Loved by International Cricketers, Leaders…
Has cemented Guyana’s place on the worldwide map with his Iconic Jewellery
For most people, the word “Kings” is synonymous with royalty. And indeed, that is the kind of service offered by King’s Jewellery World…one befitting a royal household.
Leaders and celebrities from all over the world have been demanding a piece of their artwork, trekking to Guyana or calling on the phones for unique, must-have pieces.
Today, if there is one company that truly marketed Guyana, cementing this country’s place on the map of the world, it would be King’s.
It is by far the most recognized name in the country when it comes to exquisite jewellery, brand name luxury items and its elegant showrooms.
The company, with its sleek ads and sponsorship of the hugely popular, now annual duck curry competitions, has been standing head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd when it comes to taking its brand to the next level. King’s also aggressively pushes for tassa drumming to remain alive.
Standing quietly at the head of this phenomenal success is none other than Looknauth ‘King’ Persaud.
A self-made man, who pulled out all the stops to ensure excellence in his original pieces. Persaud has managed to revolutionize the popularity of cricket bands, with the designs even selling on Amazon, one of the internet’s biggest shopping sites.
Big names like Sarwan, Sunil Narine and even Chris Gayle have been insisting on some of the pieces.
An appointment with Persaud is difficult. There is a quiet air of assurance and humbleness that surrounds him.
The nickname ‘King’, he laughs, stuck after he acted as King Dasrat in a school play and a royal in one featuring Anansi.
However, life for the jeweler, 58, has been anything but a laugh. His is a success story in every sense. He has slugged his way from the bottom.
Alexander Village, as far back at the 50’s, was a city ward more known for the jewelers than anything else.
Persaud’s family was poor. At just 12, his father, a jack-of-all-trades, died, leaving him with his two smaller sisters and brother. His mother was a part-time seamstress who worked at Lysons, at that time one of Guyana’s largest employers.
When his father died, the family had to move from the grandparents’ home. A reluctant Looknauth was forced, at 12, to start thinking like a man. “They told me that I am the eldest and I have to go defend my family.”
The four siblings and their mother had to make do at the home of another relative who planted peas for a living. The living conditions were tough.
Looknauth recalled rats even nibbling their toes while they slept under a shed that, during the day, was used as a working area for the peas business.
Because of the lack of space, and the fact that there was only one kitchen, his mother was forced to share the kitchen with the relatives there and after leaving for work, the children had to fend for themselves to get to school. These were challenging times.
“At that age, I too realized my responsibility and had to become a man. I started to learn a trade as an apprentice at a goldsmith shop in the area. This was done after I came out from school in the afternoons. Back in those days, in the 1970s, that profession was very competitive.”
Maybe it was the love of art, maybe creativity, or maybe simply the need to survive, but Looknauth’s personal drive started to manifest itself from those early years. “I had to be smart and innovative but I had a love for it. I enjoyed art…it was my strong point in school and I excelled at that. I loved to be creative. I loved to paint and sketch.”
It seems also that working with gold was in the blood. Looknauth’s great grandmother was a jeweler from India. In her time, she was the only female jeweler in Guyana. She even had a stall in Stabroek Market, in the 6O’s. It was called Khushroo.
Learning the goldsmith work came quite by accident for the young boy. “I went to visit a friend at a goldsmith’s shop and while there looking at my friend work, I laughed because he couldn’t get it right. So the boss turned to me and asked me why am I laughing… Can you do it? And sure enough I did it in just one try.”
“I was amongst a few who worked at such a tender age, but I had no choice…I was fatherless and my mom could only do so much. My mom was also very young. She was just 15 years older than me.”
But while there was potential, at just 15, the teenager was wavering. He started hanging out with his friends and drinking.
“My boss called me and asked me what I was doing. He said that my friends had a home, car, bike and other stuff. He asked what I had. I said I don’t have anything, boss.”
It was a rude awakening for the teen. “That was the turning point of my life and the start of my career. I worked with this gentleman for about one year before I got a better opportunity to broaden my knowledge. He agreed with me that it was best for me because I had talent.”
The apprentice paid attention and experimented with his flair for designs. “My boss liked the fact that I took the initiative to do things. I didn’t wait because I told myself the more work I did and the more things I got done, the more I would learn.”
Things started to look up. Looknauth bought clothes and even a bicycle, a big thing back in those days.
“Eventually we moved to a decent place where we had our own bedrooms and even an inside bathroom. Life was taking a turn for the better.”
The teen was even working for more than his mother. “My mom wasn’t too keen on me working, but I had to. I had a responsibility towards my family and I guess I had to make the sacrifice to ensure a better life for us.” Looknauth insisted that his younger siblings attend school.
At just 16, the young apprentice decided to venture off on his own. Right in Alexander Village, he converted a room into a workshop with his bed in a little corner. “It had a bench and a table in corner, and I used to do all my polishing on the bench and eventually, I started to sell my jewellery wholesale to others.”
