[00:00:00] Maggie Chui: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network podcast. Today, we have a very special guest with us. Her name is Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian. Bonnie is the owner and founder of By Bonnie Jewelry, a luxury diamond jewelry boutique located in the San Francisco Bay area. As an Asian American immigrant, female entrepreneur, and working mother, she sees the world through a wide lens and finds the industry to be male-dominated and lacking a feminine touch.
[00:00:27] In her words, luxury is supposed to be about how a product or service makes you feel. That’s what’s missing in the big box retail sector. We focus on every single detail from the craftsmanship and engineering of our jewelry to how it makes a person feel when they put it on. Whether it’s a gift from a loved one, an engagement ring, or a treat yourself moment, that single piece of jewelry is part of a person’s journey that they can take with them throughout the rest of their lives.
[00:00:54] By taking people’s stories, inspirations, and energy, and mixing it with my passion for diamonds and meticulous craftsmanship, that’s what makes By Bonnie’s pieces so unique. Bonnie, welcome to the show.
[00:01:07] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: Thank you so much, Maggie. It’s such an honor. I’ve been part of the groups from the beginning so this is exciting for me.
[00:01:15] Maggie Chui: I know you have seen the beginnings of AHN and we’re so grateful to have you be so involved with the community, share your story, and just excited that you’re on the podcast today. Let’s get right into it, Bonnie. We’d love to know what your upbringing was like. Where were you born and raised? Talk about what that experience was like while you were growing up.
[00:01:36] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: I’m born and raised in Hong Kong, originally. Some of the people that are listening might already know my channel or what I do because I have a lot of Asian fan base. Because there are not a lot of Asian jewelers out there talking about jewelry and diamonds in general, whenever I start making videos, people are like, “Oh my God, I need to listen to what she has to say.” My family has a typical story. Hardworking parents, growing up poor, had nothing, and then my dad was a hardcore entrepreneur. He went from driving trucks, two shifts, and barely sleeping, just raising me and my brother. I come from a very humble background.
[00:02:19] My dad at some point was manufacturing movements for watches. I don’t know if you know Japanese brands like Seiko or Citizen, he used to manufacture the piece inside. I’ve always been fascinated by watches and how all those mechanical things worked, and then over the years, he just told me, “Okay, someday you should just get into the family business.” and so on.
[00:02:43] This is kind of where everybody just says, “Okay.” I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 13 by myself, and family there or people there always say, “Oh, just send your kid overseas and they’ll get a better education.” This is like how all of those people that I knew were in the same group. They were either going to the UK, Australia, or the U.S. This is where all the hot spots are. Where my journey started when I left my parents at 13 and then came to this country alone and I had to do everything. I was staying with just what they call ‘host family’ at the time and I went through a lot of just coming to land in a completely new country by myself and I landed in Portland, Oregon.
[00:03:29] Let me tell you, Portland from 20 years ago is not what it is today. Back in the day, it was very racist, just white-dominated, and I didn’t fit in. I went through a lot of hardship being here alone at that age and then I moved out when I was 15 because the living situation was just not ideal and it’s just like this whole craziness. Fast forward all of that and now, I finished my graduate degree in gemology so now I’m a senior graduate gemologist. I do a lot of diamond gradings. This is what I do for a living.
[00:04:06] A lot of Asian fans are like, “I want to see how you grade all the diamonds and all the sparkly things and rings.” And of course, having a female that they get to talk to instead of just like your regular, whatever other people that you meet at a jewelry store usually are older or they’re not as in tune as what the trends are and the styles are. That kind of really bridged the gap between what’s lacking in the jewelry industry so I ended up not going back home. Actually, I went back home for a couple of years, and then I had cancer because I was so stressed out from all the Asian parents like, “You got to do this.” and “You got to do that.” and you just have controlling parents.
[00:04:45] Of course, you know that they want the best for you, but they don’t know how to express that. I feel like Asian parents are really bad at that and just tell you, “Do this. Do that.” I’m very Americanized at that point so I’m taking it as, ” Oh, get out of my life. Don’t do this. Don’t control me.” I’m kind of like the black sheep of the family where I ended up leaving home and that’s when everything just turned sour where they’re like, “We’re not talking to you anymore and you’re on your own.” Then I don’t know, I came back to the U.S. and I just said, “I’ll start over. I’ll drive Uber. I’ll figure it out.”
[00:05:20] I started selling diamonds at Starbucks and just like showing, meeting, picking up random customers at the bar, and then I was like, “Hey, are you interested? Buy your ring? Where’s your girlfriend?” I just started doing that and then they were like, “Okay. That’s cool.” I didn’t have a place so I started selling diamonds at Starbucks and I was part of this really big motorcycle group in the bay area because I used to ride motorcycles. They would have all these biker friends and I didn’t have anywhere to show them diamonds and they would want to buy a ring so I was like, ” Hey, you want to go to the shop?” And like, “Here’s my friend’s motorcycle shop with all the chains and the dirty oils and the tires.” I’m just like, “Okay, let me just move all of those dirty bottles and things and show you something luxury and sparkly in that pile of stuff.”
[00:06:16] It worked. I don’t know, maybe it’s because they felt comfortable with me the way I explained things. Just one ring, one project turned into another, and then I spoke to my dad years later. I said, “Hey, I’m opening my store. I made it, dad.” They couldn’t believe it.
