There s a touch of aristocracy to the house of Bajocchi, a family jewelry business that was established in Egypt in 1900 and to this day stands regally in its historic location on 45 Abdel Khalek Tharwat St. in the heart of Downtown Cairo.
Hailing from Italy, the family of Bajocchi have been jewelers for five generations and today, young Raul Bajocchi is the sixth, firmly planting his feet in the business under the watchful eye of his father Pietro Bajocchi, at only 24. Their very family name, Bajocchi, refers to a term of Italian currency, a coin that was widely used by the papal state within Rome. But the nomenclature also had its basis in the Bajocchi family’s earlier profession as tax collectors.
From 1839, the Bajocchi’s established themselves as prominent jewelers as Wenceslao Bajocchi, an expert engraver and ivory carver, became a jeweler in the courts of Pope Gregory XVI and other prominent figures. It was Weceslao’s son Paolo who came to Egypt in 1875 and prompted the legacy that is now Bajocchi Jewelers.
The store has witnessed much from its location on Abdel Khalek Tharwat St. which is mere footsteps from the old Opera house, and other prominent landmarks of Cairo s downtown area. It has witnessed queens and presidents come and go, revolutions and eras of peace and stability in Egypt, and social changes of all sorts. In the wake of the current economic crisis and global recession, Bajocchi Jewelers waits patiently as this too ebbs and flows.
Bajocchi lived through a lot: the sequestration of its store and assets at the outbreak of World War II and the internment of all Italian males from 1940 to 1944. With Britain pulling the strings of Egypt s politics at the time, the country wasn’t the best place for its Italian residents back then.
Quick thinking by a loyal and courageous staff member on Jan. 26, 1952, during the events preceding the Cairo Fire, saved the store. The worker had tricked the angry mob burning much of foreign businesses and attractions that the place is an empty store under renovation.
Today, the recession has led to a decrease in jewelry retail sales globally and locally. Yet Bajocchi Jewelers remains tenacious. During the Nasser era, about 90 percent of foreign jewelers left Egypt, and yet the Bajocchi family was able to resolutely continue their business and trade.
Their success, says Pietro, lies in their business philosophy. “Our business is based on trust, a very close personal relationship with the customer. We were established in 1900, and the older a company is, the more trustworthy it is. Bajocchi means three things in Egypt: experience, tradition and integrity. We are synonymous with these three traits.
Today, young brides pray that their grooms seek Bajocchi’s expertise when selecting a wedding ring from their unique collection of stones and settings. Ministers’ wives, doting husbands, and members of Egypt’s high society all seek the fine Italian taste and service that is quintessentially Bajocchian. Providing collections that couple the finest craftsmanship with Italian taste, their “neo-modernism style as Pietro defines it, strongly draws customers when times are good – and even when times are bad.
“After the crash, says Raul, “we had a very strong recession. For the first three weeks, not even a single client walked in. It was quite serious, private businesses do not have a fixed income coming in every month.
Yet, “we still can’t talk about a recession; it’s slightly premature. When you come to a recession, you have to understand that some people are losing while other people are gaining.
The Christmas and New Year’s holiday season is arguably the jewelry industry’s biggest retail season. But this year, everyone along the chain – from mines in Africa forced to scale back operations, to stone cutters in India experiencing a decrease in gem orders for export, to sales drops in retail shops in Japan – has been hard hit by the financial meltdown.
Pietro explains, “Buying jewelry is not like buying anything else. It’s not simply a matter of money; it’s a matter of mood. It’s a general mood related to one’s social life, one going out.
“You have two types of problems, says Pietro: “The global recession and the problems in the region.
The downtown demonstrations against the Israeli offensive on Gaza, for example, discourage people from shopping for jewelry. “It’s truly a matter of mood. Therefore, we’re not getting a lot of people on days of protests. The only customer coming in is the groom shopping for the engagement ring.
Yet Bajocchi Jewelers rode through the holiday retail season with slight ease. “It was a matter of luck and circumstances … It’s due to the reputation of the store that people in such tight circumstances came to us, says Raul.
“Where you buy your wedding ring from is where you establish your allegiance to future jewelry purchases. In 1953, we had Jehan El Sadat select her wedding ring, and to this day, when I see her, says Pietro, “she reminds me with fondness of her purchase.
In addition to providing jewelry whose beautiful designs stand the test of time, Bajocchi’s assure their patrons that their investments are sound in terms of sentiment and value.
Thus, the investment mentality is also a factor influencing purchases. According to Raul, there are two trends affecting jewelry sales. “One is, I don’t want to invest my money in just anything, And the second is, I’ll put my money into jewelry because it won’t lose its value.
Pietro explains that while customers remain careful with purchases, jewelry maintains its value while that of real estate and oil fluctuates unpredictably, often causing substantial loss to investors.
“Diamonds are small objects with high value. It’s a matter of money that can be transferred everywhere, and it is a direct transaction. It has a salvage value unlike any other commodity.
Stones over three carats in weight have been most affected by this recession, but prices are still very high if you compare them to losses in oil or real estate.
During the Nasser era, families whose assets were sequestrated were able to put their children through school and university by selling off their jewelry, points out Pietro and such episodes are a sad reality for many families but a testament to the power of investing in jewelry.
Both Raul and Pietro pensively ponder the near future, yet just like their jewelry it will undoubtedly continue to shine upon the future of one of the most significant landmarks of Downtown Cairo.