From a flea market entrepreneur to The Diamond Vault, businessman Ali Chokr credits a diamond ring for his transformation. About six months ago, he and his family opened a new 7,000-square-foot store on South Tamiami Trail (US 41) in Sarasota, and they see potential growth from involvement in a diamond-backed fund proposed for the New York Stock Exchange.
"Modeled after ETFs (exchange-traded funds) that have bought gold, silver and other bouillon, the fund would buy one-carat diamonds and store them in a vault in Antwerp, Belgium, providing daily values on which investors could buy or sell," Michael Pollick wrote in a Sarasota Herald-Tribune article (June 25, 2012).
In the United States, most diamond selling revolves around engagement rings and other jewelry. The proposal under consideration by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) would turn the gemstones into commodities allowing online investors to buy EFTs backed by diamonds. The financial industry now offers gold-backed funds so why not diamonds?
Chokr told our local newspaper that hedge funds and individual investors have contacted him about buying diamonds after The New York Times reported that investment professionals around the world are "competing behind the scenes to turn the gem into a commodity that would be available to investors in the way that gold has been traded through funds on exchanges."
The backstory that started Chokr on the path toward possible participation in diamond-backed EFTs bears the hallmarks of the archetypal immigrant success trajectory. The diamond merchant from Lebanon moved to the Sarasota-Bradenton area from Detroit in the late 1970s and started out selling garage-sale gleanings at The Red Barn Flea Market. The glimmer of his life's calling appeared at a Bradenton auction house when he fell for a four carat diamond and re-imagined himself as an international diamond and jewelry wholesaler.
By the end of the following year, Chokr and his wife established Golden Treasures on Siesta Key. In 2001, they moved the business to the Landings shopping center and named their new shop The Diamond Vault.
The Great Recession opened opportunities in diamond wholesaling as well as their new larger location on the South Trail. Who knows how the possibility of diamond-backed investment products might propel this Sarasota business?
As Chokr summed it up to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, "The market always changes."
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