[00:06:32] They were like, “No way. There’s no way. You needed our help and you didn’t get any. Now you’re doing this.” I honestly am surprised because I’ve been immersed in the industry for a long time. After I graduated, I just worked in the industry, many years working for other people, learning about gems, and learning about diamonds. It just was swimming in pools of knowledge of everything that I’ve learned, just pulling that together after the cancer recovery and doing all that. Now, I’m serving clients in 43 states of this country. We just hit-
[00:07:06] Maggie Chui: Congratulations.
[00:07:07] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: Thank you. We sell to the world. We have clients all over Asia, and Europe. Our clientele is just everywhere, anyone. People fly all over the world for our jewelry. I had this couple from London. I have people coming from Norway, to France just for this five-on experience. I’m proud of how we’ve grown. This is kind of where my journey started.
[00:07:32] Maggie Chui: Wow. What a story, Bonnie. That is incredible and congratulations on all of your success. You have come such a long way. First of all, I’m so sorry to hear about you having cancer. I hope things are better now.
[00:07:47] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: Yeah. Probably, the seventh or eighth year in remission. I like stopped counting after a while.
[00:07:54] Maggie Chui: I’m glad that you’re doing better and it’s amazing to hear that. I know that your family, as well as your husband’s family, have both been in the fine jewelry industry for a long time. But to hear you say you did it by yourself and you were so independent, coming to America and fending for yourself at such a young age, right?
[00:08:17] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: And it’s a scary world.
[00:08:19] Maggie Chui: It is. It is. I want to know, going back and forth, you moved from Hong Kong to Portland, Oregon, then you went back to Hong Kong, and then moved back to America. Is that correct?
[00:08:32] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: Yes, that is correct.
[00:08:33] Maggie Chui: Yeah. Just with all of those transitions, what was it like for you? Did you have a hard time navigating, just going back and forth, and did you have a hard time figuring out your identity? With all of those changes, it can become very hard. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
[00:08:49] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: Yeah. With all the moves and all the changes in my life, I went to three different high schools for a four-year education. Just being everywhere, you definitely can’t make any lifelong friends. People say you meet your lifelong friends when you’re young and I’ve been moving around so much. Even when I was in Hong Kong, my family was moving back and forth to different places so I was like, “Oh, I’ll go to this school for two years, and then I’ll go to.”
[00:09:13] There was no stability in my life and then when I came here, I was desperate for stability. I was desperate for a home. I was desperate for a family relationship, but it was really difficult for me to get any because I was alone. At 13 and alone in this country, it’s a scary world. There were a lot of things that happened and I’m not going to go into the details of all the hardship, but it’s difficult.
[00:09:41] Now looking back, I have a three-year-old child and I have this conversation with my husband all the time like, “I want my child to be diverse. I want them to be cultured, but I’m also very scared of ever putting my child through something that I went through.” even though it did make me a very strong person because at 13 you’re living in a foreign country and by 15 I was living alone.
[00:10:03] Trust me, when I was 15, the only way I was able to move out is I just went to a rave and I met a bunch of older people. I lied about my age and I told them, “Hey, I needed someone to sign my lease. I’ll pay cash. Don’t worry about it.” And I found some 30-year-old guy that was like, “Hi.” And I was like, “Sign my lease!” Because the landlord wouldn’t give it to me because I wasn’t 18. Just a hustler, finding ways to get things done.
[00:10:33] I was taking the bus to school every day. I’m from SF, so everyone’s left from the Bay Area or San Francisco Proper. There’s a street, Gary Street, which is a very known street in SF. You just go up and down. I used to take the 38 bus and I would have to go to school alone. All the kids would have after-school activities and I wouldn’t have anything because I would have to go home, take the bus to Safeway, grab food, I have a backpack full of textbooks, and then I have to go home and get mugged on the bus because I had all these things and I was young. Just all these hardships. Moving around, doing all that, and figuring out like, “What’s my next meal going to be? Who’s doing my laundry? Me.” It wasn’t until way later that I didn’t know that I was doing laundry wrong for 20 years.
[00:11:18] I didn’t know that you were supposed to put the softer, like halfway through, or something. I had been just doing it wrong, like this whole time. I didn’t know until I was a full adult. I think until I had my kid I found out because I was so busy, just surviving. It kicked into survival mode at 15 and just like, “Okay, I got to do this. I gotta go to school. I got to still keep up good grades and have friends.” But I didn’t have any, so it was really hard to keep any friendships. I think that was really the biggest part and of course, surviving and just figuring out all these things.
[00:11:51] If I got sick, I couldn’t go to the hospital because I didn’t have insurance. I would just be like, “Okay I’ll just hide out until it just gets better.” I never went to the doctor. If you tell the story to anyone, they would say that you’re crazy. Just like I would never put my kid through that and I went through all of that. Now thinking back, I don’t think I was able to enjoy my teenage life or childhood. I didn’t have one. I was just an adult right away trying to figure out what to do and being taken advantage of in many circumstances in between. That would be the hardest part, I would say. This whole process into coming.
[00:12:34] Maggie Chui: Wow. That’s incredible, and especially in the big city too. You’re living in San Francisco at 15 years old. It was a lot better back then in terms of the cost of living and just the crime rate. But still, San Francisco was pretty expensive back then and we’re not the safest city and there’s a lot that goes on in San Francisco. It can be a very scary place sometimes, especially as a young girl alone, all alone herself.
