Showtime in Hong Kong

The first time I visited Hong Kong was in April 1997, a few months before the Brits handed the territory back to the Chinese. I was alone and rented a $20 room at the infamous Chungking Mansions, a decrepit old building full of restaurants, shops, and guesthouses on Nathan Road in Kowloon. It was the last stop on a four-month backpacking trip through Southeast Asia, and my traveler’s checks were running dangerously low. Back then, the city seemed incredibly tall and impossibly glamorous—Asia’s formidable answer to New York City—and I navigated its streets with a sense of awe as dense crowds of people speaking Cantonese swarmed around me.

This past week, I returned to Hong Kong for the fifth time to attend the 31st edition of the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show, organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, and discovered that the city has only grown taller and more glamorous since my last visit in 2008. The skyscrapers are so colossal that their spires disappeared into the fog that blanketed the city. The luxury presence in Central—name a European brand and it’s got a flagship here—is so pervasive that even the stylish Gucci temple in the Landmark building felt a bit ho-hum. And the city seemed so big as to be virtually unknowable.

Which is to say nothing of the show, a juggernaut of jewelry fairs, home to 2,300 exhibitors from 43 countries and regions. And that’s not counting the loose pearl and gem dealers, who—for the first time—had their own event, the inaugural HKTDC Hong Kong International Diamond, Gem & Pearl Show, held at the AsiaWorld Expo venue near the airport.

I spent all of my time at the convention center, home to high-end designers, low-cost jewelry manufacturers, jade traders, estate jewelry dealers, and every kind of finished jewelry merchant in between. When people talk about the insatiable demand for jewelry in the Far East, this is what they should picture: five floors of booths, each one packed with merchandise, most of it earmarked for buyers from mainland China.

The firms located on the third floor were the most impressive. I fell in love with quite a few things, including a pair of earrings featuring Burmese rubies framed by rose-cut diamonds at Ivy, the pretty pastel-colored opal necklaces on display at Oriental Gemco, and a convertible yellow diamond ring-pendant at Kahn Jewellery.

 

Burmese ruby and diamond earrings at Ivy New York

Oriental Gemco’s necklace of Ethiopian opals

This yellow diamond ring at Kahn Jewellery converts to a pendant.

I did my best to snap photos of the pieces that caught my attention, but the vendors in Hong Kong are notoriously suspicious of copycat manufacturers—for good reason—so I had to take most of my pics surreptitiously.

After four days of ogling, I finally broke down and bought a diamond wing necklace at Forever Creations, a New York City–based company that is my go-to source for fun, affordable pieces. In Hong Kong, shopping is a civic sport, and there was no way I was going to leave town without doing my part to keep the Chinese economy buzzing.

My new wings!