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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Exhibitors Release Pent-Up Optimism at Hong Kong Jewelry Show

Byers and sellers at the Frank & Label booth during the September Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco 

I’ve been writing about the jewelry industry for 13 years and attended many tradeshows during that time. I can’t remember when exhibitors have expressed as much optimism and excitement as there has been during the September Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair. Even the diamond dealers who had low expectations coming in were pleasantly surprised. 

The world’s largest fine jewelry show is held at two venues: The Asia-World Expo Centre, (September 11 – 15) for raw jewelry-making materials and jewelry-making equipment, and the main show for finished jewelry at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre (September 13 -17). I’ve spent four days at the show so far (one day at the raw materials show and three days at the finished jewelry show) and nearly all exhibitors said business is strong to booming. 

For example, there was talk of a coral dealer at Asia-World Expo Centre who sold 80 percent of his inventory to other exhibitors a day before the show opened. On opening day at the HKCEC, several vendors and buyers were still conducting business after the show was closed. 

Myriam Gumuchian, owner of the fine jewelry design firm, Gumuchian, said at the HKCEC, that she has been busy throughout the first two days. 

“It’s my second year of the show and it’s been much better than last year,” she said. “It’s non stop.” 

The "Ring Cycle" by Gumuchian. It's a ring that turns into a bracelet.  Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

Gumuchian said her most popular item by far is the “Ring Cycle.” It’s a ring that with the press of a button becomes a bracelet. It’s available in 18k yellow, rose and white gold and either in diamond pave or a hammered-gold finish with a diamond center stone. As she was showing me the ring a female Japanese buyer gasped with joy when she saw how it worked. 

Gumuchian was one of 10 high-end jewelry designers who were exhibiting from a single booth provided by Frank & Label, a company that provides marketing and sales services for independent luxury jewelry designers who want to enter into the China market. It was one of the more interesting concepts at the show. Other designers included Temple St. Clair, Alex Sepkus and Victor Mayer. 

Temple St. Clair at her jewelry stand inside the Frank & Label booth.  Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

Evert deGraeve, Frank & Label China business development director, said this is the second year the company has been providing this space at the September Hong Kong fair. This year, possibly to accommodate approximately 100 new exhibitors, the company had its booth size cut in half. Looking at the crowd of buyers, deGraeve said, “We really could use the extra space.”

It’s a good problem to have. 
Buyers at one of the registration areas during the opening day of the finished jewelry portion of the show. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

The new exhibitors bring the total number of vendors at the fair at both venues to 3,633 from 48 countries. Officials from UBM Asia, which owns and operates the show, have estimated that 52,000 buyers will visit the show but from looking at the registration areas on opening day at HKCEC and from reports on the floor, they may have underestimated. Regardless, the number of exhibitors easily cements its place as the world’s largest fine jewelry show. 

Also to accommodate new exhibitors, show officials moved antique and estate dealers in the last available hall in the HKCEC which is really a foyer. It’s a spacious area that had the hustle and bustle of business being done. 

Edward Faber, owner of Aaron Faber Gallery New York, which specializes in vintage watches and jewelry, said early during the opening day he made a number of sales. Among the biggest sellers were vintage Omegas, Patek Philippe pocket watches and erotica timepieces. 

This is Faber’s third time exhibiting at the show and he said he is impressed with how quickly Asian buyers have taken to the nuisances of fine watch collecting. 

“They’ve quickly become more sophisticated,” he said. “It’s surprising the comfort level they have when it come to style and design. It’s a good thing.” 

One of the big successes I’ve seen at the show is an area called “Designer Avenue.” It’s located on the mezzanine level of the HKCE. It’s basically a balcony-like space that houses small independent jewelry designers and artists, providing them with inexpensive booth space. I’ve seen small designers become overwhelmed and out of place at large jewelry shows. Here, these artists from every continent have their own separate space that constantly filled with admirers and buyers from all over the world. 

The jade, wood and enamel works of independent jewelry designer, Soco So of Shenzhen, China.  Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

Etienne Perret, a US based independent jewelry designer who exhibited in the area, said buyers from Russia, China, Australia and several eastern European countries have expressed interest in his gem-ceramic designs. 

“The world is here and people seem to be buying,” he said. “People in the US have no clue how much money there is in Russia, China and even places like Iran.” 

Deep into the active main hall was Colin Shah, managing director of Kama Schachter, an India-based jewelry manufacturer that produces several brands. The company was introducing its newest brand, Fiamma, which features bridal and fashion jewelry using color-enhanced pink diamonds. It was quiet when I showed up but he said people have been coming in. 

“All appointments have showed up,” he said on the second day of the HKCEC portion of the show. “So far it’s been great.” 

Inside the Hong Kong Convention & Expo Centre.  Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

Walking around the cavernous convention center, the only places where buyers did not fill were in Hall 3 inside the International Pavilion, where vendors are segmented by their country of origin, and in an area known as the Design Pavilion, for luxury jewelry design companies.

A collection of rare fancy colored diamonds from Francis Errera.  Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

My first day at the show was spent at the Asia-World Expo Centre during its day. This is where materials, such as diamonds, colored gems, pearls and other jewelry making materials and equipment were being sold. Most exhibitors I spoke with were generally happy with the show but aired some complaints. 

For example, fancy colored diamond dealer, Francis Errera, said the first day of the show was “very, very busy” with “high-quality” clients from all over the world but on the second day traffic trailed off. 

One reason he said was because his clients, primarily luxury jewelry brands and investment banks, shortened their time at the fair due to religious holidays. 

“I think major shows like this one should be held outside of any important holidays,” he said. 

Overall, Errera said the positive sales reflect the growth of the overall economy. “America is getting much better,” said the French native who moved his business to Hong Kong several years ago. “Japan is getting better as well but Japan is always strong for fancy colored diamonds. China is good.” 

The only economy that is lacking growth is Europe, he said, which also reflected his business at the fair, as only one representative from the continent came to his booth during the first two days. 

A collection of carved freshwater pearls from Galatea.  Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

Meanwhile, in the pearl section, Chi Huynh, owner of pearl company, Galatea, was selling its loose sculptured freshwater pearls for designers and manufactures. His booth was crowded. 

“Designers love them,” he said. “I don’t think wholesalers know what to do with them.” 

He said that in addition to his loose pearls, customers were interested in his finished jewelry and to accommodate these people he is considering opening a booth at the convention center. 

“I was surprised by the reaction,” he said. “So next year I might split the booth to two places.”

Please join me on the Jewelry News Network Facebook Page, on Twitter @JewelryNewsNet and on the Forbes Web site.