Pune: 24 karat gold prices have been hovering around ₹60,000 per 10-gram mark since February this year, forcing consumers to rethink their decision to buy jewellery for daily wear. Besides the high prices, the making and wastage charges involved in gold jewellery or wearing off in case of gold-plated jewellery are the major causes of concern in everyday accessorising.
Palmonas, a direct to consumer (D2C) startup founded in early 2022 by orthopaedic surgeon-turned-entrepreneur Dr Amol Patwari after getting inspired by a seemingly casual conversation with his wife Pallavi Mohadikar, is addressing this market need with their crafting techniques, plating technology, and quintessential designs of demi-fine jewellery products. The duo aims to disrupt the Indian jewellery industry with affordable luxury for everyone.
In the beginning…
Dr Amol hails from small-town Udgir located in Latur district, while Pallavi is from Nagpur and raised in Nashik. Dr Amol did his MBBS and post-graduation specialisation in orthopaedics in Sangli. He came to Pune in 2015 and started practising at Jehangir Hospital. Pallavi is an electronics and telecommunication engineering graduate from the College of Engineering Pune (COEP). After working at TCS for two years, she felt the desire to become an entrepreneur and pursued an MBA at IIM Lucknow from 2012 to 2014.
Pallavi said, “During my first year of MBA, I started a supply chain project centred around Chikankari, a famous art form from Lucknow. During my visits to the city, I connected with artisans and weavers, studying their supply chain. Given that my grandfather was a weaver and my family owned two handlooms, I was familiar with the financial hardships faced by artisans and my initiative was to make a difference for them.”
“In 2013, I embarked on my venture involving Chikankari sarees. I sourced these sarees and conducted an on-campus photoshoot with friends. Initially, I started selling them on eBay as a hobby and to gauge the market’s response. Surprisingly, the demand grew rapidly, and within a few days, we were receiving a significant number of orders. Encouraged by the success, we decided to expand. During the senior batch convocation ceremony, we set up a stall on campus, showcasing our sarees. We made a remarkable sale of ₹1.5 lakh in a single day. It was a defining moment for me, as this amount was substantial for a student. Through my eBay business, I was able to cover my education expenses. The success fuelled my passion, and I realised that this was what I wanted to pursue,” she said.
Pallavi said, “I had secured a placement at Goldman Sachs with an attractive package. Coming from a middle-class family, it was a momentous accomplishment and I worked at the firm for nine months and saved money. With the vision of providing a platform for weavers and artisans, I established brand IndoFash to enable weavers to register and sell products on national and international levels. We faced challenges as technology adoption was limited and many people did not own smartphones to upload product photos and details. Consequently, we had to handle the cataloguing. Additionally, reaching remote locations of major weaver and artisan communities across India posed difficulties in terms of delivery logistics. After careful consideration, in December 2016, we made the tough decision to pivot and explore other avenues.”
Failures and learnings
Pallavi and Dr Amol got married in 2017. Pallavi said, “After spending a couple of months in Nashik, we reflected on our previous business endeavours and tried to understand what went wrong. We realised our execution faltered because we were attempting to create a marketplace model. Our mistake was trying to handle everything, from marketing to operations, with a slim 30 per cent margin. Simultaneously, we were competing against giants like Amazon and Flipkart who had ventured into a similar direction. It became clear that we could not compete directly with them. We needed to find a complementary approach where they would also promote us. That is when we came up with the idea of creating a brand that would showcase and promote products made by artisans. In July 2017, we launched Karagiri, starting with a website and operating everything from home. We began with 40 ‘Narayan Peth Sarees’ and quickly realised that the brand model offered higher margins, allowing us to invest in marketing and other areas.”
Dr Amol said, “From day one, the business proved to be profitable, and we decided to scale it up. At that time, we were residing at a 3BHK apartment in NIBM area and conducted daily operations such as packing and customer care ourselves. We continued this way for eight months as the orders increased. Eventually, we hired an employee and occupied an office space. Additionally, we launched our first store in Koregaon Park with our office located within it to build trust and establish a branded presence. We hired two individuals to handle operational activities, and the business continued to expand.”
“The Covid pandemic in early 2020 seemed like a blow to our business. We feared shutdown, but the opposite occurred as everyone flocked to online platforms. We took advantage of reduced online advertising costs and experienced a surge in popularity and recognition during those two years. We had achieved significant growth without raising funds, relying solely on our initial investment of ₹3 lakh. By September 2021, we decided to sell a majority stake to brand aggregator Mensa when our turnover reached ₹30 crore. Pallavi still retains a significant equity share in Karagiri, now owned by Mensa, and continues to oversee sourcing activities due to her expertise in sarees, product sourcing and marketing strategies,” he said.
