A Tale of Two Shows

Economic growth has been good for the jewelry industry – and at least one of the tradeshows that support it – in Southeast Asia

There’s a powerful explosion in Southeast Asia. It’s an explosion of buying power as jewelry industries and consumer markets mushroom, spurred by growing economies in developed and developing nations, including China.

“The economic boom that Asia is experiencing, combined with rising affluence of the Asian consumer, offers good prospects for growth [and] further development of the intra-Asian jewelry trade,” says Sng Sow Mei, regional director of the Singapore Trade Development Board.

Consider the diamond business. The value of diamonds sold in jewelry in East Asia already is a fifth of the world’s total and still climbing. In Taiwan alone, two-thirds of the 25,000 couples who marry per year buy a diamond ring a carat or more in size. And De Beers is launching a new campaign aimed at the “more mature Asian woman” who enjoys diamond jewelry.

As local markets expand, Far East jewelry makers are shifting focus from the West back to Asia. “We share similar culture and languages,” says a major jewelry maker. “With the growing markets, it makes sense to concentrate more effort here.”

In turn, this affects trade shows. While U.S. vendors and buyers complain about there being too many shows, Asians can’t get enough. Hong Kong has five, including one launched in December. Japan has two with a third set for Osaka in February 1997. Thailand has three, and rumors say a fourth might come soon. Singapore has three. China, Malaysia and Taiwan each have two. India, Indonesia and South Korea each have at least one. Most are titled “international,” but the foreign buyers and vendors they court increasingly are Asian.

Here is a closer look at two shows. One is Asia’s largest jewelry fair, the other is a small show trying to attract more attention. Yet changes in the Asian market are affecting both their futures.

September Hong Kong Jewelry & Watch Fair

Though 18 years old, only in recent years has this become the most important jewelry fair in Asia. There are several reasons.

Its timing is perfect for buyers coming with year-end shopping lists and following-year marketing plans. Hong Kong’s roles as the world’s fourth-largest jewelry exporter ($1.1 billion in 1995) and Asia’s gem and jewelry trading center are contributing factors.

And the show is strategically located at the doorway between Asia and the rest of the world, a fact underscored by the official visit to this year’s fair by Liu Sheng Yu, vice general manager of the China National Pearl, Diamond, Gem & Jewelry Import & Export Corp. The relationship between the jewelry industries of Hong Kong and China since a 1984 Sino-British agreement (returning Hong Kong to China July 1, 1997) have “developed vigorously,” he says. This has enabled the fair to become “bigger and bigger and to attract jewelers from different parts of the world.”

Support: The show, owned by Miller Freeman Asia Ltd., the Asian arm of the world’s largest trade show operator, is well-run and pleasing to the eye. Indeed, some foreign visitors and vendors call it “Basel East,” a nod to the huge, elegant watch and jewelry show in Basel, Switzerland. And like Basel, many regional and global industry groups hold special events in conjunction with the fair, cementing its role as a central event for the Asian industry.

Possibly the most important factor in its current – and future – success is support of Hong Kong’s major jewelry associations and organizations. All either officially cosponsor it or serve on its brand-new advisory board. A significant example is the Hong Kong pavilion (with 510 exhibitors covering two floors) organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. The council, which promotes Hong Kong’s industries, ran its own September jewelry show cosponsored by several Hong Kong associations until 1995, when it agreed to organize the Hong Kong pavilion in the Miller Freeman show instead of continuing a separate fair.

But success is straining the show, which uses all seven floors of the huge Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center. Big and crowded, it can be daunting for foreign visitors. An expansion of the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Center is expected to be completed in time for the 1998 edition of the fair.

Exhibitors: The 1996 show (held Sept. 18-22) was its largest yet, with 1,441 exhibitors from 37 countries; 70% of the exhibitors were from the Asia/Pacific region. Most were from Hong Kong, but there were sizable groups from Thailand, Japan, India, Taiwan, Singapore, several Southeast Asian and Pacific countries, even Vietnam.

Despite the growing web of national shows in Asia, many industries consider the September Hong Kong show an important forum in which to present themselves internationally. Thailand’s government, for example, sponsors a pavilion at the fair to reinforce the country’s international trade status in the jewelry industry, says Boonyong Assarasakorn, president of the Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association.

Such attitudes from vendors have helped to make the five-day event the most comprehensive collection of Asian jewelry products in the world.

Buyers: The fair’s growing importance to domestic Asian markets and to U.S. buyers was evident at the 1996 show. Though its 32,605 visitors were just a fraction over the 1995 total, the number of non-Hong Kong visitors increased significantly. Forty-three percent came from overseas (from 82 countries or regions), up from 36% in 1995. The biggest percentage gain was the U.S. (up 34% to 1,811).

