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Brilliant Careers

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Little did Lauren Chang Sommer know that becoming engaged to her partner, Justin, would change the course of her life in a very unexpected way. It was 2004 and Lauren, who has a degree in Art Theory from the College of Fine Arts in Sydney, was running a small picture-framing business with Justin. Two wedding ceremonies were on the agenda as Lauren's mother is Australian and her father is Chinese. "Part of the Chinese ceremony is giving the bride jewellery or cash," says Lauren. So her father, Stephen, began frequenting jewellery stores, looking for a bridal gift. One jeweller told him of a stone known as Moissanite, and Stephen's interest was sparked when he learned it had more sparkle than diamonds and was a fraction of the cost. However, he was quickly disappointed to find the stone was not available in Australia, and instead settled for diamonds.

"Some time later he was in Hong Kong and bought Mum some Moissanite; I thought it was incredibly beautiful," says Lauren. "I said to him, 'Why can't we bring it into Australia?' We thought about it and decided we could. Further research revealed Moissanite to have more shine, brilliance and lustre than any other jewel in the world. It is also extremely rare in its natural form, and it is not found within the earth but in meteorites that landed some 50,000 years ago. French scientist Dr Henri Moissan first discovered the jewel in the late 1800's in the Arizona desert, in the United States. It was 100 years before anyone fathomed how to replicate it. "It involves a top secret heat and pressure process, but it's a similar concept to the cultured pearl," says Lauren, "Charles and Colvard in North Carolina is the sole distributor of Moissanite in the world."

"It's a jewel that fills the gap in the market," she says, "you can buy a one carat cubic zirconia for about $7, a one carat diamond for about $7000, and a one carat Moissanite for $700. So a one carat Moissanite ring set in 18K white or yellow gold will cost you about $1300, and each piece has a certificate of authenticity and a lifetime guarantee."

"My sister Alana, who lived in Chicago at the time, heard about it and said, 'we've got to do it'." Together they contacted Charles & Colvard, secured the distributorship for Australia and New Zealand, and opened their flagship store, Moi Moi Fine Jewellery in Sydney's Queen Victoria Building in December 2004, two weeks after Lauren and Justin's wedding. The store gets its name from the Chinese word for 'little sister'. "When we were little I always called Alana 'moimoi' and she always called me 'jeje', which is the term for 'big sister', says Lauren. "We've since found out it means 'beautiful' in Dutch. Isn't that apt?"

The store is beautifully decked out with a backdrop of deep rosy pink and a calming water feature. "It was very important to us to set a non-intimidating tone for our first store and it was a conscious decision to ensure all the price tags are visible," says Lauren. "I used to find the jewellery buying experience intimidating. There were no prices shown and if I summoned the courage to ask to have a look, I'd see two rings that appeared exactly the same but the price tag was different; I just didn't get it." For this reason, Lauren and Alana also run Jewellery Appreciation Workshops.

"We provide canapés and champagne and teach people, not just about Moissanite, but all varieties of fine jewellery," says Lauren. "We cover what the four C's mean [colour, clarity, cut and carat], different types of gold, different types of settings, and how to buy diamonds. We teach how to use a loupe [a magnifying glass that allows close viewing], and the importance of getting a certification of authentication.

"We want people to learn to appreciate how each piece is designed and crafted so they can come to see them as little works of art," says Lauren. "Of course we also educate people about Moissanite; we want people to appreciate it for being a jewel in its own right, like a colourless sapphire or white topaz," says Lauren. "It's undeniable Moissanite looks like diamonds and some people have been selling it as diamonds, but it is not a diamond substitute.

"Women in the know have been quick to fall in love with the jewel. Traditionally the fine jewellery customer is male, but 80 per cent of Moissanite buyers are women," says Lauren. "One workshop comprised a group of girlfriends all aged around 30 and everyone of them bought a piece; one couple especially came over from New Zealand to buy a two-and-a-half carat ring for their engagement.

"I love coming to work, it's a passion. My sister and I both work in the store and Mum and Dad help out. We plan to open seven or eight stores in Australia and New Zealand during the next three years."