It was clear that his designs were turning heads. “I think I stood out because I loved a good challenge and I would do stuff differently. I like to be innovative and go beyond. It was this attitude that got me a lot of customers because I would go beyond the simple things and try to do it much more beautifully. I would take a simple thing like a cricket band and make it beautiful.”
“For me, this trade made me proud of myself. It gave me self confidence and it made me understand my worth. I would tell the other jewellers to not send away a customer… to send them to me.”
Still 16, Looknauth managed to start selling his pieces to places like Auto Supplies, which back in the early 70’s, had one of the biggest jewelry stores in the country. “I was also selling silver and gold jewellery to other suppliers and pawnbrokers.”
The pieces were far superior in their bold designs compared to others, and the customers were loving them.
“Sometimes I would look at things and their beauty and say to myself, I could do this with this and make a pattern like this; my mind was always working. I never rested until I could do it and do it well.”
Eventually, Looknauth’s brother started to work for him, and then a few cousins. At the age of 17, he had a staff of five, but was still operating from the one room he had started in. He kept meticulous records and was careful not to overspend.
“I didn’t inherit anything so I had to work hard for what I wanted, and really hard too. I realized that when you work hard for the things you got, you learn how to appreciate and love them.”
Of course, Looknauth regretted not getting to finish school. But he read. He joined the Lions Club, becoming one of the youngest members, and later, President. He is also the Regional Chairman for the Lions Club in Guyana.
“You could say I am a self-taught person.”
In the 70’s and 80’s, there was a huge demand for jewellery overseas. Traders had found a quick fire way to make money. Looknauth was cashing in.
Throughout it all, the teenager never let go of his mother and siblings.
At 19, he got engaged to Ena, who later became his wife and staunch supporter. “We were friends for a long time and when I stopped following the wrong crowd, she and I got closer and we got married in 1975.”
The marriage has borne three children…Ralph, 38; Ryan, 35, and Ravi, 32.
To expand his knowledge, he started to work with another jeweller from Triumph who operated at Humphrey’s, a store in the city. “I took it because it meant I would learn more, but I continued to do my own private work.”
He stayed at Humphrey’s for two years, working independently and honing his skills to a fine art. His Alexander Village operations remained closed during this time. “But I had to leave Humphrey’s because I had responsibilities and I didn’t want to continue living at the renting house.”
Looknauth then reopened his workshop, and gave it his all, pushing in long hours. It paid off. The customers were coming. King’s had started to become a well-known name.
“Eventually I got enough money and I bought a home in Alexander Village and together with my wife, mother and other siblings we moved in. I think I was basically the father to my siblings. We loved each other, and the respect and love that they showed me was just great.”
Looknauth set up shop at that home, hiring more workers. He was just 20 and was training several staffers.
His biggest customers were Auto Supplies and Demerara Pawnbrokers.
But in 1979, the world stopped for a while. Robbers on a motorcycle attacked him at the business spot. Almost $5000 ($3M at today’s equivalent) worth in jewelry and cash were taken. It was a huge hit.
“It was very traumatizing for me and my family. I had to end up taking a loan to pay back people. Immediately after that, my whole outlook changed. I became very conscious of my environment and thought it was time to get proper security.”
Looknauth bought a safe and invested in better security. In 1976, when his first son, Ralph was born, Looknauth bought his first motorcycle. Things were getting better.
An opportunity came up for him to acquire a property on Back Road (now Mandela Avenue).
Using his savings, he started to build what later became the base of his operations. “The business grew and everyday people started to inquire about me, and every day I got more and more popular. I offered a good service to people and I got goodness in return. I was always honest, reliable and I continue to do my best for my clients.”
It was in the earlier 80’s that Looknauth started to make it in the big time. In 1981, well-known Guyana cricketer and West Indies captain, Clive Lloyd, and his teammate, Roger Harper were among those that ordered cricket bands. The word of mouth about the eye-catching pieces quickly spread.
“The cricket band was a huge hit and the cricketers loved it, so King’s became really famous for its cricket bands. It has become so famous, that the President of Sri Lanka has even called me recently to ask me to make a band similar to the one that cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya has. Now I have to figure out a way to get it there.”
The cricket band craze and the quality saw other teams making King’s place of business on the Back Road a must for visitors.
Eager customers had to wait on their pieces as demands grew.
Looknauth, who had been looking at what the overseas jewellers were doing, decided it was time that Guyana had a jewellery store of international standards.
Kings’s Jewellery World came into play in 1994, with its first outlet at Cara Suite, Middle Street.
There were even times when the area was closed down to traffic to cater for visiting heads of Government. It spoke of the high confidence for King’s.
Looknauth took the opportunity to travel and spent almost all of his time paying close attention to what companies like Tiffany’s were doing.
“It opened my eyes to different designs and it helped me with my creativity. I always thought of myself as a leader and not a follower. I think when I started to do the jewellery for the cricketers and would see it in magazines and on TV when they wear it, I felt proud.”