[00:13:02] I do feel when you are alone and you go through those experiences, like you mentioning you going to a rave and finding a 30-year-old man who you didn’t even know at the time and asking you had a place to stay like, yes, that is risky but at the same time, I feel like those experiences and just putting yourself in risky situations because you had to do it for your survival, it also makes you a stronger person. You’ve gone through so many experiences that just give you tougher skin and thicker skin. You’ve just gone through so much and looking back, it’s like, “Okay. Yes, maybe you didn’t learn how to do laundry until a later age but it’s okay. That didn’t hurt anybody like your clothes. We’re okay.
[00:13:42] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: Throughout those years in the U.S., I would say I was fairly lucky that nothing major happened. I didn’t get into really bad accidents or anything. I would say I was, you have to be street smart at that point. Do you know what I mean? I’m from Hong Kong. People in Hong Kong move very fast and the kids are very street smart because there are so many people. The population is like, “Ugh.” Everywhere you go, you’re just trying to navigate through things. I think because of that and my dad was such a hardcore entrepreneur, I think it’s just all the years of telling me, “Oh, you got to be independent.” This and that sunk into my brain. When I was forced to be in the situation, all the survival kits came out. That’s pretty much it.
[00:14:27] Maggie Chui: Yeah. You mentioned your dad was an entrepreneur. Growing up, did you always know that you were going to be an entrepreneur yourself? I noticed that you did mention in one blog post that you did, or in one article that you did that you said you studied entrepreneurship. I want to know, was it something that you always knew that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
[00:14:49] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: Yeah, I think it was half and half. I think the way that my dad taught me, he was always a business fan, always an entrepreneur. He’s like the definition of an entrepreneur, so I took a lot from my dad. I think what made me realize the turning point of when I’m like, “Okay.” I did study entrepreneurship in college and the real turning point is when I came back from cancer. I think that was the real turning point in my life because even before then, when I moved back to Hong Kong, you have, ” Oh, I’m daddy’s little girl. Maybe I’ll just do whatever he says.” then he’ll just give me a good amount of money and I can just live. If I ever fall, he will just sign off on things and then I’ll be okay.
[00:15:31] I felt like I had much more of that attitude when I went back home and when I was next to them. When I found out how toxic and controlling that general environment was, I was like, “Okay, this is not working out.” And then when I had the health issue on top of it when you’re staring at four walls in the bed by yourself going through this after surgery and everyone’s looking at you and you don’t know what’s going on. They’re like, “Oh yeah, you have cancer. Sorry.” And you’re just like, “Oh my God. This is happening. This is real.”
[00:16:03] I think the turning point was that wake-up call was like, “Okay, what am I doing? What am I going to do? What am I going to do? Am I just gonna be this daddy’s little girl?” And just be like, “Oh yeah, sure.” Asian parents always tell you, “Go marry a rich guy and just be a housewife.” That’s what they always say.
[00:16:22] At that point, I was like, “Okay. If I leave, what am I going to do with my life? If I can’t pay bills and I can’t afford to get a place or eat, what am I going to do?” I just always thought, “Okay. People have told me that I’m good at jewelry. I’m just going to keep going and keep pursuing until I get to it.” I had a lot of failures. When I opened my company, I said, “Okay. I had some good referrals.” Then it went down for a little while and then COVID happened. That was like my second year of business at the beginning of COVID.
[00:16:54] I was like, “Oh, okay.” My company’s four years old so I was like, “Shoot.” When that happened, there was no business, no one walking through the door, and I was just like, at that point, I was freaking out. I had gone on Facebook and just had gone into every single forum that I can imagine. That’s when I landed at AHN and that’s when I met-. The other turning point of my life was AHN. I had met another member on the platform and we were going through it like, “Oh, what should I do?” And he’s in a completely different field. He does like Amazon dropship I was like, “Okay. I don’t know. I’ll do anything. Tell me what to do.”
[00:17:35] I was at the phase where I was like, “Okay. If I pay someone money, they’ll tell me what to do. If I pay a marketing company, they’ll just tell me what to do and I’ll live, right?” That was like what I was thinking. I was throwing money, whatever savings I had at whatever marketing company, and it just wasn’t working out. I was living a false thing and whatever I did with that member also didn’t work out. He was like, “Yeah. Just let me help you copy my Amazon dropship method into your diamond. Hopefully, it’ll work, maybe yes or maybe no.” And of course, it didn’t. But at the end, he was just like, “You know what, Bonnie? I’ve been in so many zoom meetings with you, and so many FaceTime with you. Just turn on the camera. Just do this. Just put it in front of it and just start talking.” I was like, “Okay, I’m not that interesting. No one’s going to want to watch what I have to say, but okay.” It was just like basically putting me in an ice bucket of cold water and just saying, “Shut up and do it.”
[00:18:31] I shut up and I did it. The first video I launched online had five views or ten views. In the second video, I was like, “Oh, you know what? I don’t know what I’m doing at all. I’m so boring. Let me just research what other people are doing anyway.” One video turned into another. I just researched. At one point, I didn’t even know what I was doing.
[00:18:50] It’s just like viewing someone’s video. I just copied, “Hello, this is da, da, da.” And just “Goodbye.” I was so nervous. At one point, one of the episodes took me 80 hours to film because I had so many. After all, I was so nervous, so many stutters and just nervous and I would mess it up 80 hours on just one.
