Amaya – butterflies and beyond

Father and son team Alfredo and Richard Munoz combine precision engineering with their creative talents to produce findings - and fine jewellery.

Father and son team Alfredo and Richard Munoz combine precision engineering with their creative talents to produce findings – and fine jewellery.

When Alfredo Munoz, a newly arrived mechanical engineer from Spain, realised that an Australian jeweller could spend a whole day making two dozen ‘butterflies’ he immediately knew he had discovered his niche in the local industry.

When Alfredo Munoz, a newly arrived mechanical engineer from Spain, realised that an Australian jeweller could spend a whole day making two dozen ‘butterflies’ he immediately knew he had discovered his niche in the local industry.

“In 1973 while working for Arabella Jewellery in Melbourne I was surprised to see that a jeweller could spend so much time making such a basic item when I knew that the right tool would be able to produce 200 butterflies in a minute,” he says.

“I instantly knew there was a huge space in the local industry for manufacturing jewellery by engineering means.”

Soon after Alfredo built his first ‘butterfly’ manufacturing tool in his home kitchen and set up a jewellery manufacturing business with his partner Chris Pradjian.

By 1987 the jewellery manufacturing company employed 32 people and was producing findings as well as gold and silver padlocks, gate bracelets and lockets.

However in 1994 after a number of personal and professional challenges, Alfredo decided to “start afresh” with his son Richard.

Fresh Start

The father and son team set up Amaya in March 1996 solely with the proceeds from the sale of Richard’s motorbike.
Working together they got the new business up and running by first drawing and manufacturing the tools that they knew would generate an immediate income.

“I again began by making a butterfly tool because all jewellers need butterflies and we needed cashflow,” explains Alfredo.

At first the company manufactured “strictly made to order” but was fortunate that the majority of orders were for significant quantities such as “a kilo of butterflies”.

As sales increased the Munozs gradually established some stock holdings and began buying and manufacturing more tools as well as increasing their product offering.

“It was a very humble growth process,” says Richard, “but we didn’t want to get too big too fast and create undue pressure on the business.”

Business Today

Today Amaya employs six people and has a product line that features findings (including butterflies, pearl cups, double bezels, chain ends, bails and diamond settings) as well as fine jewellery (including earrings, pendants and baby brooches etc).

Richard says the company is now predominantly an earrings and pendant manufacturer with an emphasis on diamonds, pearls, coloured stones and precious and semi-precious gemstones.

Both men agree that Amaya’s major point of difference from other local findings and jewellery manufacturers is its engineering proficiency.

We may set hundreds of stones each day but the quality is always perfect due to the precision of our tools,” says Alfredo.

“Our tools are so precise that in many ways they are only a hair thickness away from the standard of precision tools used in the surgical industry.”

According to Richard, most jewellers prefer precision-engineered findings over the alternatives but some still have concerns about the quality of machine-made jewellery “until they see and feel the finished product”.

 “Once our jewellery is finished you don’t know if it’s been created by hand or not,” says Richard. “Because the items are so good most people don’t ask how they are made.”

International Competition

Alfredo and Richard believe that offshore jewellery manufacturers pose a bigger threat to their business than local hand- or machine-manufacturers.

“There seems to be a stigma associated with onshore manufacturing that suggests by default that we don’t have the ability to do things at a reasonable price,” explains Richard.

“I agree that any jewellery manufacturing business that has a large human resources component will find it difficult to compete with the Chinese and Indian imported equivalent.”

He says this is the reason why there are so few “total jewellery manufacturing companies” left in Australia.

“There are companies that are manufacturers by definition but they are really just assemblers. Traditional manufacturers (casting, etc) are starting to import lines they were previously manufacturing as it’s just not viable for them to spend the time and money creating something here when they can bring it in for less cost.”

Alfredo and Richard argue that in some cases the consequence of this move from manufacturing to importing is lower quality jewellery on Australian retail shelves.

“Some great quality jewellery does come out China but there a lot of compromised articles that inadvertently end up in Australian retail stores,” says Alfredo.

“I believe that Australia has a very fine ability in jewellery manufacturing but unfortunately our industry doesn’t support it so many are forced to import to compete.”

The two men say the uniqueness of their manufacturing process is what’s enabled them to survive without imports.
“Our unique ‘press tool’ or ‘coining’ techniques enable us to maintain rapid production processes comparable with our offshore manufacturing counterparts,” says Richard.

 “In addition we are able to compete because our automated manufacturing processes do not require much human labour. That’s our advantage. We are able to produce good clean product without this huge overhead you would associate with a large labour force.”

 “The reason we still have a business in today’s competitive environment is wholly and solely because we can compete with the offshore companies.  I wouldn’t expect people to buy from us if we were unable to provide them with an advantage.”

Alfred and Richard also agree that the biggest impediment to the company’s continued growth is simply retailers’ lack of knowledge about their capabilities.

Many retailers don’t realise they don’t need to go overseas to buy fine jewellery and findings,” says Richard.

“Our machines are of the highest standard possible, our attention to detail is without compromise, our prices are competitive and, unlike our offshore counterparts, we have no minimum order requirements.”

“In addition we offer local businesses all the other benefits of dealing with a local, rather than overseas-based, supplier.”
Alfredo and Richard are both well aware that there are no “safeguards” for their business in Australia.

“The Government doesn’t protect jewellery manufacturers from overseas competition,” says Alfredo, “so the doors are wide open for all types of jewellery from all over the world to enter the market.”

Still they are both confident Amaya will continue to thrive.

“I would like to think that in five years time the bread ‘n’ butter of our business will remain the same but in terms of finished products it will be more focused on diamond and pearl jewellery,” says Richard.

Amaya, 48 Eastment St, Northcote VIC 3070, ph: (03) 9486 8378,
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