Cricketers even dropped in to dine at the businessman’s home. He estimates that thousands of his special bands have been made for the cricket fraternity.
In 2000, King’s launched its millennium bracelet. The design was a huge success.
Looknauth even started lending advice to local jewellers to design their stores and acquire equipment.
“Being a goldsmith is not easy. There are lots of challenges and it can be very stressful at times especially when you have to worry about security.”
Some of the staffers that he trained have even ended up in well known overseas jewellers like Tiffany’s.
In 1992, King’s decided to participate in the now annual GuyExpo at Sophia. It was a decision that he did not regret. The exposure led to even more customers.
Almost 50 percent of the business is generated from overseas visitors and returning Guyanese, Looknauth disclosed. Of course, the recognition has been a good feeling.
“I was once in Australia and a young couple came up and say that they bought their engagement ring from us in Guyana. I felt proud.”
Looknauth is also proud that his designs have remained strictly original.
The business has seen the family become experts in their field. Ena, Looknauth’s wife, has a certificate in Jewellery Management and Jewellery Sales.
Ralph, Renata, Ryan and Anya are qualified Gemologists.
The jeweller himself has been involved in training with the Guyana Gold Board. He opened branches in New Amsterdam, City Mall, in Trinidad and even ventured into the Bahamas.
Today, although Looknauth’s younger brother has passed away, his beloved mother and two sisters have migrated to the US, with the family stronger than ever.
Duck Curry, Tassa
The businessman is equally proud of the duck curry competition which has become a phenomenal success in Guyana.
“We had an opportunity to view it in Trinidad and I thought it was a good idea for Guyana.”
In 2000, he organized the first one at Diamond Ground, East Bank Demerara. It was a runaway success.
“We introduced it in New York and it became a hit. The main road was shut down because of the backup of traffic. We catered for about 5,000 persons… we got 20,000 in the ground and about 30,000 outside waiting to get in.”
For a short while, the businessman was involved in gold mining but found it tough and pulled out.
“Gold mining is like being a fisherman… you never know what your catch will be.”
Looknauth loves tradition, and so it was not a surprise that he fell in love with the tassa. He started experimenting. With two of his uncles in bands, Looknauth received training on bass and the drum and even started teaching neighbours, despite complaints about the noise.
In 2000, he brought in the Sylvan Bharat tassa group from Trinidad and participated with a few others in a two-week training program. He launched the Kings Tassa group, which eventually became the leading one in Guyana. That group even went on to win a competition organized by the West Demerara Indian Arrival body. He has taken the group for performances in Suriname, Brazil, Canada, USA and Barbados and even did training for a young group in Jamaica.
Today, even Government, through the Ministry of Culture, has recognised the role played by Looknauth in keeping the tradition of tassa drumming alive in Guyana.
But Looknauth admitted that he never planned on being so successful.
“If asked if I planned or I dreamed of becoming so well recognized in this field, I would not know what to say but what I do know, as a young boy it was my dream to be the best goldsmith and to do beautiful work. And because I loved what I did, I excelled at it and became a perfectionist and I always tried to do my best.”
The biggest satisfaction has been giving the customers what they want.
“I worked sometimes for three days without sleep. I never gave up and I gave it my all. My success wasn’t because I was privileged but because I chose to work hard and be dedicated. It is even tougher now because we have to work hard to maintain the status.”
King has started to turn the businesses over to his sons. But it is hard to stay away. “I am glad I get to spend some quality time with my wife and I know (the business) is in capable hands. I don’t worry because I can see the dedication in my kids to make the business flourish. They work hard and they are doing great. They managed to help me to take it to the other level.”
According to the businessman, he reads everyday of people complaining about child labour.
“I am a product of child labour and I am doing well. I believe that you have to work. Not everybody is born privileged but it doesn’t mean that they can’t have it all. I am here to vouch for that. To be successful you have to work hard.”
He has a message to young Guyanese. “Find something that you like to do and apply yourself to that. You have to be disciplined, honest and hardworking. I am 100 percent proud to be a Guyanese.”
King’s has also been recognized by Government. It has received an award for sterling contributions to tourism in Guyana. The reasons were simple. The first stop for many visitors in Guyana is King’s. With the international attraction, and customers that include international cricketers and world leaders, King’s branding of Guyana has been more than welcomed.
King’s has also become the authorized dealers for fine luxury brands such as Gucci, Movado, Citizen, Bering, Kenneth Cole, Casio, Versus, Serengetti, Oakley, Prada, Maui Jim, BCBG, Jessica Simpson, Lucky Brand, Steve Madden, Cross, Lauren G Adams and many more.
King’s and Looknauth have both been featured in overseas magazines, including the Washington Diplomat, testimony of the worldwide recognition they have received.
King’s has over 100 staffers, and showrooms at Middle Street, Quamina Street, at the City Mall and Rose Hall Town, and the Cheddi Jagan International Airport,
King’s emphasis on quality and service has taken the lead in branding Guyana.