[00:19:12] I was like, “Okay, I can’t do this.” I was going to give up. When I posted that one video, boom. That was when it hit. It was like, “People. COVID. At home, they can’t go shopping so let’s shop online.” Now, they’re looking for information about diamonds on the internet and I was making just an educational video.
[00:19:34] I wasn’t even like, “Hey, buy my diamond ring. Check the QR code.” I am not about any of that. I started making educational videos. I said, “This is what all my friends called me for. Hey, I need a pal. Hey, I need a friend. Hey, I need someone to tell me-.” And I became that pal, that friend to every single, whether it be female or male that would just really want my advice because I’ve been in this industry for so long.
[00:19:58] Just one after another and just became creating stories, telling stories. That is what blew up and I told my story on your Facebook channel and that blew up. You would not imagine how many people reached out to me and said, “Bonnie, I had a very similar experience as a child and I can’t believe that you are speaking out. I could never tell my side.” All of those things that were posted about the story that I didn’t even talk about jewelry. I just put in a little plug in the end like, “Hey!” I also said that besides the story.
[00:20:33] I think that the way that you guys started the platform was just incredible. You have no idea how many lives you’ve changed. How many lives, including myself? I think that if I didn’t have AHN at that time, at the lowest of my low, I don’t think I’ll be here today, honestly.
[00:20:52] Maggie Chui: Oh my gosh, Bonnie. I’m getting emotional. You give us too much credit. It’s really because of you, all of the members, and all of your amazing stories. That’s exactly why so many people resonate with all of your stories and all of the other members’ stories because it’s so relatable. Other people have gone through similar experiences. I want to thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story on the platform. How many lives you’ve touched within the community is immeasurable. I do want to talk about that a little bit. You took the time to share your story and that was your first time sharing your story.
[00:21:34] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: My first time, that is correct. That time that I shared would also encourage by the friend that I had met on AHN and he told me, “Just do it.” Because everyone’s so shy, right? Every time it’s like, “Oh. First-time poster, long time lurking.” They’re both like that. They’re so shy about talking. Talking about their personal life to tens of thousands of strangers.
[00:22:02] I think that’s the very first time that I publicly talked about the traumatic experience that I had as a child. I think it was so raw in a way that I’ve never said it out loud to anyone, not my family. None of my family knows.
[00:22:19] Even now, one day I’m like, “Oh, the post is old. I don’t think any of my cousins are going to scroll back. I don’t think any of my family’s seen the post because they’re not really into the Facebook thing. I’d love to talk about it. Ask me anything.
[00:22:34] Maggie Chui: Yeah. It was such an emotional post and I think that’s why a lot of people resonated with it. Probably, other people have gone through similar experiences. For all of our listeners, if you want to go check out Bonnie’s post on the AHN Facebook group, it’s still there. I believe she posted it in February 2020.
[00:22:50] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: If you search my name, it’ll come up.
[00:22:52] Maggie Chui: Yeah. If you search Bonnie’s name, it’ll come up. In the post, you did mention you did go through a very traumatic experience at a young age and I’m sure this had such a great impact, such an immense impact on who you are as a person today, and how that has shaped you into the decisions you wanted to make for your life. If you don’t mind if you want to share a little bit about how that experience has impacted you as a person.
[00:23:16] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: Yeah. I would love to talk about that. Not just how it impacted me, but how I came out of it. I think a lot of people, a lot of Asian females, specifically, have gone through those types of sexual abuse of some type. For me, it was specifically when I was a child. I was about six when I had gone through that full year of that. It happened just I was a child and the neighbor was an older neighbor and then every day we just came. My family and my parents were working so nobody knew what was happening in that room and it lasted for a whole year.
[00:23:52] Now, it’s easier for me to talk about it because I’ve outed myself for so long now. At such a young age, you don’t have any power. You’re completely powerless because you are a child. I think that’s the saddest part of it all. It’s not “Oh, I was fighting for my life.” Or “I had a chance to fight.” I had no chance to fight. It wasn’t until I became a teenager that I came to the U.S. around 12, or 13, the year before I came that I had learned at school. Those things are human body parts and you’re not supposed to do these types of things until you’re older or married.
[00:24:31] When you realize, like many years later, what had happened to you as a kid, you just go into this full loss mode is what happens and you try to find someone to blame. You try to tell someone, but you can’t because, in Asian culture, anything like that is just shameful. If you are vocal about it, then your family’s just going to shame you. At that point, I was already very aware of what was going to happen if I said something. I just kept my mouth shut and I didn’t say anything. Even at the lowest point when I was going through that and then my parents just decided, “Hey, let’s ship her.”
[00:25:11] The reason why I left Hong Kong so soon at 13 was that they felt like I was acting out and I was not stable but they never bothered to ask why. They said, “Okay, she’s acting out. She’s not stable emotionally, psychologically, and we can’t figure out why.” They just said, “Okay, let’s just send her away and let someone else help her or go to school and she’ll be fine.”
[00:25:35] That’s where it all started. When I came to America, they talk about those sex things even more in high school. People talk about it and middle school people talk about it. I think when I went through very long periods of depression and just over self-blaming like, “Oh, maybe I’m the reason why all of this is happening.”
[00:26:01] That’s why I’m punished to have to go through all this hardship for myself. There was a lot of confusion, a lot of self-blame, and a lot of suicide attempts. Many of those things are alcohol, drugs, and just loss. Navigating through all that and then still finishing high school, finishing college, all of that was just like, I think I just kept going because I knew my dad was a very hard worker and I just kept thinking to myself like, “Okay, this has already passed. There is absolutely nothing I can do about it in my present life. I can’t go back and try to find this person.”
