastructure and appropriate services.

Our goals are:

  • Create workplaces and employment opportunities
  • Increase the income of employees in the sector.
  • Increase the national income by increasing the volume of exports
  • Train the young generation
  • Provide advanced technologies and expertise particularly in terms of management
  • Make Armenia one of the pillars of the jewelry industry

Armenia has the following advantages:

  • Free trade agreement with the member countries of the EU Eurasian Economic market, giving Armenia an access to a market of nearly 200 million consumers.
  • Armenia is in Europe; it allows for the labeling «Made in Europe»- It is close to France both geographically and culturally.
  • Its labor cost is currently lower than in Asia. The average salary of a jeweler is 300 USD per month.
  • Its skilled workers are equally qualified as in the Western countries.
  • At the fiscal level, the Free Trade Zone has the advantages of 0% VAT, corporate income tax, customs duties both for raw materials and machinery.
Yerevan show 2014 – Held in the Meridian center
Yerevan show 2014 – Held in the Meridian center

There are still other benefits. The Russian company Alrosa, the second largest producer of raw diamonds in the world, currently sells its production mainly in India, China and Armenia. Russia imposes a tax of 6.5% on the export of raw diamonds. However, since the beginning of 2014, Armenia is exempt from this tax, which gives it a major advantage. With a rotation of 4 times a year, the benefit on the return of capital for Armenian companies would be 26%. To give you an idea of the size of the market, diamond export value in 2000 was around USD 250 million per year.

Armenia is an easy country for business. I happened to get stuck for two hours at Moscow airport for a simple customs declaration; in Armenia, the same operation takes as long as it takes to post a letter in the post office.

The World Bank’s ranking of Armenia 45 out of 189 countries for ease of doing business confirms the above statement. In comparison with France and other countries in the region, the rankings are:

France             31

Armenia          45

Turkey             55

Russia              62

Azerbaijan       80

I am going to conclude with some of my personal remarks:

– Armenia was an important crossroads on the Silk Road. In 1664, Colbert, the minister of King Louis XIV, founded the « Compagnie Française des Indes », a company specialized in trade with Asia. He wisely appointed an Armenian from New Julfa, as the first director of the company.

Today, Armenia is in the process of regaining an important place. CIBJO, which is the international confederation of national jewelry associations, will hold its annual conference in Yerevan in 2016.

– Today’s tremendous opportunities in Armenia may not be available tomorrow.

– Armenia is a young country. For someone who wants to undertake a business in Armenia, next to his investment, he must bring his expertise as an entrepreneur; bring a corporate culture, methods of management and organization, such as work procedures, quality control etc.

Finally, Armenia is a pleasant country to live in. I was in Armenia two weeks ago; there I met my niece Anahid. She is from New York, 22 years old and has been living in Armenia for the past few years. She has no desire at all to return to New York.

I hope that with our actions, we will ensure that girls like Anahid stay and work in Armenia.

I congratulate the team of the Chamber of Commerce, who organized this conference and wish them good luck. They have an important challenge. Businesses in France have needs/demands, and Armenia has the opportunities/supply. All there’s left to do is to communicate with and reach the persons making the decisions; an excruciating and difficult task. I am sure that with the help of Coface, UBIFRANCE, the CGPME and MEDEF, we are bound to get the results.

Thank you for your attention.

Hovel Chenorhokian

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