Hong Kong September Show Sees Weak Turnout Amid Pro-Democracy Protests

Buying at the September Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair, which closed on Sept. 22 following a six-day run, was resilient despite a weak turnout, owing to ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations that have paralyzed the city’s retail sector.

“The protests in Hong Kong are not the only factor,” said David Bondi, senior vice president, Asia at Informa Markets, the show organizer. “The uncertainty in the global market is also affecting us.”

Due to the international media coverage of the Hong Kong protests, exhibitors were wary, scaling down hopes for vibrant sales.

“There were fewer visitors, leading to a substantial decrease in overall sales,” said Harsh Maheshwari, director of Kunming Diamonds. “The mood at the show was quieter than normal, leading to very low expectations. Insurance coverage was a big concern as well.”

Some exhibitors chose to opt out at the last minute, to avoid additional travel expenses and risk. Among the buyers who attended, many left before the weekend to avoid the peak protest period.

Although sentiment was weaker, exhibitors concluded that the show—the last big jewelry event of the year in Southeast Asia—had a “better than expected” feeling. “Surprisingly positive effects emerged—the crowd who attended were quality jewelers,” Maheshwari said. “Exhibitors also had more time to spend with their clients, catering to a few serious buyers instead of a line of a mixed set, including window shoppers.”

Organizers echoed the less-is-more theme: “Visitor turnout was down, but traffic quality was up,” Bondi said. “The fair drew quality buyers who were on the lookout for new product introductions that would likely show up in retail channels in 2020 and beyond.”

Exhibitors noted that a prolonged trade war between the U.S. and China could create an unstable situation for Chinese manufacturers. “If it prolongs, industries exporting to the U.S. market will suffer inevitably,” said Ken Lo, chairman of the Hong Kong Jewellery and Jade Manufacturers Association.

Some manufacturers acknowledged that the trade dispute has forced them to reconsider their base of operation. “As we did not want to increase the cost to our U.S. customers, we have reduced our manufacturing in China and moved it to India,” said David Shah, CEO of Aspire Designs. “If the trade war prolongs, most of the manufacturing from China is expected to shift to Thailand, Vietnam, and India.”

Trends spotted at the show included combinations of different materials in one piece, such as different colors of diamonds or gemstones, according to Celine Lau, director of jewelry fairs at Informa Markets, who cited the colorful and vibrant jewelry seen in Hong Kong–based EJI’s Peacock and Rainbow line.

EJI Peacock necklace
Peacock necklace by Hong Kong–based EJI

“Another trend is that of convertible or multifunctional jewelry, found at Macau-based CHioFo Jewelry,” Lau said.

Exhibitor Shanghai Kimberlite Diamond Group, having more than 700 franchise stores in China, stood out at the show thanks to its bold statement pieces, part of the company’s new Rising of Seasonality collection.

But some exhibitors emphasized the need to offer less bold and more budget-friendly alternatives.

“Jewelry stores find it a challenge to draw youngsters to their stores,” said Shah of Aspire Designs. “Thus, minimalistic, fashionable, and affordable jewelry styles for the millennials are a trend.”

At top: Rainbow gem-set pendant on chain by Hong Kong–based EJI

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