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Feature Stories, Fairs and Events

Hong Kong jewellery shows reveal true trade sentiments

Amid a global economic downturn and disruptive technology, Hong Kong’s twin jewellery shows remain a bustling hub of business, writes ANGELA HAN.

Even in challenging times, the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show (HKIJS) continues to set the pace for the jewellery trade, having surpassed last year’s record attendance numbers in 2019.

This year, event organiser Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) confirmed that 4,555 exhibitors from 52 countries attended the 36th HKIJS and the sixth International Diamond, Gem and Pearl Show (IDGPS). The IDGPS alone hosted 1,990 exhibitors from 33 countries and regions.

The two-shows, two-venues format remains popular for visitors, with a record-breaking 90,000 registered buyers from 145 countries present – a four per cent increase from 2018. HKTDC’s deputy executive director, Benjamin Chau, said of the twin events: “In the midst of current economic instability, these jewellery trade shows help brace the industry for the challenges ahead.”

Moreover, to inject buyer confidence into the slow market, HKTDC has implemented initiatives to enable businesses to explore new markets through curated buyer programmes and dedicated international pavilions.

Stronger international focus

"In the midst of current economic instability, these jewellery trade shows help brace the industry for the challenges ahead"
Benjamin Chau, deputy executive director, HKTDC

This year, new jewellery pavilions were introduced for Mexican and Indonesian exhibitors. Among the new zones at the IDGPS was a dedicated Australian Opals Pavilion, which hosted 20 of our very own local opal suppliers.

Japan also joined the IDGPS as a partner country for the first time, presenting 130 of its top pearl producers. This collaboration was jointly organised by the Japan Pearl Exporters’ Association (JPEA) and the Japan Pearl Promotion Society in response to growing market demand.

At a press conference on the first day, Japanese trade executives mentioned that Hong Kong and China have been top consumers of pearl jewellery since the 2008 economic downturn, which decreased pearl demand in the US and Europe.

Yoshihiro Shimizu, president of the JPEA, advised that approximately 75 per cent of its pearls are now exported to Hong Kong, with numbers increasing year on year. Pearl sales have reportedly continued to grow compared to other gemstones that have been affected by synthetic alternatives, with Shimizu adding, “Luckily, pearls – compared with diamonds or gemstones – are very stable.”

Lab-created diamond exhibitors also grew two-fold at this year’s show compared with 2018 with more than 40 related suppliers and manufacturers from China and India taking up large stands in an area dedicated specifically to synthetic stones.

Directly proportional to the growth of lab-created diamond exhibitors was the number of diamond testing equipment technology on display. Companies such as De Beers, DRC Techno, Yehuda and the GIA were all present, providing protection for buyers through their devices. Despite the opportunities and challenges posed by the growing consumption of lab-created diamonds, the industry appears to be ever-evolving with technology to combat deception.

3D printing to AI: Tech to save the industry?

Last year, HKTDC’s Chau noted the importance of engaging technological solutions as a critical part of today’s business. This was further emphasised by the launch of the IT solutions area at the 2018 fair: “Buyers are very interested in looking for IT and other technological solutions for their businesses,” Chau said.

He acknowledged that the industry will continue to face financial headwinds, but key players spearheading the tech revolution in jewellery will keep the trade moving forward.

“Facing an uncertain global economy, jewellers have been actively enhancing their design and research and development capabilities in recent years. The growing diversity of designs and materials was demonstrated in the exhibits at this year’s shows, which successfully attracted the attention of global buyers,” Chau added.

Industry experts offered their insight at a forum to discuss how new and upcoming technology is changing the way jewellery business is conducted, from design and manufacturing to marketing and retail.

Reviewing the latest 3D printing milestones, Robin Wang, co-founder of Jiangsu Totus Technology, said that printing with materials such as silver and gold has been regarded as a breakthrough in direct production. “The key benefit is fast turnaround,” he advised, citing the high precision and shortened manufacturing cycle, which in turn allows faster delivery times.

While these machines are currently limited to large companies due to the high cost and space required, Wang believes that it’s only a matter of time before it trickles down and benefits more jewellers.

Technology has also had a strong impact on the ever-popular personalisation sector of the jewellery market. Andrew Loo, founder of custom jewellery-design app La Salle de Fabrication, enthused that “anyone can be a designer of their own affordable jewellery that can be customised down to their own etchings and engravings”.

Loo added that his company can provide a finished product to clients within 10 days of receiving a design.

When it comes to sales, China’s Tencent Smart Retail uses artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to help develop smarter businesses in China. It exhibited a range of tools, including facial recognition to track consumers in-store.

Li Sha, operations director at Tencent, explained that the technology tracks each customer’s buying journey, from which areas of the store they go to in what order, where they linger, what they buy, and how they pay. According to Li, the system then provides a database of information, allowing stores to improve layout, systems and interactions, thereby increasing customer satisfaction and sales.

How does the industry feel?

During the two shows, the HKTDC commissioned an independent on-site survey that interviewed 1,347 exhibitors and buyers to gauge market sentiments and business expectations. Leveraging its large crowd of international exhibitors and visitors, the survey presented an opportunity to get a more accurate reading on where the global jewellery trade is headed.

Despite the China-US trade conflict, the survey found that 60 per cent of respondents were neutral or positive about their export performance in the near future, and 80 per cent stated that they were optimistic or neutral about the prospect of a trade war resolution.

Kent Wong, HKTDC Jewellery Advisory Committee chairman, pointed out, “Hong Kong fine jewellery exports to the world increased 15 percent to reach $57 billion in 2018. Although the global economy is uncertain, there has been progress in the way Hong Kong exporters have, poetically, found ways to upset the impact of the trade war.”

Chau added, “Although the outcome of the trade talks between Mainland China and the United States remains unclear, and uncertainties continue to weigh on the global economic outlook, the jewellery industry is buoyed by favourable factors.”

When survey respondents were asked about growth prospects for emerging markets, 64 per cent considered China to be the most promising, due to its increasingly stable economy coupled with structural reforms to support increased local consumption.

The survey also asked respondents about their most popular choice in metal and found that 54 per cent favoured white gold, followed by 39 per cent for rose gold. In the gemstones category, diamonds remained most popular at 54 per cent, followed by aquamarine at 18 per cent.

In terms of overall sales, 61 per cent of respondents said they expected to see no change this year, with 33 per cent expecting sales to increase. Only six percent anticipated a decline, suggesting that the jewellery industry is generally optimistic despite global trends.

The next show will be in March 2020.

Angela Han attended the fair courtesy of HKTDC as an accredited media representative.

Angela Han

Publisher  • Jeweller Magazine

Angela Han has more than a decade’s experience in the jewellery and luxury goods industry, having worked in all sectors from retail and manufacturing to design and supply. She has been with Jeweller for over ten years and has extensive experience in print and digital media publishing, business-to-business communications and strategy. 

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