AN INTERESTING LIFE - YAIR SHIMANSKY

There are few people who have had a more interesting life than the CEO of Shimansky. Yair Shimansky wanted to be a pilot or a surfer. Instead he founded Shimansky, South Africa’s premier platinum and diamond jewellery retailer. South Africa Deluxe spoke to this enigmatic personality to find out how he got there.

FEATURED: APRIL 4, 2016

Shimansky was born in Israel in 1967. His mother was a stay-at-home-mom, while his father worked for a large shipping company, captaining a maritime tanker. Shimansky often joined his father at sea. “From the time that I was three months old I would spend one-and-a-half, to two months at sea. This continued until I was 12,” he recalls.

This was both a happy and an educational experience for the impressionable young boy. “Being on the boat was just marvellous because it was like a huge playroom. It was great fun; I would play in the engine room the one day, and on deck the next. ”During this time with his father, he visited 30 countries, learning about different cultures, “I could not have wished for a better education,” he shares. Of course, there were no other children on board, which meant that Shimansky only interacted with adults, maturing much faster than other children of the same age. Because there was no television on board, and no children to play with either, he spent many hours poring over books. Fantasy books were a special fascination; this helped to develop both his imagination as well as his creativity.

Yair Shimansky CEO

At the age of 12, he and his family moved to London, because his father was working there. “We spent one year there and I hated it. That’s because, when I went to school, I had to wear a suit and tie. To this very day I don’t like wearing a suit and tie,” he says with a grimace.

There was an upside to the brief sojourn in London though, “Because the public transport is so good, I was able to get around on my own. Very soon, I learnt to be extremely independent,” he says.

After returning to Israel, he was enrolled at a navy boarding school. “My mother couldn’t handle me; I was too naughty, so I was sent to the school. There was a lot of discipline and structure but I loved it – because we could do a lot of diving and snorkelling.” Then followed a time of skate boarding, surfing, and pleading with his parents for a motorcycle. “They didn’t want me to have one, so I worked for one year at night as a barman, and I did roadwork during the day, operating a jackhammer. I saved and bought myself a Honda CVR400. I don’t like being told not to do something; it is a sure way to get me going,” he says with a chuckle. (He owns a Ducati Monster 1200 today.)

My Girl Cut Shimansky Exclusive

My big dream at the time was to go to America, make a million dollars and then to return to Israel. This was the dream of most young people at the time.

Instead he decided to go to Japan. “I was fascinated by the Japanese culture, having had an experience of it through karate lessons. Also, I had a neighbour who was a diamond dealer and he informed me that it was a good market for diamonds. So I jetted off to Japan, armed with some diamonds and jewellery to sell.” It was an interesting time for the young man, “At times it was quite tough; for the first six months I did little else other than knock on doors. I went from one jewellery shop to the next. A lot of doors did not open; they chased me away, but I am very resilient and so eventually I made the right contacts within the diamond and jewellery trade.”

Shimansky spent a total of two years in Japan, which required him to be extremely resourceful. Those two years were hugely influential.“It was there that I learnt the art of diamond cutting and polishing. I also learnt about quality, precision and their obsession with perfection."

Shimansky Two Hearts Diamond Ring

"At the time, the Japanese were the largest consumers of diamonds in the world and they focused very much on quality and the best cut, versus the United States market, which focused on size. The Japanese taught me that perfection takes time. Their sushi chefs, for instance, train for seven years. They adopt the same approach with diamonds. My time in Japan laid down the foundation for what I do today. I learnt that, if it is not perfect, it is not good enough.”

Shimansky Jewellery Manufacturing

When you’re young you don’t need a big salary and you don’t pay a huge amount of rent; things are simpler and easier.

While Shimansky was undergoing his rite of passage in the East, his father was offered a job in South Africa – and so his parents moved here. Shimansky decided to visit them and then to go to New York to fulfil his dreams, but he never quite made it to America. The reason for his stay, was a beautiful South African woman, whom he met and married. However he didn’t lose his passion for the jewellery game.

“I started to import silver jewellery, which I sold at a flea market on the Durban beachfront over weekends. I also made my own jewellery. During the week, I sold to shops. I also had one of those old treasure chests, which served as a mobile shop. Life was good. When you’re young you don’t need a big salary and you don’t pay a huge amount of rent; things are simpler and easier.”

Being the ever-ambitious character that he is, Shimansky soon got itchy feet. “I decided that I had to open a formal store; there was a limit to what I could sell in a flea market. So I approached the Pavilion Shopping Centre. They weren’t keen initially, I had to jump through so many hoops to get accepted into the shopping centre. But I came up with a unique concept and I was very persistent. I didn’t give up until they relented and gave me a small shop.”

Shimansky had no resources, which meant that the shop-fitting had to be done by him and a carpenter. “We did it in stages; I didn’t have the money to build it all at once.”

A lack of finances also meant no money for security or insurance. “So I slept behind the counters. When the staff arrived in the morning, I quickly went home for a shower and dashed back to the store. I was there for 22 hours out of each 24 at the very least.” The rest, as they say, is history. From those extremely humble beginnings has grown a jewellery empire.

Today, Shimansky is one of South Africa’s most recognised jewellery brands, and there are Shimansky jewellery stores located in major centres across South Africa (Cape Town and Johannesburg). Plus Shimansky owns a jewellery design and manufacturing workshop, a diamond cutting and polishing factory, and Cape Town’s only dedicated Diamond Museum based in the Clock Tower Precinct, at the Waterfront. And there’s still more to come.

“I am still learning. I truly hope that my greatest lesson is still coming!” the creative genius reveals.

Shimansky Showroom Clock Tower

Having said that, he knows exactly what his future holds. “I plan to take the brand from premium jeweller to luxury brand that will last well beyond my lifetime. My journey will still be to New York,” he hints. Shimansky’s exact plans have yet to be revealed. One thing is certain; they’re bound to be ever so interesting, like his life has been so far.

Shimansky Iconic Millennium Ring