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Vicenza report: Italy looking to the future

The mood was upbeat at Vicenzaoro, where the importance of China, the Made in Italy marketing strategy and wide-ranging changes to the Italian jewellery event were discussed. Lorna Goodyer reports from Italy.
The world is changing and Italy has so far been one step behind.

That was the message from the opening event at this year's Vicenza jewellery fair, where industry experts said 100 per cent growth in worldwide jewellery consumption by 2020 was a “pretty realistic” forecast (10 per cent in developing markets and 4 per cent in other markets – including watches and fashion jewellery).

“We are running behind time and we cannot afford to become a second-league country,” said Roberto Ditri, the fair's president.

“You either compete with the rules of the world or you are pushed out. We will look at the future, not forgetting our past,” Ditri said in his opening speech to the fair.

The Italian gold jewellery industry's prolonged “crisis” was at the heart of the debate that kicked off the opening of the 64th Vicenza fair on Saturday, which played host to almost 1,500 exhibitors from more than 50 countries. Speakers at the roundtable debate, “A new direction for Italian jewellery – where to go?”, accepted that the industry's difficulties began not with the global financial crisis of 2008, but eight to 10 years ago.

Ditri was clear that “it will take some time to get back to pre-crisis times”, but was stoically optimistic and said the jewellery operators he had spoken to at this year's fair seemed more optimistic too.

He reported that Italy's economy grew 5 per cent last year – an encouraging sign and equal to pre-recession growth levels. The value of Italy's gold exports rocketed 27 per cent last year, although Ditri said the increase was inflated by the soaring price of gold.

Speakers agreed that innovation and the ability to communicate Italy's position as a manufacturer of high-quality jewellery will be key to the country's continuation as a world jewellery centre.

The Made in Italy concept, launched last year at the Vicenza fair in May, was still considered to be the best way to communicate that message to the global consumer.

Mehul Choksi, a speaker at the event and chairman of Indian jewellery retail giant Gitanjali, said Italy is “so far ahead of everyone else” in terms of innovation of designs and quality of execution, but that the country just isn't communicating its strengths. “Italy's jewellery industry is a backwater compared with the Italian fashion industry,” he pointed out. Choksi  said the Swiss watch industry was a prime example of a country that had successfully made an identity for itself in a certain sector.

The challenge of new markets, particularly China, was much discussed – both  as a manufacturing competitor and as an export market.

Matteo Mazotto, president of ENIT National Tourism Agency, said “ Chinese people love our products – even though they produce their own.” The growing importance of China to the Italian industry was reinforced by the presence of the ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Italy, Ding Wei, as guest of honour at the opening event.

Meanwhile, Armando Branchini, secretary-general of the Altamgama Foundation, said, “There's no doubt competition is global.”

But he added that Italy couldn't blame countries like China for the local jewellery industry's prolonged crisis. He pointed out that production costs have increased dramatically in China and that it is no longer purely the domain of cheap jewellery products. “The cost of space in Shanghai is the same as that in Milan. The idea that Chinese production is cheap is an idea of the past.”

He believes that the Italian jewellery industry needs to focus on the trends of consumers – particularly the new digital generation - “because this is the real challenge”. “If [Italian] companies don't make new patterns, they won't survive,” he added.

The increasing importance of social media was discussed at the event too. Andrea Morante, chief executive of Italian jewellery brand Pomellato, admitted that jewellers were coming to the medium of the internet at a “later stage” than some other sectors, but told attendees how successful Facebook could be as a means of developing a community and interacting with consumers.

A new face for Vicenzaoro

Fair organisers plan to transform the Vicenza fair over the next five years through expansion, improvements to local infrastructure and an overhaul of the fair's content.

Going hand in hand with the development of the Made in Italy concept, Ditri said, “Fiera di Vicenza will revitalise the global value of Italian jewellery by redefining its core DNA and communicating on its excellence”.   

“We want to redefine completely and change completely,” he explained.

Changes will focus on two key areas: infrastructure and content. Construction work is due to start next month on expansion plans that will increase the floor space from 60,000 sq m to 75,000 sq m. The new space is set to be completed by spring 2013 and will include a seven-storey car park, a new hall and modifications to the existing space in the aim of creating a more flexible, quality venue.

Ditri admitted that a chronic shortage of hotel accommodation in the local area is an issue, and said a high speed train link and station close to the event is being considered, in order to bring attendees to the fair from further afield.

In terms of content, Ditri explained that Vicenzaoro has four key targets: to become a “knowledge broker” for the industry; a “platform for innovation”; “space for relations” and a “synthesis of excellence”.

Support for young designers, educational exchanges and a focus on emerging markets were highlighted as key components of the fair's new strategic plans.

The show also intends to overhaul its internet presence, establish a new magazine as well as a jewellery museum in the town of Vicenza, found a creative laboratory and launch international prizes and competitions for design, production, communication and distribution.

“There's a lot of work here. This cannot be done overnight,” Ditri admitted.

More reading:

Challenges face 'Made in Italy' branding

Italian jewellery exports recovering

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