Ntinga – Flying High

27 Nov 2019

Fine gemstone jewellery business and NAJ member Ntinga is flying high these days. Here's how it has reached those heights.

Tell us about the birth of Ntinga. Where did the name come from?

Right: Carolyn and Howard Graham (second and third from left) and Craig Cohen (far right) at the UK jewellery Awards
ntinga team

Howard Graham, MD and founder: Ntinga had an interesting start. While on holiday in Cape Town we came across a shop called Ntinga – the design, the word, the look of it really captivated me and resonated with me. Six months later, in 2006, I started a new company and rather than call it ‘Howard Graham Agencies’ my wife Carolyn and I decided to call our new venture Ntinga – not knowing what it actually meant. It was some months later that we faxed the hotel where we stay in South Africa and they explained ‘ntinga’ was a Zulu word: when they throw their spears, they shout out “NTINGA” – it means to soar high or fly in the sky. Which I think we have done!

How did the members of the team come into the industry?

HG: From my early childhood days, I used to enjoy collecting gems and rocks. I used to tumble the rocks to polish them, then made them into simple types of jewellery. One day at school we had a careers officer come and visit who said: “who wants to become a diamond sorter?” That was it – my career in gems and jewellery began! After two jobs I was made redundant and was forced to start on my own at the age of 26; it was the same year my late father unexpectedly passed away.

Left: Stephanie LeeStephanie Lee

Daughter, Stephanie Lee, director: I always loved helping dad and seeing gemstones and crystals and often went travelling on the road with him. In my year out, while trying to find work experience in the fashion industry, I ended up working for him, helping run the office, which I loved. After a few years in fashion, dad set up with my mum, and I decided that I loved jewellery just as much and wanted to help out in the family business. This led to us opening a shop, which I ran for eight years. However, with the changes on the high street we felt it was only right to close the shop and I continued to help with the trade side of Ntinga and use what I had learnt in retail, design and marketing to add a new dimension to the business.

Craig Cohen, national sales manager: My working background is a mixture of recruitment and women’s retail. In between these jobs I had been helping out Howard and the team at our old retail premises. When I finished my last job, I asked Howard if I could help out again in the shop, as it was something I really enjoyed. Fortunately he was looking for a permanent sales person and the rest, as they say, is history.

Describe the ethos of Ntinga

SL: Our company ethos has always been to provide quality and unique products, as well as a personal service. We are always willing to help with customer requests and source loose stones or create designs for customers, as well as help with any repairs, marketing and visuals. We always state that not only are we providing a product… but a service as well.

What makes Ntinga stand out from other gemstone jewellery businesses?

CC: It’s Howard’s ability to source something unique and take a risk with an unusual cut or designs. We travel throughout the world, to many countries, sourcing at trade events and connecting with new suppliers abroad. One of the things that really makes us stand out is the staff training that we offer. We appreciate that many people may have never have seen or heard of some of the rare and interesting gems that we can provide so it is imperative that we can teach the staff what they are, so they are able to sell them in their stores.

HG: Coloured stones are at the core of our business; I have a passion for them and I’m fond of finding different gems, one recent one being blue morganite and a lavender-pink morganite. But tourmalines are my favourite. I could see colour coming back five years ago – I’m good at making the right choices.

Ntinga Cabuchon Collection

How did you first start promoting Ntinga to the jewellery industry?

HG: We have always aimed to be innovative – trying a different perspective with the events that we do. We have very many examples: producing our own chocolate bars to coincide with the chocolate coloured diamond collectio; football World Cup charts; plastic diamonds filled with sweets: a gin bar at IJL; a pick and mix stand at CMJ; watermelon cocktails and theme to launch our tourmaline range; producing our own passports to the world of gem jewellery we make. The list goes on…!

We have been connecting with customers for years, but the CMJ and Houlden buying groups gave us a wider audience and allowed us to promote our company and the marketing that we put effort into. A couple of years ago we decided to use PR services which has enabled us to gain a wider audience and also reach out to the public. We were able to have some of our products worn by celebrities at certain events, which has helped a lot with exposure.

Ntinga 2000 range

What has growth been like since you launched?

CC: Since we started, our focus has predominantly been the UK. We do now have stockists all over the UK and Northern Ireland, Channel Islands, Sweden, Spain and Gibraltar.

Who designs the jewellery and where does the inspiration come from? Is it sold as branded, or do you create own-label collections too?

CC: We all have an input on design, although Howard is the one who, with his experience and knowledge, has the foresight to see something working with design. Currently we have not branded our products, however we are creating a few ranges which we are going to brand as collections and provide customers with PoS and marketing for these – they will be running lines that can be repeated.

Our bespoke pieces are one-off and no two are the same, so our customers can sell under their own names with the knowledge that no one will have the same piece.
We love individuality and making Amazon-proof products!

Ntinga tourmaline collection

What are your views on trade shows and buying groups?

Buying groups and trade shows have been very beneficial for us and allowed us to reach a wider audience and connect with new customers in the UK and abroad. We always strive to put effort into all the events that we do so that we stand out and offer an enjoyable buying experience.

This year after winning a UK Jewellery Award we celebrated at IJL with a gin bar and pick-and-mix stand as part of our booth; this created a unique buying experience and produced our most successful show to date.

We always feel people should put more effort into the events as they bring the trade together and showcase a company. We are really hoping that IJL doesn’t disappear.

How do you benefit from being a member of the NAJ?

With the likable Garry Lane on board this has re-ignited our involvement with the Association and it has helped to promote us and back the company and the name Ntinga. The NAJ is also great for useful contacts for industry-related help.


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