Selim Fendi gets energized from Monaco's first refinery.
Say what you like, but there’s something about the age-old allure of gold that never dies. Long before we crowned our heroes with Oscars, Grammys or Olympic medals, the Egyptians celebrated gold with panache. Cleopatra notoriously wore a gold mask to bed every night, and nothing has changed on that score. Today, cosmetic brands continue to tout the rejuvenating properties of gold-infused beauty products chock-a-block with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
But then, gold therapy is as old as the hills. Medieval alchemists came up with a gold-infused elixir said to cure melancholia; five centuries later, doctors still use it as an anti-bacterial blood cleanser and a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
1kg gold bar of 999.9 purity.
In sum, gold is not only a solid, inalterable investment, but it’s also good for you, and Selim Fendi, CEO and founder of Aurum Monaco, would be inclined to agree. “The energy that comes from gold is unbelievable,” enthuses Fendi, whose thriving business, opened in November 2019, is the Principality’s first gold refinery.
A former trader of commodities, Tunisian-born Fendi has lived everywhere from Miami to Dubai, but decided to make a career switch in 2008 and moved to Africa to begin sourcing gold in countries like Mali, Tanzania and Burkina Faso.
“We produce ‘ethical’ gold—but I prefer the word ‘sustainable’. When you move to the physical gold market—unlike paper—nothing at that time was regulated. It was a no man’s land and you were basically on your own,” says Fendi. Fortunately, he says, the situation changed considerably in 2012, when the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) set down some legal global guidelines.
Among various challenges, the number one problem, Fendi says, is banning mercury, which has been the quickest and cheapest process of extracting gold for over a century. “Mercury pollutes and is extremely harmful to the health. This is a big issue in our business, and we recently partnered with the United Nations in Geneva to fight it. To give you an example—1900 metric tons of mercury are poured into the environment every year, and two-thirds of it comes from the gold business.”
Fendi has high hopes that an awareness of mercury pollution will become more widespread with the general public with the soon-to-be-released feature film,Minamata, starring Johnny Depp, shown at this year’s Berlinale film festival. In the film, Depp plays the Life photographer W. Eugene Smith whose mission is to document the Japanese fishing village of Minamata, ravaged by mercury’s devastating effect on the population. “Our slogan at Aurum is ‘make mercury history’ by eradicating it forever from the gold mining business.”
Good as Gold
Obviously, to source ethical gold, the company must respect also child labor laws and pay the miners fairly, Fendi points out, which means finding a non-conflict zone. “Where there’s conflict, there are guns, and people buy guns with gold,” he says. It’s a difficult market and we’ve been working hard to try and make it better.”
A third consideration, he adds, is locating small-scale mines who are willing to comply to legal procedures. “In Africa, it has to be win-win for both buyer and seller. The large mines don’t need us—they have their own financing and security, whereas the smaller ones have nothing. We give them all the know-how in terms of respecting the environment as well as some social help, which might be subcontracting an NGO to provide them with medical assistance.”
Now, at age 52, after twelve years of experience, Fendi says he decided to find the “missing piece” in the gold trade industry, namely setting up his own refinery. But why Monaco? Fendi, who is also the treasurer of the Jewelry Chamber of Monaco, presided by Claude Cardone, is unequivocal about his choice.
Selim Fendi meets clients by appointment only and they must be cleared by the company's compliance departement.
“Monaco has a concentration of wealth, meaning potential physical gold buyers and high security,” he says. “But the third factor, of course, is that Monaco is very keen on social issues and protecting the environment. We are strong on CRS—Corporate Social Responsibility—and these days, consumers, who are mainly jewelers, are willing to pay extra if the company can show them that their gold comes from reliable sources.”
The refinery, located in an undisclosed building in Fontvieille, has been drawing customers from jewelers to HNWIs who are seeking an investment. “We also offer our clients storage of the gold within our refinery at no fee, insured by Brinks and Lloyd's of London. If they keep it on our premises for one year, we offer a 6% retrocession added to the current worth of the gold,” says Fendi.
And when it comes to his latest venture, Fendi is positively ebullient when describing his new partnership with a French-based company called Gold Emotion, headed by Jean-Christophe Rousseau, who are launching a 20-day worldwide “Gold Experience Tour.” Unsurprisingly, the first of these highly exclusive events by private invitation will kick off in Monaco. During the course of a €12,000-per-person soirée, held in a secret location, 12 guests will immerse themselves in gold-themed extravaganza that includes everything from art, music and fashion to a gold-spiked 7-course gastronomic dinner whipped up by Michelin three- star chef, Mauro Colagreco (Mirazur, Menton, voted “Best Restaurant in the World”), who was given carte blanche to create his wildest whim with gold leaf and other edible derivatives.
“The whole idea is that the event will be shrouded in mystery and each one will be unique,” explains Fendi. “People will listen to music made on the most expensive handmade piano in the world, smoke gold cigars and drink the finest gold-flecked champagne.”
Add to that a golden opportunity to discreetly promote his own company Aurum to the Monegasque elite.