[00:26:38] In the last podcast that I did with Paul, I found out that he died when I was in high school. One day, I received a phone call from my brother and he said, “Hey, did you know that? So-and-so neighbor’s son died. I just froze. I think I was a junior in high school.
[00:26:55] I was like, “What do you mean he died?” He was involved in some type of gang activity and he had his hands tied behind his back and thrown in the river and murdered. At that point, it was very traumatic for me because I had no idea how to process my emotions. I reached out to a counselor at school. But I guess, I don’t know.
[00:27:18] They sent me off to agency counseling and they just prescribed me medication. They just said, “Oh, sorry. Do you have PTSD? Here’s a bottle of medication. Just an antidepressant. Just get on it. You’ll be fine. You’ll feel happier. You’ll be better.” And that’s when I became just, “Wow. Okay. Even if I spoke about it to a counselor, it wasn’t going to change anything.” When I found that, I said to myself, “Okay. There’s no point in continuing to drown in these suicidal thoughts because nothing’s ever going to get better or change if I don’t do anything about it.”
[00:27:55] If I just sit there and cry about it myself, I don’t think anything’s gonna change. I think that’s how I slowly-. If you ask anyone that has gone through this type of experience, they will tell you the ghost never leaves you. It just lives. You just have to find a place in your body or your mind to put it away. It will keep haunting you until never. It just never stops. It’s strength in mental-like strength. I feel like building that up and being able to distract myself with all the busy tasks that I had, with all the survival that I had to do was the one thing that kept me busy. It kept me away from the depression and wanting to continue to go down that path because I was busy surviving and I had no time to continue.
[00:28:53] I was trying to finish college, trying to get into a better life, trying to become an entrepreneur, trying to prove to my parents that, “Hey, you know what? You might think that I can never make it, but I did.” To do that, I needed some motivation and just something to keep me going.
[00:29:10] As messed up as it sounds, that’s how I got through it. It was about surviving and when you’re surviving, you don’t have time to think about bad things, or sad things, because you’re busy. I know it sounds like just a cliche, “Oh yeah. Stay busy. Get a hobby.” But there’s no real way to get out of this situation and there’s no real way to reverse trauma.
[00:29:33] All you have to do is learn to cope with it, then eventually find passion in doing other things and helping other people, and satisfying what you’re passionate about. I found that which is in jewelry and diamonds. I know all this about myself as I get so excited every time I finish a piece or I design a new thing and it’s going off the internet. People love it.
[00:29:55] I think that feeds my soul and being able to share my journey, even through the platform that AHN has created, and being able to have personal conversations with other women that ask me. More or less, I had to say anything happen to me but much later in life and it’s much more traumatic because I remember every single thing and not like when you’re a kid and now you don’t remember all so clear, but to the women that remember all these things, crystal clear and asking for, crying for help, really, “Oh yeah. They can put you on antidepressants or they can put you in a group.” But sometimes, people are not comfortable in a group setting and they want to find another way. I don’t know that I know all the answers I don’t, but the only thing I can do is share how I did it and how I stay focused on everything that I do.
[00:30:48] My household is very hectic, husband and a child, and a business, and a thriving business. It keeps me busy. Making yourself happy and putting yourself first is incredibly important in this journey because for the longest time I was just thinking, “How would my parents feel if this got leaked? How shameful would they be of me if so and so found out.”
[00:31:16] When I posted it on AHN, that’s when I realized I don’t care how they feel because it was me who suffered all these years. For me, it’s just liberating. I just talk about it openly because I don’t get to worry about mommy and daddy’s feelings anymore because they’re good.
[00:31:31] They’re busy, they live their lives, they get their things going on, and here and there, we talk. We don’t have the closest relationship that I can hope for but sometimes, I realize I just can’t force my Americanness on them. I have to understand that they come from a background and things of poverty and that there are just things in life that they can’t understand.
[00:31:51] It’s not that I’m trying to get them to understand, but at one point, you just can’t resent your parents anymore just because they’re busy hustling. They were busy providing for me and my brother too so I can’t put all the blame and say, “Oh, I wish that they had done this and I wish that they had listened to me.”
[00:32:09] They had no time. They were busy feeding me and my brother. Is it sad that I wish they had more time? Sure. That I resent some of the things that they have done? Sure. But I’m too old for that now. No, I’m like, “I’m too busy to resent anyone, I’m just busy making my dream come true.” Now, the real freedom that I can feel from all of this is my success is my freedom. Now that I get to go places and I get to say, “You know what? I want this. I want to order this.” My dad has always said, “The real success is one day if you walk into the restaurant and you don’t have to look at the price of the menu.”
[00:32:46] I don’t know how to calculate success otherwise, but it always comes with food for him. It’s like, “If I can order anything on the menu and never look at the price, that’s the one day that I know I’m successful.” I feel like I’m successful because I’m there. I can go into a restaurant and order whatever, I can feed whatever to my son, whatever to my family, my friends, and I don’t have to feel pressured or anything.
[00:33:11] In that way, I feel like I succeeded. I know I’m not in the top 500 featured young Forbes stars. I feel successful and fulfilled in my ways.