In a season when recession slowed European and Southeast Asian jewelry sales, vendors welcomed the return of Americans, still the largest market for Hong Kong jewelry. “We’ve certainly seen more customers from America this time than in past years, especially more wholesalers,” says Peter Sui, director of World Jewellery, a leading Hong Kong platinum jewelry maker. “That’s a good sign. When they come, it means America’s economy is stronger and stable again.”

However, the sway Americans hold may wane over time. “While Americans are essential – indeed, the basis of our show’s success – the new development is growth of the Asian consumer,” says Peter Sutton, director of Miller Freeman Asia Ltd. “There are millions of people with more money to spend, especially in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, and Asian manufacturers are turning more attention to these markets,” says Sutton.

Here are other glimpses of the 1996 Hong Kong show:

•Despite recession in much of Southeast Asia, business at the show was strong, unlike some other recent Asian fairs. Two-tone gold jewelry, diamond jewelry (both with classic, conservative styling dominating) and pearls (South Seas and freshwater) did healthy business, especially among U.S. and Japanese buyers. Demand for pearls is one of the show’s successes. “I’ve been coming for five years,” says Pamela Trauthen, president of Ocean Gem, a South Seas pearl vendor from San Francisco, Cal. “Back then I was the only South Seas pearl dealer here. Now there are four pages worth [in the show catalog].”

• Demand for platinum is growing. Most of the precious metal goes to Japan, though that is changing. “There is also more demand among Chinese,” says Madalaine Tsung, manager of jewelry products and refining for Johnson Matthey Hong Kong Ltd. “The Chinese consumer wants white gold but finds the natural pale color comes off after a while,” she says. “So platinum is increasingly taking its place, as Chinese manufacturers invest in more equipment to make high-quality platinum and in joint ventures with Hong Kong companies.”

• Asia’s growing interest in gemology was evident. One in five visitors was a gem manufacturer or trader; one in six came for precious stones. Gemology dominated show seminars. The Gemological Institute of America’s Hong Kong branch presented lectures by renowned Swiss gemologist Dr. Edward Gübelin and sessions on new research. The Gemmological Association of Hong Kong had seminars on pearls and jade treatment, while the Diamond High Council of Antwerp gave an update on diamonds and technology. Also well-attended was Vietnam’s session on its gems and development of its gemstone jewelry industry.

Broadway Nights During Ja Show

Blocks of tickets for three Broadway shows have been reserved for those who attend the JA International Jewelry Show, to be held Jan. 25-28 in New York, N.Y.

Tickets for Chicago are available for Jan. 24-25 and Jan. 28, tickets for Once Upon a Mattress are available for Jan. 24-25 and tickets for Rent are available for Jan. 25-26. For an order form, call the Blenheim Group at (800) 829-3976, ext. 178 (tickets cannot be ordered by phone; the order form must be used.)

Show attendees also can take advantage of special hotel and travel savings offered through Expo Travel Inc., 215 E. Ridgewood Ave., Suite 205, Ridgewood, NJ 07450; (800) 829-2281, fax (201) 444-0062.

Ja Las Vegas! Party To Benefit Charity

The National Jeweler magazine party at the JA Las Vegas! Show will benefit the International Retail Jewelers Charity Fund. The party will be held on Feb. 3 in Caesar’s Palace during the show, which runs Feb. 2-4.

The fund contributes to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The Foundation Fighting Blindness, Make-A-Wish Foundation, The Diabetes Institutes Foundation, Mother’s Voices, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, The Chemotherapy Foundation and City of Hope. The fund has raised more than $1.6 million to date.

Foreign Show Update

Macef Spring 1997 will be held Feb. 7-10 in Milan, Italy. The multitrade fair will include significant exhibits of jewelry and watches. This will follow are successful fall edition of the fair, which attracted 121,571 buyers. In the U.S., contact (212) 459-0044, fax (212) 459-0090.

The second Internation-al Exhibition of Gold, Jewellery, Silverware, Watches, Precious Stones, Case Articles and Machines will be held March 15-19 in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. Last year’s inaugural show attracted 110 exhibitors and about 450 buyers who placed orders estimated at $25 million to $30 million. G.I.F.O. Inc., 825 S. Bayshore Drive, Tower III, Suite 1741, Miami, FL 33131; (305) 579-9920, fax (305) 579-9985.

Showcase Ireland will be held Jan. 19-22 in Dublin. More than 600 Irish exhibitors will offer giftware and decorative accessories, fashion apparel and accessories, jewelry, home textiles, specialty foods, contemporary crafts and more. Irish Trade Board, 345 Park Ave., New York, NY 10154; (212) 371-3600, fax (212) 371-6398.