Following the experience with Karagiri, Dr Amol and Pallavi contemplated starting a new venture. Dr Amol’s mother and father were both doctors practising in Udgir. One day, Pallavi, Dr Amol and his parents were discussing about medical devices and other equipment.
Dr Amol said, “Surgical products and equipment do not rust or tarnish even after prolonged use. Curious, Pallavi asked how it was possible considering they come in contact with body fluids. I answered that they are made using surgical steel which does not react with the body. This sparked an idea: why not create jewellery using this material?”
“We recognised a common problem with traditional jewellery. People often choose gold as it does not cause adverse reactions like rashes or skin-turning green. This was an ‘aha’ moment for us and we delved into research to find artisans who could craft jewellery using surgical stainless steel. We placed our first order for a batch of 30 products, and in March 2022, we launched Palmonas, our new jewellery brand.”
Wife turns investor
The name Palmonas was derived from a combination of names — Pallavi, Amol, and their daughter Anaya. Dr Amol said, “Our vision for Palmonas was to establish it as an international brand, particularly targeting the thriving demi-fine jewellery segment in the US and UK. We were aware of existing players in this market who were generating millions of dollars in sales. It was crucial for us not to miss out on tapping into this market. Therefore, we sought a name that would resonate with the international audience, and the name ‘Palmonas’ struck a chord with us.”
“During our launch, we started with around 30 unique designs, primarily focusing on necklaces and earrings within two categories. After 15 months, we have expanded significantly, with nearly 1,000 different SKUs available on our website. We now offer a wide range of jewellery categories, encompassing all aspects of the jewellery umbrella. Building upon the experiences and lessons learned from our time at Karagiri, we applied those insights to the development of Palmonas. The growth we achieved with Karagiri in 3.5 years, we managed to accomplish in just one year with Palmonas. With the initial success, I asked Pallavi to invest in the venture and she agreed,” Dr Amol said.
Proof of concept
Pallavi said, “In the beginning, we did not have any jewellery designers. It was just the two of us. We realised that studying the best-selling brands and their popular designs would be beneficial. Drawing inspiration from them, we created our first batch of 30 products. They sold out within days and this success confirmed that our concept was viable. We decided to use not only surgical stainless steel, but also sterling silver, which is an earth material, as the base metal. We applied gold plating over these materials. This comes under the demi-fine jewellery category which falls between fine and imitation jewellery.”
“In India, people are fond of gold, buy it on every occasion but often keep it locked away, only to wear during special occasions. Gold jewellery becomes a stagnant investment with limited use. On the other hand, imitation jewellery, which is available cheap on the streets for around ₹50-100, is neither skin-friendly nor elegant in appearance. For the millennial crowd, college-going girls, and working women, wearing gold is a status symbol. They want to appear affluent and expensive. We pondered over the idea of creating something that closely resembles gold but comes at a fraction of the price. That is when the idea began to take shape,” she said.
“In the jewellery we create, the base metal is gold plated. Unlike other gold-plated jewellery that requires careful handling, avoiding contact with water and perfume, our aim was to ensure that the plating remains intact. We came up with a concept called 18Karat gold vermeil plating. In typical flash-plated jewellery, the gold layer is only 0.5 microns thick. However, in our jewellery, we use a layer that is 2.5 microns thick, making it significantly thicker than regular gold-plated jewellery. As a result, our jewellery looks identical to gold and has a premium finish,” said Pallavi.
Future of jewellery
Pallavi and Dr Amol said, “We want to scale up our direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales and marketplace presence. In about a year, we are considering launching 9 Karat and 12 Karat gold products designed for daily wear, incorporating international designs and at affordable prices. In the next few years, the millennial population in India will not necessarily view gold as an investment but would instead opt for gold bonds and allocate the saved making charges towards purchasing multiple pieces of demi-fine jewellery. This indicates a changing trend in the jewellery industry, where demi-fine represents the future due to its affordability, elegance, and wider range of designs and aesthetics”
“Jewellery is often an impulse purchase and hence it is crucial for us to have a strong presence where people typically go to buy such products. We plan to establish kiosks in malls in metro cities which will enhance our branding and visibility but would not be excessively capital-intensive. We have a Jaipur-based contract manufacturer and for sourcing surgical stainless-steel material we have identified a vendor in Gurgaon. We want to reduce our dependency on China in this aspect,” the entrepreneur-duo said.
Dr Amol recalls, “We got our first customer just when we got our Instagram page live. We made a special packaging and delivered it to his house ourselves. He was not aware about demi-fine jewellery and had just ordered because he had liked the design. Now, we are doing digital and influencer marketing to expand our reach. Content creators can just give credit to us and wear our jewellery while creating their content.”