Pearls, Diamonds Take Center Stage at Hong Kong

Japan used to account for more than a third of Hong Kong’s jewelry exports. Today its share of that $1.3 billion output has plummeted to 7%. Who’s making up for this loss? America’s jewelers, who now more than ever are vital to Hong Kong’s jewelry industry, the world’s fourth largest.

That shifting dynamic was evident at this spring’s expanded Hong Kong International Jewellery Show, featuring 788 exhibitors, mostly domestic but also representing 24 other countries. The booths this year were filled with merchandise currently in vogue in the United States, such as diamond rings, white metals, volume-priced pearl jewelry, and moderately priced colored gemstone styles. The growing importance of the U.S. market was reflected by a 10% increase of Americans among the 15,200 buyers at the four-day fair. Here’s what they found.

Pearls preeminent. An entire floor of the convention center was devoted to pearls and pearl jewelry. The Paspaley South Seas pearl auction was held during the show. The biggest news among exhibitors was the improvements in size and quality of Chinese freshwater pearls, some approaching the luster and roundness of Japanese akoyas yet at a fraction of the price. (Chinese pearls also dominated the Tucson shows this year; see Gem Notes, JCK, April 1999, p. 28.)

Top-quality pearls and high-end pearl jewelry were prominent as well. Especially favored were diamond necklaces with drops of South Seas pearls as well as luxurious earrings and rings of these pearls surrounded by diamonds. Delicate antique-inspired filigree designs in white gold and platinum accented with diamonds and large pearl drops were popular. So were necklaces and rings of Tahitian black pearls. While prices of these latter stunners have dropped markedly owing to stepped-up production, prices of top-quality Tahitian pearls remain stable, according to suppliers.

Supreme quartz. Colored quartz in a range of fashion styles was a new look from a couple of firms, most notably E&V Jewellery Ltd. The company unveiled new collections of this brilliantly reconstructed synthetic gem in rings, pendants, and bracelets. Its “Ambition” collection featured quartz cut in circular, cross, and geometric shapes and accented with contrasting colored gemstones in 18k gold settings.

Tat Roy Jewellery Factory expanded its collection of mosaic jewelry with rings and earrings that combined mother-of-pearl, black jade, lapis, chrysoprase, coral, and opals in intricate patterns. King’s Mark, known for its gemstone jewelry, introduced whimsical new floral designs in station necklaces, matching earrings, and pendants in colored gemstones, diamonds, or both. Most were offered in a choice of 14k or 18k white or yellow gold or platinum.

Even the big producers, such as Myer Jewelry Mfr. Ltd., Continental Jewellery Ltd., and Nelson Jewellery Arts Co. Ltd., introduced some forward fashion styles aimed at American buyers. Myer expanded on its gold-and-gemstone watches and its diamond jewelry collection. The company debuted two new high-fashion sterling silver jewelry groupings, one with contemporary silhouettes set with mother-of-pearl, the other a European look with blue topaz. Especially innovative was a group of rings with princess and baguette diamonds in an alternating geometric pattern.

Continental Jewellery unveiled a collection of contemporary women’s diamond rings, with sweeping channels of baguette and round diamonds and a stylish men’s two-tone ring collection with diamonds and sapphires. Aimed squarely at U.S. audiences was a new group of 14k and 18k electroformed earrings and pendants accented with diamonds.

Nelson Jewellery Arts has enjoyed great success with its invisibly set rings combining baguette and princess-cut diamonds. Best sellers included rings with 1.5 cts. to 2 cts. t.w. Among the other important items were antique-styled brooches of 18k white gold set with tiny diamonds and large South Seas pearls.

Nature themes were popular design motifs. Millat Han Ltd. exhibited luxurious pavé-covered flower brooches, while Larry Jewelry Ltd. displayed graceful necklaces pairing flowers of emeralds and diamonds.

From foreign shores. The fair’s expanded offering of foreign designers yielded some interesting product. Along with the now-traditional invisibly set colored gemstone jewelry from Thai firms came new designs in diamonds and pearls.

Especially eye-catching was a collection of carved wood and 18k gold accented with step-cut citrine, peridot, blue topaz, and garnet from World Crystal Co. Ltd. of Bangkok. Retailing from $450 to $1,500, the collection was a refreshing change from the more typical, gemstone-intensive styles of other Thai firms.

A handful of Italian exhibitors stressed innovative colors and textures of gold, sometimes accented with diamonds. Taiwanese firms relied on what they do best: pearls of every shape and description, beads and carvings of colored gemstones, and large collections of volume-priced earrings-and-ring sets. Overall, the range of product was vast, aimed at satisfying all retail levels from strictly promotional operations to top-of-the-line guild stores.

Optimism on the isle. Reflecting a trend in other Hong Kong industries, most jewelry production is now done in China. Hong Kong manufacturers are producing about 80% of their goods outside of Hong Kong, according to Charles Chan, president of Continental Jewelry Mfg. and chairman of the Hong Kong Jewellers & Goldsmiths Association. Resilient as ever, this former British territory has now become a major supplier of support services for the jewelry industry, providing functions such as product development, sales and marketing, billing, and shipping.

Even as Asian economies continue their slump, Hong Kong jewelry suppliers remain optimistic as they shift their focus to healthier markets in the United States and Europe. The upbeat mood that pervaded this year’s Hong Kong International Jewellery Show suggests that they’re counting on the continued strength of those markets.