, MARCH 3, 2007 (STAR) By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes - Penetrating the highly impregnable export market is probably every businessmanís dream.

In the case of Michelis Gifts and Jewelry, whose exquisite pieces are already highly in demand in Europe and in the United States, it is the reverse. It has already the distinction of being considered among the young brands to watch out for by the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show. Everywhere in the world, people are going for silver. It has become the new white gold. Silver is in.

But there is no place like home. What is it to be known in the international market when your fellow Filipinos continue to patronize trinket items bought in home craft stores or Baguio souvenir shops, not because they want them but because they donít know where to look for more fashionable, classier, but affordable pieces.

Thus Michelis dream: To make its sterling silver items a part of each and every Filipinoís fashion accessory line-up.

Alexandra Faustman, marketing manager of Michelis who is now taking a very active role in the family jewelry business began by her grandmother as early as 1951 and then taken to new heights by her mother Mia in 1978, says a larger part of the items made by parent company Seven Castles are shipped to England which has probably the most stringent quality control producer for jewelry in the world. Another 12 percent is sold in the United States and around five percent to other countries in Europe.

Most, if not all of the pieces sold abroad (around 99 percent), are mostly on distributorship and consignment basis, and because of the high level of purity (as high as 95 percent sterling silver) and the remarkable craftsmanship that go into each and every jewelry, nobody can tell it apart from the high-fashion name brands of Europe.

But Filipinos should not lose heart. Michelis, which started out as a brand only eight years ago, has branches in Greenbelt I, Greenhills Shopping Center, Rustanís Tower Shangrila Plaza, Rustanís Ermita, Rustanís Alabang Town Center, and in Mandarin Oriental Hotel and Sofitel Philippine Plaza. Plans are afoot to put up two or three more stand-alone stores this year.

Alexandra, who finished gemology in England, tells us how her grandmother used to design and make pieces only for the alta sociedad of Manila. But her mother Mia, who was already in exporting the pieces, wanted to go beyond that. The opportunity presented itself when they were offered a shop space in Greenhills. Mia is currently the president of the Guild of Philippine Jewelers.

"We specialize in jewelry pieces that contained 92.5 percent sterling silver (the level of purity required by the international market). But because we buy from Seven Castles which exports jewelry, Filipinos are sure that they are getting the same high quality that is being sold in Europe and in the United States. In England, it is standard operating procedure to export to their assay office which is probably the strictest. That is why we increase the purity to 95 percent just to make sure," she explains.

Michelis is also on its third year selling its pieces in Singapore at the Union Square and is currently under negotiations for a second store in the Lion City. In Los Angeles, California, there are also ongoing talks with a shop called Particulare in Melrose Avenue on a consignment deal but a joint design effort.

So while her grandmother was more into customizing and her mother began the volume work, whatís the task for this third generation of jeweler?

Alexandra is definitely bringing in the exuberance of the younger generation. In fact, she describes wearers of Michelis jewelry as young at heart; those who value their money and know quality when they see it.

Because of their affordability inspite of their very high quality, Filipinos can now afford to mix and match and not be bogged down by the tag price or the whole investment aspect of jewelry. While Michelisí sterling silver pieces may not have the investment value of gold, 92.5 percent sterling silver is still 92.5 percent sterling silver and this is where Filipinos should draw the line.

Alexandra laments the fact that there are some stores who mislead buyers into thinking that they are indeed buying 92.5 percent sterling silver pieces when they do not. At Michelis, buyers are assured that they are buying what they are paying for. (A fine Michelis pieces can be had at less than P1,000 while more elaborate pieces can fetch up to P80,000.)

To an untrained eye, sterling silver can pass off as the costlier white gold. But silver is currently the rage overseas that some jewelers are beginning to put diamond in silver jewelry.

Men in general dislike jewelry especially gold ones, except maybe for their wedding ring, cuff links, or in the case of a few, very simple necklaces. They prefer silver or white gold, but the designs currently in the market are very limited.

By the end of April, Michelis will be launching its menís line. It is also working with the Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines (FDAP) as well as other designers to incorporate jewelry into the idea of fashion.

Michelis pieces are more than your standard offerings. The corporate types who are getting bored with their suits are being drawn into wearing Michelis jewelry because they are fashionable but at the same time respectable. Many have began to realize that clothes and shoes are not the only ones that can make them fashionable. Fashion jewelry, such as those made by Michelis, are becoming eye-turners.

From being an international rage (as fine sterling silver jewelry made by Seven Castles) into probably the most in demand jewelry pieces in the country, Alexandraís dream is to put Michelis into the world map as a jewelry brand made in the Philippines, strutting the runways of the worldís fashion capitals.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved