Rapaport Magazine

Buyers Selective

Cautious spending at Hong Kong show as lower price points rule.

By Nancy Pier Sindt

MVee Ltd.
The 29th Hong Kong International Jewellery Show found buyers in a highly selective mode, unwilling to make commitments unless they had a specific need or customer in mind. For the most part, they stopped first at established suppliers, adhered to their shopping lists and spent money on fill-ins or one-of-a-kind items rather than buying large quantities or seeking new sources. Exhibitors reported the majority of buyers were from Mainland China, India and other Asian countries, as well as visitors from Australia, South Africa, Russia, the U.S. and Europe.

The five-day show, organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) and six industry trade associations, hosted a record 3,100 exhibitors from
48 countries and territories. Featured were more than a dozen product categories, including fine jewelry, watches, estate jewelry, loose pearls, diamonds and gemstones, plus packaging and display materials.

According to the organizers, this show drew a record-breaking 38,000 buyers, up 3 percent over the previous year. However, according to exhibitors, traffic was strong on the first day, becoming moderate on the second and spotty thereafter. The slower-than-expected pace was attributed to Basel’s very early March dates and the just-ended Chinese New Year, when most local businesses were closed. Most exhibitors agreed, however, that this show was an improvement over earlier fairs in 2012, including Vicenzaoro-First, the JA New York Winter Show and Bangkok Gems & Jewelry Fair.

Despite the economic malaise of the past few years, Hong Kong and China have managed to advance both their production and their exports. According to government figures, Hong Kong’s fine jewelry exports in 2011 totaled $61 billion, a rise of 35 percent from 2010, making Hong Kong the world’s fifth-largest exporter of fine jewelry after India, the U.S., Italy and Switzerland. Exports to the U.S. rose 29 percent in 2011, a healthy uptick from the dismal 2010.

Among the major offerings at this show were bold creations with blinding surfaces of diamond pavé and large ensembles of precious gemstones and diamonds. These six- and seven-figure showcase goods, however, were balanced by smaller, fanciful jewelry of colored stones and diamonds in a range of nature-inspired and geometric designs. Among the strongest trends were black and white diamonds, lacy designs with openwork, cutout and interlocking shapes, pendant and hoop earrings of every description, as well as downsized items that included small charms, pendants and bracelets intended to appeal to a mass market, as well as a younger audience.

Rajesh Ajmera of Amrapali, Jaipur, cited jewelry with rose-cut diamonds in the $1,000 to $5,000 range as best sellers. Of his strong U.S. business, William Tang, sales and marketing director, Waddy Jewellery Group, Hong Kong, said he expects the U.S. economy to stabilize but his clients to remain price-conscious. To satisfy them, Waddy offers a sterling silver collection, a men’s jewelry assortment and new designs in gold, colored gems and diamonds of previously successful collections.

Tom Heyman, principal at Oscar Heyman & Brothers, New York City, said this was only his second time at the Hong Kong show and, despite spotty show traffic, he had received “an amazing response” to his company’s high-end gemstone jewelry.

For the most part, diamond and gem dealers told a similar story. Their customers — mostly wholesalers and traders, but including some manufacturers and retailers — were looking for items to fill holes in their inventories or pieces for specific customer needs. Few were willing to spend on extras. Fast-turning items were at the top of everybody’s list, noted Greg Kesten of Jack Reiss, New York. At Shree Ramkrishna Export (SRK), Mumbai, best sellers were fancy-cut diamonds, including princess, marquise and pear shapes. For Kiran Gems Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, 30-pointers to 50-pointers were in greatest demand and at Akshar Impex, Mumbai, best-selling sizes were either 1 carat and above or 30-pointers to 90-pointers, all in VVS to VS qualities.

Fancy color diamond specialists noted that smaller, better-quality stones were especially desired by Asian clients, who sometimes prefer fine color to a large colorless diamond. “We have a few super-special items and these top stones had lots of interest,” said Scott West, vice president of L.J. West in New York City. Francis Errera, Hong Kong, a specialist in fancy color diamonds in pairs and rainbows, said a number of top designers and retailers consulted him for special orders.

Buyers sought top-quality colored gemstones but were somewhat price-conscious. For example, buyers were resistant to larger — 15 carats and above — finer-quality sapphires because of sharp price increases, noted Sam Haghighat of Ijadi Gem, New York City. Most-sought-after rubies at A. Hakimi & Sons, New York City, were better-quality, untreated Burma rubies. Emerald dealers commented that they experienced no overall pattern to sales: Buyers were looking for good prices, with no specific size or quality dominating.

Despite China’s booming economy, conditions are tough for manufacturers. Labor costs have risen sharply in many of the jewelry-producing regions and as demand for jewelry in international markets has slowed, pressures have been put on margins. A handful of firms have downsized their labor forces.

The bright spot in Mainland China is the growth of diamond engagement ring sales; bridal constitutes a steadily growing market. Numerous Chinese manufacturers have focused their attention on bridal, creating an expanded range of styles to satisfy the growing Mainland market as well as refresh their sales to American buyers. Because of vast differences in economic conditions in China, there is no national average for size and quality of diamonds. However, according to Lawrence Ma, Lee Heng Diamond Group and president of the Diamond Federation of Hong Kong, the most desirable sizes are generally 20 points to 50 points, with retails in the range of $1,500 to $2,000.

If the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show was any indication, the trend at shows in 2012 will be buyers arriving with specific shopping lists and visiting established sources to refill best-selling items. Those at the shows will be there to buy, rather than look, but all will remain price-conscious until economic conditions improve.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - March 2012. To subscribe click here.

Comment Comment Email Email Print Print Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Share Share
Comments: (0)  Add comment Add Comment
Arrange Comments Last to First