Last month I experienced a plethora of on-the-job firsts: my first trip to the Philippines to see the Jewelmer pearl farms (story to come); my first trip to the Hong Kong International Jewellery show; my first time eating a fish that I had stared down just moments before it became my dinner; and my first time visiting mainland China, where I toured the Lorenzo jewelry facilities.
China: A 16-hour flight; a country with a reputation for turning out fewer original styles than inspired ones (not counting two of my personal faves, Vivienne Tam and Shanghai Tang); and a place where many Americans in the jewelry industry have their designs produced. But on a cool March day after the Hong Kong show had ended, I was en route to China with JCK publisher Mark Smelzer and our Hong Kong–based sales rep, Quentin Chan, a man known for his warmth, hospitality, and booming, carefree laugh.
JCK sales rep Quentin Chan
We’ll take that one! Selecting our fish dinner in Asia
And here’s the fish again—with crab friends—on the dinner table.
We took a train from Hong Kong to China, a mode of transportation most definitely suited to my Philadelphia–New York City commute, but to China? It didn’t seem like it should be as easy as riding a commuter train, but it was—and the cars looked a lot like those on the PATH train. (I suppose after the hand-cramping amount of paperwork the government makes you supply to get a Chinese visa, they cut you some slack on the journey.) So Chinese visas and Asian MetroCards (aka Octopus) in hand, Mark, Quentin, and I were ready to enter Shenzen, where the Lorenzo factory is located.
Getting us there: Mark Smelzer knows his way around the Hong Kong subway system better than some locals. His secret? The Hong Kong Subway Map (iCoder Navigation), a free download in the App Store.
Point of entry: Here goes…we’re entering China! Mark (bottom right) is less amused—he’s been to the mainland three times already.
After having passports checked, we made our way through the station, and witnessed our first real sign that we were in a communist country: barbed wire lining the top of a fence on the Hong Kong side of the station, a warning to those with ideas about unofficially entering or exiting the country.
Barbed wire lining the top of a fence on the Hong Kong side of the train station
Once in China, we took a cab to our hotel, the Shenzen J.W. Marriott, courtesy of our Lorenzo hosts. We checked into the gorgeous property with contemporary Asian accents—a vast collection of teapots dotted the shelves of one of the restaurants—and even upgraded to the Club floor for an extra $50 a head. Nice! This was the way to ease into our China experience, which Quentin cautioned me could be a bit jarring. Because of the history of poverty in the country, the Chinese had a reputation for being aggressive—characteristics inherent in a nation of people scrambling to earn a living in a country with few opportunities.
That has started to change, of course, as jobs (particularly factory jobs) have become more abundant, but long-established habits don’t die quickly. Later on, Quentin took us to a shopping area that was jam-packed with locals buying t-shirts and sweaters for as little as a couple dollars apiece. The street scene was, occasionally, disturbing: handicapped individuals crowded the sidewalks. Quentin explained that most had been born into poverty-stricken communities and were taken to more populated areas to plead for donations. Every nation has its mendicants, but in China, they seemed sadder than most. That was enough of a real world experience for one day; we returned to the hotel for dinner, and retired for the night.
The next morning, a pleasant Mandarin-speaking driver employed by Lorenzo picked us up in a black sedan, and shuttled us to the nearby Lorenzo facilities. Passing myriad groves of trees and high-end homes—a contrast to the towering apartment complexes and laundry-strewn patio spaces we saw near the hotel—the landscape was growing more rural. The driver explained to Quentin, who speaks both Cantonese and Mandarin, that a nearby beach was being touted as a tourist destination for Chinese citizens.
A resort near the Lorenzo factory? Surely that was a good omen for our visit, and the working conditions for Lorenzo employees. Everyone in the trade has heard stories about Chinese factories and their less-than-pristine working conditions, but from what Quentin had told us and based on what I’d seen thus far, the Lorenzo experience would upend all the negative stereotypes. It seemed unlikely that jewelry so beautiful, made in a lovely suburban setting, could be produced by unhappy employees.
At the entrance, a guard wearing a red and yellow arm patch standing atop a circus-inspired ringmaster’s-type platform—Lorenzo management must have a sense of humor—let us pass, and the driver deposited us at the front of the building. Upon exiting, we had another laugh upon seeing the Lorenzo owner’s vehicle parked in front: a white BMW with an ENZO vanity tag. This guy did have a sense of humor, and I couldn’t wait to him.
Guard at the entrance of the Lorenzo factory
The vehicle driven by the owner of Lorenzo (see the vanity plate)
Tune in tomorrow for part 2, the continuation of JCK’s visit to the Lorenzo factory.