The Focal Point Area at the International Spring Fair in Birmingham, England, Feb. 2-6 will feature about 120 exhibitors offering silver and costume jewelry, silver and glass perfume bottles, clocks, mirrors, tableware, music and trinket boxes. F.P. Exhibition Management Ltd., 76 Main Rd., Long Bennington, Nr. Newark, Nottinghamshire NG23 5DJ, United Kingdom; (44-1400) 281-937, fax (44-1400) 282-051.

The International Frankfurt Fair next month in Frankfurt, Germany, is expected to be the largest spring edition ever, with more than 5,100 exhibitors expected from about 90 countries. The show will be held Feb. 14-18 in the Frankfurt Fair and Exhibition Center. Jewelry, clocks and watches will be housed in the gift pavilion of the multitrade show. In the U.S., call (404) 984-8016.

The Japan Jewellery Fair in Yokohama in September attracted more than 14,000 visitors and 224 exhibitors. This year’s theme was “In Search of Originality,” aiming to provide products that are original in design and presentation. Next year’s fair will be Sept. 3-5 in Tokyo.

The Malaysia International Jewellery and Watch Fair will be held Jan. 16-19 at the Putra World Trade Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The fair is open to the trade only; and organizers expect more than 10,000 buyers. Brilliant-Art Trade Fairs Ltd., Rm. 1101, Tung Wai Commercial Building, 111 Gloucester Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong; (852) 2511-6077, fax (852) 2507-5855.

International Jewellery London celebrated its 40th anniversary in September with more than 6,000 visitors and a 17% increase in attendance. The next show will be held Sept. 7-10.

Asian Design

Technically, fine jewelry made in Asia equals any in the world. However, original design and “Southeast Asia” aren’t synonymous in Western minds the way “Italian,” “German” or “French” immediately say “beautiful jewelry.”

That may change. International jewelry organizations, Asian jewelry manufacturers and trade shows are encouraging innovative work by talented local designers with awards, designer galleries and other incentives.

The Taipei International Jewelry & Timepiece Show, for example, has an annual design contest whose winners are showcased in a fashion show that would do a Paris runway proud. Since 1996, a Designers Gallery has allowed visitors to see winning designs up close.

Asian designers are also getting more recognition in – and learning more techniques from – competition. In 1996, two Taiwanese designers won top awards in a De Beers-sponsored contest. A platinum piece by World Jewellery, a Hong Kong company, was honored by the Platinum Guild International, and a gold necklace, bracelet and ring by a Hong Kong designer won the Grand Award for Best Set Design in the World Gold Council’s Chuk Kam Jewellery Design Competition, judged by a international panel of judges.

This WGC winner – inspired by a rice bowl – shows why Asian designers have trouble cracking American and European markets. Their work is too Asian, say some Western buyers, not only in motifs, but also in the choice of materials.

Though masters with coral, jade and pearls, Asian manufacturers are weak in designing with precious gems and other materials popular in the West, says the head of a large Asian company. And that lack of experience can inhibit efforts to promote Asian design worldwide. In Taiwan, for example, fine jewelry (most designed locally) sells well. “But many manufacturers don’t have confidence to compete with it internationally,” says Richard Chen, president of the Taiwan Jewelry Industry Association.

Encouraged by opportunities in emerging jewelry markets and industries, more young people are going into design, says Karl Shen, president of the Hong Kong Jewelry Manufacturers Association, and more schools offer classes in it. “Design is booming,” says Eugene Chaing of GIA-Taiwan. “More people sign up for classes than we can accommodate.”

Today’s young designers are creating more original jewelry. “It used to be some companies told designers ‘copy this’ design,” says Shen. “But young people today are too independent and creative and can’t be pressured to do that.”

They also have more chances to travel and broaden their design expertise. Many companies like Shen’s take employees to Basel in Switzerland, the JCK International Show in the U.S. and shows in Japan for wider exposure to design trends and style.

Asian design comprises not only the old and the new, but also an effort to bridge the East and the West. King Coral, a leading Taiwan manufacturer of expensive coral jewelry, recently unveiled its High Fashion line, an expensive Italian-designed collection of red coral, platinum and diamonds for sale in Europe.

So is there a distinctive Hong Kong or Taiwanese design style? Not yet, say many Asian jewelry makers and designers. But in the words of one, “we could see it within five years.”

The Taipei International Jewelry & Timepiece Show encourages local designers with an annual design contest. Winners are showcased in a fashion show, at an awards ceremony and in this Designers Gallery.

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