JNA examines Hong Kong’s jewellery manufacturing scene to understand current trends and how major players are drawing on their competitive advantages to cope with recent challenges.
Diamond brooches by Universal Jewellery Co Ltd
Pink sapphire brooches
by LeGrand Jewellery (Mfg) Co Ltd
'Garden' rings adorned with pink and yellow sapphires by LeGrand Jewellery (Mfg) Co Ltd
Morganite ring by Peter Lam Jewellery Ltd
Diamond rings in white gold by Peter Lam Jewellery Ltd
Diamond rings in white gold by Peter Lam Jewellery Ltd
Clam pearl ring by Universal Jewellery Co Ltd
This article first appeared in the JNA July/August 2020 issue.
Hong Kong has successfully built its reputation as a leading jewellery design and manufacturing centre as well as a major jewellery exporter over the years.
Nearly 300 jewellery manufacturers operate in Hong Kong as of the first quarter of 2020 while more than 2,000 companies offer jewellery exports-related services, according to government data.
Hong Kong’s jewellery exports rose 14 per cent to HK$32.1 billion (around US$4.14 billion) in the first half of 2019 but geopolitical challenges beginning June last year negatively affected jewellery shipments throughout 2019. The coronavirus pandemic made matters worse.
As of May this year, jewellery exports were down 40 per cent year on year while January to May figures showed a 28.3 per cent decline.
Hong Kong’s jewellery manufacturers however are continuously celebrated for their expertise, dedication to their clients and an internationally recognised level of craftsmanship and design capabilities. Their high-quality products mainly comprise mid- to high-priced items adorned with diamonds, pearls or coloured gemstones.
Jane Li, marketing manager and designer at Universal Jewellery Co Ltd, said Hong Kong manufacturers stand out from the competition because of their business acumen and geographical location.
“Hong Kong jewellers are highly knowledgeable about fine jewellery-making and international standards,” she noted. “On top of that, Hong Kong is a tax-free port. It is also a major gateway to mainland China.”
Li also highlighted Hong Kong jewellers’ unique design insights, which meld Eastern with Western cultures.
Jacky Lam, general manager of Peter Lam Jewellery Ltd, counted having a global vision and high standards alongside product quality, efficiency, competitive pricing and reliability among the city’s advantages.
For her part, Michelle Mori of Legrand Jewellery (Mfg) Co Ltd reiterated Hong Kong’s unique position as an entryway to mainland China. “We have easy access to factories there unlike manufacturers from other countries,” she noted.
According to Li, Universal Jewellery specialises in bespoke jewellery pieces with a centre stone in 18-karat gold or platinum. Li is the granddaughter of Kwan Chiu, who founded the company as an artisanal workshop in 1947.
“We have preserved this artisanal tradition through exceptional handmade pieces that constitute the majority of our products today,” she stated. She said diamonds remain a popular choice among buyers, but high-quality coloured gemstones are steadily attracting attention in the trade. Universal Jewellery’s products are priced above HK$100,000 at retail (around US$12,900).
In terms of designs, the so-called “modern classic” pieces are an all-time favourite across all price points. Simple styles with a more contemporary twist, which at times feature optical illusion or multifunctional designs, are also highly favoured.
The company has a solid customer base in Asia, the US and the Middle East.
Asian customers are more receptive to newer or bolder designs while Americans prefer basic pieces with a slightly modern touch, noted Li.
Peter Lam Jewellery’s pillars of success include product diversification, design flexibility and excellent customer service, revealed Jacky.
He is a second-generation jeweller who now heads the family-owned business established in 1985. The company operates its own manufacturing facility in Panyu, China and has over 300 employees.
Its product offerings range from refined high-end jewellery pieces to mass-produced commercial designs.
“Every step of the jewellery-making process – from design to production, quality check and aftersales services – are managed in-house,” explained Jacky.
The jewellery manufacturer has a global clientele, with Asia and the US as its main markets.
According to the company official, gold and platinum engagement rings, men’s jewellery and jewellery pieces in trendy designs adorned with diamonds and coloured gemstones are among its fastest-moving products.
Items that fall within the US$100 to US$1,500 wholesale price range are the most popular, he continued.
Hong Kong’s jewellery industry is modernising, with more traditional jewellers now integrating modern technology into their design and production process.
Peter Lam Jewellery is experimenting with 3D-printing technology and continuously updating its machinery and software to boost precision and efficiency. This also helps inspire new designs, shared Jacky.
Universal Jewellery’s Li also acknowledged the benefits of technological advancements but said time-honoured techniques are still valued in the trade.
“We started using computer drawings to produce small parts to complement the majority of our products, which are handmade,” disclosed Li. The market still puts a premium on traditional artistry, she added.
Li cited challenges to using technology in jewellery manufacturing. For instance, gold tends to be tougher and smoother and appears livelier if hammered into jewellery directly, stated Li. “Craftsmen can control the form and perfect the curves too,” she continued.
Jewellery manufacturers are bracing for changes in the trade as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mori of Legrand said shifts in consumer behaviours could affect the jewellery retail business. As such, retailers need to put more effort into connecting with customers through online channels.
“Manufacturers in turn should find ways to support their clients’ online initiatives by reducing production costs, speeding up manufacturing cycles and offering customisation,” she noted.
Legrand, established in 1986, specialises in fine diamond and coloured gemstone jewellery in 14-karat and 18-karat gold. Its most popular products are set with rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Each gemstone is handpicked to match the designs.
The company introduces new designs every month, according to Mori.
In preparation for more challenges ahead, Legrand began to diversify its services and improve cost competitiveness and service quality to outperform manufacturers from other countries.
With a strong foothold in the US and Europe, the company is planning to further boost its presence in the Chinese market.
Li of Universal Jewellery expects consumers to shift to more meaningful jewellery designs. Diamonds and high-value gemstones have become more popular than ever, she disclosed, adding that customers are increasingly looking for simple yet trendy designs.
Jewellery is also viewed as a token of remembrance that celebrates stories and conveys the importance of family.
She said Universal Jewellery banks on staying agile amid challenges. “We review our strategies quarterly to suit the needs of an ever-evolving market. We are focusing more on fresh designs using high-quality diamonds or gemstones. We are also looking for new ways to showcase our products online.”
Armed with expertise and a good reputation, Peter Lam Jewellery remains upbeat about prospects in the trade and expects the global economy to slowly recover from the crisis.
“Price-conscious consumers may spend less but this could speed up the growth of online businesses even further,” noted Jacky. “We have to be patient. We need to analyse the market thoroughly to come up with the right products.”