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Local gems with a story to tell

A store attendant handles jewellery at Chamazo’s showroom on Wednesday afternoon in Phnom Penh.
A store attendant handles jewellery at Chamazo’s showroom on Wednesday afternoon in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Local gems with a story to tell

Chamazo, a high-end jewellery workshop and gallery in Phnom Penh, is gearing up for expansion and seeking new international markets for its locally inspired designs.

The project, started by French national Anne Marie Ros in 2011, employs and trains Cambodian women in jewellery-making techniques, and incorporates local materials into its handcrafted products. Its five full-time jewellery makers take an active role in its product development.

“There is always a link with Cambodia in the design process, resulting in jewellery that has a Khmer spirit and a French touch,” explained Pauline Hunot, the company’s operations manager. “Most of our materials are from Cambodia and Chamazo is one of the only companies to actually work with local gems in our products.”

Jewellery on display in Chamazo’s showroom incorporates a variety of local materials, such as quartz from the Takeo province, zircon and amethyst from Ratanakkiri province, and locally sourced silver and onyx. However, some products include imported pearls and jade from China, as these materials are not found in Cambodia.

The showroom is currently open by appointment only due to staffing limitations, but the company plans to train more local staff and switch to regular store hours, according to Hunot. Meanwhile, Chamazo is looking to partner with large department stores abroad to sell its unique jewellery products.

Dominique Dufieux, the company’s marketing and communications director, said consumers in overseas markets have been receptive to the jewellery products – and particularly the Cambodian story behind them.“Wherever I travel people are very interested in our products,” she said.

“However, so far our problem has been that Chamazo is not yet a fully established brand and we lack visibility.”

She said the company’s next big push is to generate awareness and find sales channels in Thailand and Japan.

Aya Kimura, chief editor of the Cambodia-based magazine Phnom, which caters to the Kingdom’s growing Japanese expatriate population, was optimistic that the company would be well received by Japanese consumers.

“Japanese customers are always looking for a story behind the product and here is a good example for that, with stones that come from Ratanakkiri or Mondulkiri and Cambodian women making the jewellery by hand,” she explained.

“That is very important for Japanese customers.”

Kimura said success in Japan would still pose a challenge, and Chamazo would need to better define its story and show why its products are unique. To do so, she advised promoting the distinct Cambodian origin of the jewellery.

“Cambodia is a mysterious place for the Japanese people because they still have the image of its troubled history, but these gems offer something different from that image, which is a surprise,” she said.

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