Businessman, gemologist and part-time student at 25

In Photo: John Ortiga

‘I got exposed to our jewelry and luxury watches business at age 17. In a way I was some sort of an apprentice in my grandfather’s store untilI graduated from collegein 2002 at 22.

“After that, when I was 25, I was pursuing my masteral  studies at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati,” reminisced the young-looking John Ortiga, managing director of La Estrella del Norte, a leading retailer of jewelries and watches in the Metro.

John, the third-generation Ortiga scion (after his father Teddy and his grandfather Tony), manages the company’s watch-and-jewelry chain, Alexis Jewelry Inc.

Was he pressured to follow in his elders’ footsteps?

“At an early age, wala akong hilig sa alahas, sa negosyo namin. [I don’t find the business to my liking.] But when I went to college, they asked me to step into the family business to get the feel of it. I was studying in La Salle and they asked me to man our branch in Harrison Plaza, and after graduating, I lived in New York for quite a time and then came back to help out. Still, I had to learn other aspects of the business, such as the operation and marketing so I took up Masters in Entrepreneurship at AIM. It’s another one-and-a-half year course. So I was still a part-time student while working on the family business. I was manning a store in the morning until afternoon then I had classes late-afternoon onward till night,” John started.

“We’re one of the few watch and jewelry stores in the country. Alexis started in the 1980s in Glorietta. Now we have 15 branches all over Metro Manila,” said the 35-year-old John, who went to school at the Gemological Institute of America in the Diamond District, on 47th and Fifth Avenue, in New York, where he underwent training for  one-and-a-half years. That was to further her training and knowledge about jewelries according to John.

Today, what he learned and went through when he was 25—juggling business and studies, has definitely paid off.

Highly specialized, La Estrella del Norte has always been in the business of the glittering world of fine jewelry for the last 40 years.

Is your business more challenging than other businesses?

“I believe so. Ours is a luxury business. As a gemologist and businessman, I have to adhere to the standard that was set by my father and grandfather. Aside from selling, we also deal with educating our clients on the value of jewelries, for instant. They need at least to appreciate, if not understand, everything. We don’t cheat or fool the clients because we want a sustaining business with them. So if they’re happy and satisfied with our products and services, they’ll refer us to their friends, too. Our business grows that way—referrals and through words of mouth.”

“We don’t target clients who are super rich. ’Yun langmga may ‘kaya’. That’s the safer word—may kaya sabuhay. We’re happy what we have a niche market. Hopefully the business will grow more from referrals from friends. For the fine jewelry segment, our edge is of course, I have a degree on gemologist, I know what I am talking about. Second, we have been doing this for a long time. We already have contacts and friends as established clients. Our products are expensive but rare. If you get one from us, nobody but only you has it because we manufacture our own jewelries. So we can safely claim, and you have the assurance, that nobody in the Philippines has it but only you.  Moreover, our materials come from many and reliable sources, like New York, Belgium, India, Israel and South Africa, among others,” John stressed.

How do you find today’s millennials? Are they into investment of valuable things like jewelries?

“The millennials have a lot to learn in order to consider investment in things that are of real value, like jewelry and gold. Many of them are into gadgets and fancy fashion accessories. They invest on cell phones, whereas I would rather buy a China phone and it doesn’t matter if it’s cheap. Because if I call through my cheap phone, it works to reach you and we can still communicate. Whereas with jewelry or gold, it may be very small, but very valuable, and which value appreciates in time. It’s also something I can pass on to my children in the future.”

Quality goods and exceptional service

According to John, it is his company’s policy is to provide quality goods and exceptional service to every Filipino “because we believe that we only deserve the best and we also make sure that our customers leave our stores 100 percent satisfied.”

La Estrella also specializes in making customize 18K fine gold jewelry and offer unique designs for people who are privy and appreciate high attention to detail.

According to John, this is to ensure that every jewelry piece is made exclusively for the client at only the finest standard or benchmark possible. Aside from Alexis, it has another branch called ParklaneJewellers Inc.

“Alexis offers medium-priced watches, while Parklane pushes for luxury watches,” John said.

Alexis distributes more than 20 brands. Among them are Arbutus New York, Chronoforce, Concord, Gucci, Louis Erard, Hegner, Catorex, Mini, Saint Honore, Carbon, Bertolucci, Caterpillar, Ebel, Ballast, Charles Jourdan, Sta. Barbara Polo and Racquet Club, Metal CH and NBA.

Alexis carries “A” watches that people can use for a certain period of time,watches that are appropriate for specific situations.“People now are very, very practical. They buy something that they can use for some time and then they want to change it. They don’t really want to buy a very, very expensive piece, because time will come they will need another model,” John explained.

Meanwhile, ParklaneJewellers Inc. carries the high-end watches, like Welder Watches, Aviator and Offshore Limited, among others.

With all these offerings, John promised, “Our commitment is to bring value to your time and express this by providing you an exclusive timepiece in our store. With all the gadgets available in the market, Filipinos would think twice in buying high-end watches. That’s why La Estrella offers two options: Alexis or Parklane,” he explained.

Classic and timeless jewelry

John’s family jewelry store sells 18K gold jewelry only. It is the best kind of gold for jewelry because it is hard (24K is too soft) and at the same time, valuable, he said.

“Through the years, especially now, gold is very, very expensive. Gold prices have gone up tremendously, but we have not shifted to lowering our gold standards. We could have shifted from 18K to 14K to make it cheaper. But we did not, because we want to maintain the image that we are one of the few jewelry stores that offer only basically 18K gold jewelry.

“We go for simple designs, we don’t want to go for extravagant, big items, chunky items.

Consequently, if you want to resell the merchandise that you’ve bought from us, most of the time, it’s easier and you get a higher-end price,” he added.

While Alexis jewelry goes for classic and timeless designs, “we were actually one of the first stores to bring in the oversize watches. In a way, we started the interest in these kinds of watches. John said proudly that Alexis carries a wide and interesting range of watches, and offer servicing right at the store, with some technicians undergoing training abroad.

“So people who come to us know that they’re buying timepieces that are fashionable and affordable—between P1,000 to P10,000, and other pricier brands, too.”

To keep abreast of the latest designs and merchandise John said the Ortigas go to various jewelry fairs annuallyto check out the new trends.