[00:33:24] Maggie Chui: Yeah. I’m so glad that you’re at that level now. Success can be relative. We all have different meanings of success. Going back to your story, there’s just so much to unpack there and I’m so sorry that you had to go through such a traumatic experience. I’m so sorry that you couldn’t feel like you could go to your parents to talk about it.
[00:33:46] I’m sure that must have been such a hard time. As a young child, you don’t know what’s right from wrong. You don’t know if it’s the right thing to do to go to your parents or not. It can be tough. I think that especially the mental health services system, as you mentioned, they just prescribe you antidepressants.
[00:34:05] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: It’s lacking in this country.
[00:34:07] Maggie Chui: It is lacking.
[00:34:09] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: That’s one thing and in youth as well. In youth exactly, that’s the biggest part too.
[00:34:16] Maggie Chui: I feel like the therapists and counselors, not all of them, just don’t take the time to understand the situation. Let’s say if someone comes to them with suicidal thoughts, or they feel like harming themselves, or even if they say something close to that, a lot of the time they get redirected to the police department and the therapist doesn’t take the time to understand the situation.
[00:34:38] A lot of us, as people who are looking or seeking mental health services, don’t even want to do that anymore because we fear getting reported to the police because of what we’re going through because we have these thoughts in our mind. I’m sorry that you had to have that experience.
[00:34:52] The fact that you mentioned a really important topic, reverse trauma. A lot of people often ask victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault, how did you move on from that? The reality is you don’t move on. There are some days when you can suppress it and you have good days.
[00:35:15] Sometimes you won’t think of it, but it will always be with you. It’ll always come up now and then. It’s something that will always-
[00:35:22] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: it’s a long-term demon though.
[00:35:23] Maggie Chui: It is. I’m just so happy to see that you are starting to think for yourself now instead of your parents, instead of external factors, or other people in your life. Now, you are doing something that makes you happy, right? Something that you are truly passionate about, something that keeps you busy, something that keeps you going. Just going.
[00:35:44] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: I feel like I’m living the American dream, for sure. I’m very happy about that. I feel like there are just not enough places in the world where people can speak out.
[00:35:58] I feel like that’s why AHN is such an incredible community and I feel like this is even more powerful than any psych appointment that you can get because of just the amount of people that would offer support and anything that you need. I encourage anybody that’s listening to this and if they need anything at all, to reach out to me.
[00:36:15] Maggie Chui: That’s amazing. Thank you so much, Bonnie. I do want to talk a little bit about By Bonnie Jewelry. We all know that the industry is so male-dominated and that’s such an ironic thing because women love to wear jewelry. We love to wear rings. We love to wear fancy stuff and shiny stuff.
[00:36:35] It is male-dominated. There’s a lot of money that goes into that industry. Old money, exactly. I love that you’re adding a feminine touch to it which is something that we don’t see all the time. Tell us just a little bit about what you’ve been working on with By Bonnie Jewelry and how you were able to add your feminine touch. I just want to know what experiences you’ve had since starting By Bonnie in a way where you were able to empower and uplift more women in this industry or just your customers in general.
[00:37:10] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: There are a few key points. I want to bring up the way this generation, how shops for things, in general. 15-20 years ago, when I first started, it was still very like, “Oh, the guy goes and buys whatever ring, surprises the girl.” And then the girl’s not involved at all. But now, fast forward 20 years, every woman that I talk to, almost every single one of them knows what they want, which makes me proud because the dynamic has changed. Sadly, the industry itself hasn’t changed that much because it’s still very male-dominated.
[00:37:46] You’ll hear if I pick up the phone then talk to diamond dealers in New York, they’ll just be that typical like, “Ah!” They don’t even want to talk to you. When I was working for my dad in Asia, if the customer walked through and you’re female, even though you’re the boss, they’d be like, “Oh, I want to talk to your dad or your somebody else that’s in charge.”
[00:38:07] I’m like, ” No, I’m in charge here.” “Oh no. I want to talk to a man, not you.” It’s really interesting. Ever since I started By Bonnie, the whole concept was that I’ve been to so many jewelry stores, even for myself like just going shopping for jewelry and the industry just hasn’t changed for so many years.
[00:38:26] It’s the same and the same. You either have the big box jeweler, which is like Tiffany, Cartier, I don’t know, Shane Company. It’s just not very personal. You go in, you’re either very intimidated like they want to see like, “Okay, today I need to close this many commissioned deals so I need to see who’s buying.” They need to go and figure out like, “Hey, you’re interested in this. Oh, this is beautiful. Just buy it. Buy it today and you’ll love it. I’ll give you a discount.” All that stuff.
[00:38:56] I feel like the industry was so lacking in what to understand, like the style of women. Nowadays, we have people that dress up, they dress down. Not everyone is like, “We want to be in sportswear, yoga pants, and we want to be comfortable in dresses sometimes.”
[00:39:14] There’s no real advice from any of these people that are like, “Oh, I think you should do this to your ring. Do that. Buy this. Buy that. That’s suitable for your current lifestyle.” There’s no real one, just molding into something custom for that person’s lifestyle. There are a lot of custom pieces that are being made, but people don’t ask the right questions. They’ll be like, “Oh, the guy and the girl’s shopping for some things.”
[00:39:40] The salesman, I have had clients tell me, they just keep looking at the guy where the wallet is and they’re not listening to what we want as women. They’re just looking at the pocket and the money and just say, “Hey, sir. Do this. Do that.” And the girl’s talking. They’re not listening and a big mistake, whoever, whichever jeweler or whatever you’re listening, big mistake.
