Hong Kong Jeweller Tayma Page Allies shares secrets of her success
Tayma Page Allies ignored the odds stacked against her when she went "head first" into the jewellery business 25 years ago. Seeing a gap in the market, the British-born, Hong Kong-based businesswoman set up Tayma, specialising in handmade one-off pieces of jewellery - and she hasn't looked back. "I had no financial backing, no local language skills and no official premises - I just went head first into it."
Sitting in her beautifully decorated flat in Pok Fu Lam, it's obvious she has an eye for both quality and detail - pieces of Asian art and antiques are woven together to form a creative and homely tapestry. But it's the green and turquoise jewellery hanging from her neck, wrists and ears - pieces from her collections - that catch the eye. "A lot of my jewels have been inspired by the Caribbean ocean where I spent time growing up."
Her international upbringing also included schooling in Malta, Trinidad and Britain, and teaching in Nigeria.
In the early '80s, work also took her to Russia and China: "In those days it was a novelty to see a blue-eyed blonde girl."
With just £50 in her pocket, a return ticket to Britain and a small suitcase, Allies decided to stay in Hong Kong. "I had nowhere to live and no job but was lucky to secure a position with a PR agency handling clients including the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.
Things changed in 1990 when, driven by basic mathematics, she entered uncharted territory and set up Tayma Page & Associate. "I won a contract to stage fashion shows in China for French fashion house Montagut, organising models, choreography, advertising, promotion, venue, lighting and so on. I spent three years organising shows in Beijing, Dalian and Shanghai, before realising that 70 per cent of my time was spent on fashion shows for 30 per cent return while 30 per cent of the down time I spent on jewellery was making a 70 per cent return."
Turning her focus to making jewellery was a wise move. Now she is set to reopen her shop in Prince's Building in June and will launch a website taymajewellery.com later this month. It will offer ideas for birthstones, anniversary gems, a Chinese zodiac section with exotic gems matched to each year; a gems glossary section, a concierge section and a legacy section where loose stones can be purchased annually and gifted to the next generation to start heritage collections.
"Back then you could source jewellery craftsmen and goldsmiths in Hong Kong for very little cost, so I spent weekends redesigning my 21st birthday aquamarine and diamond ring and making pieces for myself. My friends loved them and asked me to make some for them.
"I really loved freshwater pearls - in those days they looked like coloured Rice Crispies - so I had a local man visit farms in China to buy the best quality and I designed beautiful multistrands of seed pearls to wear as necklaces and bracelets, interchangeable into five styles. I always had one around my neck and one in my bag - people loved those pearls and are still wearing them today. It was this seed pearl money of about HK$10,000 that paid for my gemology lessons, and with which I was able to buy my first gemstones."
After studying gemology for four years - "I was 30 when I went into jewellery full time" - she opened a small shop in Lan Kwai Fong. "In those days, I was a one-man-band making round-the-world trips on United and BA Concorde to take in the main trunk shows in LA, San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, and the South of France in the summer."
At the time, her sister worked for ABC News, and Allies took advantage of that connection to build a network of clients, including famous US journalist Barbara Walters.
But along the long and sparkling road there have been a few bumps - and lots of tears.
"When I was starting out I did a trunk show and put a bag full of gold jewellery on the ground only to have a taxi reverse over it and flatten everything. That wasn't good for cash flow. I cried."
A theft in Thailand also turned on the waterworks. "My first collection was handmade in Thailand - the gold and labour was cheaper there than in Hong Kong and there was a plentiful supply of ruby and sapphire cabochons [a gem or bead cut in convex form and highly polished but not faceted]. I sent two parcels of jewellery by Speedpost to London for a trunk show and the driver stole them and ditched the van. Instead of insuring for the correct value of US$10,000, the amount had been wrongly entered as US$1,000. I cried again."
Allies says her jewellery is made with carefully selected gemstones and pearls. "It's impossible to duplicate an original, even if the mounting can be copied. Most imitators copy because they want to offer a cheaper product, but an imitation is always a poor comparison because I use only the best diamonds, quality gold, and experienced goldsmiths - and I never cut corners," says the 58-year-old.
It's this attention to quality that has helped her build a loyal customer base worldwide.
Once, she says, a man called from China looking for a birthday gift for his wife. The man had made a purchase for his wife a few years earlier, so Allies used that insight to craft something to the wife's taste.
"Within 24 hours, she had opal and diamond earrings for her birthday in Koh Samui."
On another occasion, a woman arrived from London on Saturday morning, chose the diamond for her engagement ring and they were able to design and craft the ring within six hours. "She flew out at 7pm absolutely delighted."
Her attention to detail - and willingness to take the initiative - are part of the reason for her success.
"You need to have stamina and faith in yourself … and follow your intuition."