Dateline Goa

Invitation-only luxury jewelry shows in lavish resort settings have been established in many markets, but until this year, the concept of an exclusive upscale show had never been tried in India. The Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council’s IIJS Signature show, launched last spring in Goa, proved the concept is a viable one for the Indian jewelry industry. With its first edition lauded as a success, the second IIJS Signature show will be held in Goa again Feb. 20–23, 2009.

IIJS Signature was developed by GJEPC to position India internationally as a preferred source of quality gems and jewelry. While the jewelry on display was the country’s best—displayed by India’s top 98 jewelry makers in 140 booths—the first edition of IIJS Signature attracted more local buyers than intended export markets like France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. A GJEPC post-event report pegged the number of Indian retail visitors—including big names like Ganjam and Ghana Singh—at 150, while visitors from emerging overseas markets like Australia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Ukraine also may provide a much needed shot in the arm to Indian jewelry exports in coming times.

Pratap Singh Rane, speaker of the state legislative assembly in Goa, opened the show, assuring that the government would support the show.

GJEPC chairman Sanjay Kothari said in his welcome address that the industry’s goal this fiscal year is $18.5 billion in exports. “I am sure that IIJS Signature and IIJS Mumbai will play a major role in achieving this target,” he added. He also said Goa would host IIJS Signature for at least the coming three editions of the show.

Navin Jashnani, convener of the IIJS subcommittee, expressed confidence that IIJS Signature would prove to the world that the Indian jewelry industry had evolved from focusing on labor-intensive skills to providing excellence in design and craftsmanship.

Buyer response to the show was impressive, and showed a strong tilt toward jewelry suited to Middle Eastern and Indian (both local and expatriate) consumers’ tastes. Exhibitors showing broad bangles, large earrings, and necklace sets with Oriental motifs did brisk business.

This meant, however, that some booths showcasing jewelry for the export market looked empty on most days of the show. Though the exhibitors and organizers cited the oft-blamed U.S. recession for the low American (and European) turnout, some visitors hinted at other persisting factors like the lack of design imagination and poor manufacturing finish.

One American visitor from Houston looked unimpressed. “From the jewelry put on display here, it seems the manufacturers still have a lot to learn,” he said. “The kind of jewelry offered by regional manufacturers at the Hong Kong show, for instance, is far better suited to the American consumer’s taste.” Another jewelry expert later explained that American consumers, in the wake of the recession, have reduced their discretionary spending on heavy jewelry and moved toward buying festive-looking jewelry that has a low price point but high perceived value.

Zbigniew Kwiatkowski, a Polish trader who also works as a coordinator for GJEPC for Poland and Ukraine, told JCK India that the Polish jewelry market is worth $1 billion and the Ukrainian market, which is twice as big, can serve Indian manufacturers well if the latter look beyond short-term gains.

Nothing, however, seemed to dampen the spirits of exhibitors who clearly looked drawn to the emerging—and less demanding—Indian market. A prominent Indian jeweler who also runs an up-market store in Hollywood explained, “I see a great potential in the Indian market. We received an encouraging response from some big Indian retailers. On the flip side, I hardly saw any major Western retailer walking into my stall.” He got better response after he replaced fine baguette-set jewelry with large individual pieces with enamel and colored stones—a combination preferred by the local customers.

Among notable styles, some jewelers blended ethnic and contemporary designs by using diamonds (both cut and uncut) set on gold and enameled in unusual shades of pink and rusty brown, hitherto unseen in India. Some of them also used royal motifs in pendant sets, with midsize to large pressure-set collets mounted in 18k to 22k gold.

Also on display were a variety of simple and lightweight collections containing small pendant sets and long, teardrop earrings. Jewelry inspired by the marine world, an extensive use of gold, and the revival of ancient Indian tribal art were other major design trends of the show.

GJEPC also met with foreign delegations. Some highlights:

Russia During the meeting with the Russian delegation—led by Alex Popov, president, Moscow Diamond Bourse—an agreement was reached between the council and the bourse to promote Indian jewelry in Russia through fairs and media campaigns. It was also agreed that GJEPC would be given approval to set up a marketing office and showroom at the bourse.

Pakistan GJEPC and the delegation members decided to press upon the respective governments to include gem and jewelry in the Positive List under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement. The agreement’s positive list enumerates 432 items that are allowed to be traded between Pakistan and India. The possibility of India directly sourcing rough colored gemstones from Pakistan, instead of routing them through Afghanistan as is current practice, also was discussed.

Iran GJEPC and the delegation mutually decided to hold a buyer-seller meeting this year. The delegation also proposed to help the Council set up shop at Queshm, a regional zone recently opened for free trade in Iran.

Japan Nobuhiro Imanishi, chairman of Japan Jewellery Association, assured the council that it would promote India as an important source for sourcing manufactured jewelry.