[00:40:01] These days, we know what we want and we are not afraid to voice our opinion. Happy wife, happy life, so you really should focus on getting what she wants. I think that’s when I come in and bridge the gap. I think the styling advice that I offer, I have clients that are in the medical field, surgeons, nurses for healthcare, just any type. In the police department or just anything that requires a lot of work with their hands.
[00:40:30] They don’t know. They go and get this ring and then it’s too flimsy and it breaks. I often make a lot of recommendations on people trying on different things that would fit them as far as the lifestyle and the shape of their hands. I feel like the education about all of those things is missing.
[00:40:46] At any time that you type ‘diamond ring’, you just get a bunch of paid blogs or that, “Oh, we’re affiliated with blah blah.com but we’re not trying to sell you anything. Here’s my opinion about what you should buy.” It’s always focused on only the center stone, only the gem. No one ever talks about how incredibly important the setting and the design that holds the gem are.
[00:41:10] That’s where my specialty comes in. If you start watching any of my videos, I keep repeating myself. I feel like that’s opened up a lot of people’s eyes about how to look at a piece of jewelry where most people are like, “Oh, a piece of jewelry.” You are either walking to Tiffany and paying top dollar for something or you go into Zales or Jarrett.
[00:41:33] Even in the in-between smaller boutiques, you’ll find some really good ones, but I focus on the craftsmanship and that’s what I teach. I teach about things that are not brought up at all, what to look out for, and tips and tricks on things to do. I think that’s what my viewers enjoy. They get to see things that are tried on me and I make a lot of videos trying things on.
[00:41:56] I think people just feel like I’m more personal when I’m talking to them about building something for them. I want to have their best interest in mind rather than just ” Oh today I’m just commissioned to close a really big sale on a really big diamond.” Sometimes, a lot times I catch myself telling them, “Hey, don’t buy something so expensive because you’re going to lose it. Your lifestyle doesn’t allow it. It’s just silly.” I’ll be that brutally honest friend that you don’t want to hear but what that friend is saying is true. I’m always that person. I think that’s where I’m at, how I started by Bonnie, made it different, and how many people out there in the world resonate with this experience.
[00:42:36] Maggie Chui: That’s amazing. That is so true. My goodness. Every time I see photos of rings, it’s always the gem. It always focuses on the gem or what shape you want. It’s always, “Oh. I know I want to round. I know I want a pear. I know I want oval.” I’m the same way. I didn’t realize that there’s so much that goes into it, like the crown and like what the gem is sitting on. I didn’t even know any of that until recently because all of the photos that I saw, just had a bird’s eye view of the ring and the gem. It never has a side view or it never shows what the gem is sitting on. That is just as important as the gem.
[00:43:16] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: Oh my God. You should watch my videos. I have so many transformation videos that come to me. Specifically, fly all over the world and show me what they bought online like the botch job, and then the transformation. I have a series on that. You should check it out.
[00:43:32] Maggie Chui: I would check it out.
[00:43:33] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: It’s really fun to watch because you’re like, “Oh my God. I can’t believe you did that.” They happily did it until later when they found my video, they’re like, “Oh. Wait a minute. I think I need to return this.” It’s really interesting to watch all the reactions and all the feedback. My passion is to help clients feel really happy when they come for their appointment and they get that sparkle, that dream ring, and their expression. If I get a penny or a dollar every time they get a good reaction, I think that’d be pretty good.
[00:44:04] Maggie Chui: That’s amazing. I will check that out.
[00:44:07] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: It fills my heart, honestly. I’m so lucky to be in a trade where I’m making people a sentimental pieces to celebrate their love and marriage, special occasion, anniversary, baby childbirth, graduation, and all the milestones in life being celebrated with a sentimental piece. I’m proud of always being a small part. I think that’s what feeds my soul. It’s to watch those and that helps me with some of my demons.
[00:44:33] Maggie Chui: That’s amazing. Bonnie, what is next for you and By Bonnie Jewelry in the next five years?
[00:44:39] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: It’s crazy because I’m starting to do more collaboration. I just finished a collaboration with this famous diamond painter called Angie Crabtree. She invited me to her exhibition to do an exclusive interview. I’m flying out to New York to do a vlog-style introduction to one of the laboratories that break diamonds, which has the most advanced cutting technology and grading technology for diamonds.
[00:45:05] The president invited me to do, which they would never open their doors to anyone for the laboratory because the equipment that they have and the things that they have are private. Being invited to do a tour there, talk about it, and teach my consumer about diamond grading. How to grade? How do we grade color clarity? What is the technology that makes cuts? I’m going to be able to zoom in and talk to their senior gemologist and all the founders of the company. I’m getting these crazy opportunities. I think that’s what my next five to ten years would look like. I would love to just travel and do more content for fun and education.
[00:45:44] Of course, make my pieces as well. Education, bringing fun stuff, and happy stuff into people’s life is always what I love. I think I’m going to continue doing that. I’m moving into a much bigger space by the end of this month. We’re going into a 2000 square feet space where I’m going to have a full shooting studio and a bigger showroom.
[00:46:03] We only do private appointments. All of that is working out because when people fly in for their appointment, they feel really special. It’s a unique experience rather than just walking in. Everything is tailored for you. Before your arrival, we choose all your stones for you.
