In conversation with Artur Alexanian: 'I sometimes call myself a certified crazy person'

Glasses come in all shapes and sizes, but none are quite like Alexanian's. The handmade gold items, inspired by watches, are unique and represent family and craftsmanship since 1963. Unlike many other entrepreneurs, founder Artur Alexanian also sees entrepreneurship through his own unique glasses: 'I have no desire to start my business. enlarge. My goal is to produce only 50 pairs of glasses per year and not one more.” MASTERS started the conversation.

What did you do before founding Alexanian?

'I am originally Armenian. At the age of fifteen I started training to become a goldsmith. When I moved to the Netherlands 25 years ago, I continued my profession here. I now have more than 30 years of experience in the industry. I started Alexanian in the early 2000s. Because of my background as a goldsmith, my focus was naturally on making jewelry. Since I worked a lot with gemstones, I decided to take additional training. During that training, I constantly studied stones under a microscope, which prompted me to visit the optician to have my eyes checked. This is how the concept for Alexanian was born. Glasses are actually also a jewel, but on your face. From that moment on I started specializing in glasses.'

Doesn't the switch from jewelry to glasses sound easier than done?

'I soon discovered that there was very little literature and information available about the production of gold glasses. From a technical perspective, it is significantly different from creating jewelry, which was indeed a big challenge for me. The unique properties of gold, especially 18-carat gold which is naturally very soft, made developing the correct posture and technique time-consuming and strenuous. In the beginning, my clientele consisted mainly of opticians. Although I initially met the consumer's wishes, I still felt unsatisfied. I had become much more of a manager than a creative person. In 2018 I made the decision to take a different tack.'

Which bow?

'I said goodbye to 98% of my customers and closed several companies. I wanted to strive for more small scale and produce what I really wanted. My great passion is watches. So I decided to combine my passion and know-how. For example, I now make glasses inspired by watches. It dawned on me that no one actually needs gold glasses, given that they have been around for centuries. That's why I asked myself: ''Why do I make them?''. Now I am creating something that no one knows and no one wants, but I am building a completely new market. My motivation is 99% based on passion and 1% on commercial interest. It is not a quick way to make money, but rather focused on the long term.'

But money has to be made, right?

'I must admit that that is why I sometimes call myself a certified crazy person. I recently had a special experience with a client in Singapore, the president of a prominent business club. Last year he invited me to speak at an event. It was an opportunity that I grabbed with both hands. There I was as a small business owner, among the greats, sharing my story about leaving my comfort zone and creating my own path where there was no established market. During my speech I explicitly stated that I do not necessarily strive for growth. Contrary to the conventional entrepreneurial mindset, I have no desire to scale my business. My goal is to produce only 50 pairs of glasses per year and not one more. This of course goes against the definition of many entrepreneurs, because growth is usually the goal. But I don't have to grow. When I grow, I end up back where I used to be and that is not what I want. I cherish the fact that I can now do what I love most.'

“Now I am creating something that no one knows and no one wants, but I am building a completely new market”

Your wife and sister also work in the company, right?

'That's right, my wife Lilit and sister Narin also work there; a real family business. My wife is a doctor and helps set the gemstones if necessary and my sister does the laser engraving. In general, of course, it is said that you should only eat and drink with family, not do business. However, Lilit and Narin have a great affinity with the industry and have consciously made the choice to work in the company.'

Did you get that entrepreneurial drive from home?

'No, it doesn't run in the family, I think it has more to do with my background. Armenians are known for their goldsmithing skills, comparable to Switzerland and their watchmakers, for example. I learned the craft in Armenia. At that time, there were no manufacturers to order parts from; everything was made by hand. That was a very good learning experience for me. As for my drive, it probably came from coming from a country with limited opportunities to advance. Armenia is of course the former Soviet Union. Although things are different today, there are still many limitations. I have also experienced many setbacks in life, including in business. But if I fall eight times, I get up nine times.”

What characterizes your customers, who are they?

'My clientele mainly consists of entrepreneurs. Probably because they see and experience a lot of the world during their travels. They therefore have an eye for quality and therefore appreciate the traditional and unique character of the handmade products. In addition, I can also count a significant number of watch enthusiasts and collectors among my customers, both nationally and internationally. What connects my clients goes beyond having a certain income. It is a small and niche community in which personality and the product itself play a decisive role. It takes investment in yourself and your connections to be accepted within this community. But once inside, trust is built quickly, especially when my product, the glasses, serves as a reference. It really is a unique and dedicated customer base.”

The sun doesn't shine often in our cold little country, but are there still customers in the Netherlands?

'In 2019 I joined forces with Panis Eyewear in Oisterwijk. Part of the store has been converted into a department for Alexanian. This is the only one in the world. Although they also sold gold glasses before 2019, there was still a significant price difference between Alexanian and the other brands. It was a different segment. A segment that we did not yet know here in the Netherlands. Yet they had the courage to step in. Panis Eyewear has shown that there is certainly demand in the Netherlands.'

So you often invest in the relationship in the long term, do you think you will ever hand over the baton?

'As an entrepreneur I am indeed more focused on the long term. If I invest in connections now, I don't expect it to yield results within three or five years. But maybe for the next generation. That is what I enjoy working on, and I hope that my children, although they are still small, will continue the work one day.”