A Gloomy Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair

Not even Asia’s largest jewelry show could transcend the global economic gloom

Reports from the September Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair were almost uniformly downbeat, with most feeling even the vaunted Asian market has been impacted by world economic uncertainty.

The show ran Sept. 19–23 at AsiaWorld-Expo and Sept. 21–23 at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, drawing 3,454 exhibitors from 46 countries. Even with the addition of 130,000 square meters of floor space, as well as 200 new exhibitors (making it the largest edition in the fair’s history), the buying atmosphere, according to attendees, was remarkably gloomy.

“Sentiment was very bad,” says Mithun Sacheti, CEO of Caratlane, a business-to-business trading platform. “By the third day, most people were willing to write it off. Anyone who did 60 percent of last year’s business was a happy person.”

Sacheti says the cautious mood stemmed from big drops on the Mumbai stock exchange and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index the week before the fair opened. Also, the rupee had dropped in value, “making it very expensive for Indian ­jewelers to buy anything.”

Diamond sellers reported considerable price declines at the show. New York City trader David Abraham says the price of smaller goods plunged by more than 15 percent. “You will see lower prices coming up,” he says.

However, not everyone was ready to describe the drop as a crash. “I was at the show in 2008 after the failure of Lehman Brothers,” says New York City dealer Reuven Kaufman. “Then, prices crashed. This time it was more wait-and-see. People said, ‘Let’s sell for 5 or 10 percent less.’ We made money on the way up, so we’ll have to lose some on the way down.”

Joel Schechter, CEO of Honora Industries, says he noticed a lot of high-end and low-end product, but less on the middle end. “Pearl prices were attractive,” he says. “But supply was a bit down.”

The most trafficked areas were “rows of estate and vintage jewelry sellers, and those doing closeouts,” according to Bill Boyajian, head of Bill Boyajian and Associates. However, traffic in many of the upscale (“Basel-like”) pavilions seemed sparse, he adds.

Despite the slowdown, Boyajian believes Hong Kong remains a must-see stop on the jewelry calendar, at one point tweeting: “If you’re a U.S. jeweler, attending the ­September Hong Kong Show is imperative. Open your eyes to the economic power of the Asian ­markets!”

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