[00:46:17] We know everything that you want, we show you everything and customize everything on-site for you. I’m going to continue doing that. A lot of people ask me if I’m going to expand to the East Coast and open different offices, but I think not. For me, keeping things intimate, it’s still a big part of me and I don’t want to commercialize my business.
[00:46:36] I’m just going to keep making pieces. They’re like babies to me, so I just keep making babies one at a time. I’m very old school. I like to connect with my clients and obviously, I have limited time as to how many clients I can connect with in a day. That’s kind of where I am. I just want to continue building that.
[00:46:54] Maggie Chui: That’s so exciting. Let me know when the showroom is open. I will try to check that out.
[00:46:59] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: You can come by, for sure.
[00:47:01] Maggie Chui: Yeah, I would love to check it out. Sure.
[00:47:04] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: If I ever come to Vegas, I definitely would love to meet.
[00:47:09] Maggie Chui: Definitely. Bonnie, we have one last question for you that is if you could give one piece of advice to someone who is trying to get into the jewelry industry, what would that one piece of advice be?
[00:47:23] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: If I have to give one piece of advice, this is a hard question. They want to get into jewelry, you have to be able to see your vision very clearly. You can’t just want to get into the jewelry trade and be like, “Oh yeah. I want to sell some jewelry.”
[00:47:41] What I do changes the way things are and changes how people look at the perspective of diamonds and jewelry. I feel like if you’re going to get in now in such a competitive business of jewelry, there’s so many jewelers and so grandfathered in because it’s such an old business, you got to come up with a fresh breath of how you want to change it.
[00:48:04] What are you offering to people that will make them feel like, “Wow, this is something that I’ve never seen.” Or a different approach. That’s where you got to focus on that niche of finding your own. I know it sounds cliche like, “Oh, find your niche.” But in jewelry, it’s specifically important.
[00:48:22] If you don’t have one and you are all over the place like, “Oh, I can do a little bit of this. A little bit of that.” You’ll never get anywhere because the pool is just so big and you’re just going to drown in it. You’re just going to find what you’re truly passionate about and what you feel like what you do can change that one thing. That is one thing that is impactful for people. That’s what you have to focus on.
[00:48:44] Focus on how you’re going to change people’s lives and how you’re going to always offer something before you think you can take something. The universe has its way of things. If you give enough, you will get back in a way that you would never imagine how you would get back.
[00:49:07] If you always just take and you never give, you might be able to get to a certain point but you won’t. There’s just an empty soul underneath that. You got to just give and then the universe will tell you, “You know what? You’re a great giver. You are a servant of the community and it will come.”
[00:49:25] Just like you guys. I feel like going back to AHN, wrapping this up, you guys are giving so much of your time and energy by connecting all these people. You’re behind the scenes. You might not be in every single one of the conversations that are being had, but rest assured that you are giving. I feel like everything that you guys are getting back now is just the beginning.
[00:49:46] I’m excited to see how this can grow into a crazy worldwide platform. Maybe eventually, we can get an Asian youth community. I would love to be a part of that if you guys ever come up with something like that because there’s such a huge part of just the Asian youth community that also needs guidance and help.
[00:50:06] I feel if I had to put something on AHN besides the business part, that’s what I would love to see. All of these people, they’re hustlers and they all have kids. A lot of people do. I feel like we can create a separate community to keep those kids going, maybe create Asian scholarships, put things together, group these children together, and give them more guidance as I didn’t get any as a child. I think that would be the next step for Asians or changing the world. That’s what I think. That’s what I’m passionate about. I would love to see that happen.
[00:50:42] Maggie Chui: The next generation is our future.
[00:50:44] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: It is our future.
[00:50:46] Maggie Chui: Thank you so much for that advice. The one thing that I got away from it is to continue giving and to make sure that you’re doing something to stand out because there’s just so much competition out there. You have to find what makes you special in every industry. When your passion shows through, you don’t have to sell yourself when your passion comes through.
[00:51:11] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: People see that passion and they want to attach themselves to that because it’s a positive energy that they want to be a part of.
[00:51:18] Maggie Chui: Absolutely. Bonnie, where can our listeners find out more about you and By Bonnie Jewelry online?
[00:51:25] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: I’m the most active on Instagram and YouTube. I make a new YouTube video every Saturday. There’s going to be either education about diamonds, featuring couples, or me doing fun things. Follow me and subscribe to my channel because it’s really fun. Instagram, we post stuff all the time. Those are two places. If you are interested in me doing something for you, you can go to my website. I’m working on bettering it. I’m so busy. ByBonnieJewelry.com, that’s how you can get ahold of me and if you search YouTube just ‘By Bonnie’, I’m all over the place.
[00:52:01] Maggie Chui: Awesome. We’ll leave all of that in the show notes for this episode. Bonnie, it was amazing having you on the podcast today. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
[00:52:10] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: This has been on my to-do list, but it’s just, life is so busy. I had Pamela, which is my social media manager and she was like, “Just do it. Just reach out.” because I’m shy. I was like, “Oh no, they’re so successful now. They don’t want me. They have other people. They hung on the show. They don’t need me anymore.”
[00:52:27] Maggie Chui: No. We need you.
[00:52:29] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: The honor is my part, for sure.
[00:52:33] Maggie Chui: Thank you so much.
[00:52:34] Bonnie Cheung Sarkissian: Absolutely.