By Bernardette Sto. Domingo
Amid the market’s healthy appetite for fine jewellery pieces, US-based companies are counting on new and dynamic ways to further entice buyers.
Three US-based fine jewellery manufacturers specialising in various aspects of the business – diamond, coloured gemstone and pearl – said sustaining buyer interest through design innovations as well as opening new markets are critical to their success. These jewellers talked to JNA about their business outlook and forward-looking strategies.
Demand for high-end products such as diamond-studded jewellery sets remains solid despite volatilities in the global market, according to Elijah Elihu of Bijan & Co Inc.
Based in New York, the company mainly manufactures sets of large jewellery pieces adorned with high-quality D- to F-colour diamonds. It also offers diamonds in H to J colours as well as ruby, emerald and sapphire jewellery. Bulk of the jeweller’s products are sold to the Middle East and the Far East.
“Our products are investment vehicles. Statement jewellery pieces are also an important part of our buyers’ culture of gifting, weddings and other special occasions,” continued Elihu. “Ours is a niche product so it will always have a strong following.”
A basic set of jewellery by Bijan could cost around US$100,000. The figure can go up to US$2 million or more, depending on the materials and design.
Elihu is also upbeat about prospects for business throughout the year, adding that being pro-active by visiting clients and participating in international trade shows can help spur business.
Exhibitions, in particular, offer an effective platform to make new connections in top jewellery markets including the US, the Middle East, Australia, Hong Kong and Europe, among other destinations.
He cited increasing costs as a major challenge to US jewellery manufacturers. Bijan however recognises that higher costs equal strict quality control measures and good craftsmanship, which are extremely important in the business, explained the company official.
Backed by three decades of jewellery manufacturing expertise, Bijan is also bent on catching the fancy of a younger generation of buyers, or so-called millennials, albeit at a gradual, calculated pace. “It will take some time for us to capture this market since we’ve been catering to our current clientele for many years,” he continued. “But with their growing spending power, millennials definitely present opportunities for growth.”
Progressive designs with “heart and character” can easily strike a chord with today’s sophisticated and inquisitive buyer, noted Robbie Shafiian of New York-based loose pearl and pearl jewellery manufacturer Lanesa Designs Inc.
As such, Lanesa is collaborating with a designer in Hong Kong to come up with an innovative collection that highlights one-of-a-kind pearls to be launched at the September Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair.
Lanesa’s major markets are Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, the US and Europe. It has business operations in the US, China and Hong Kong.
“We need to go the extra mile and offer products that excite buyers. They need to feel the designer’s joy in creating the piece,” remarked Shafiian. “This is the artistic direction we are heading in.”
The need to provide exceptional products becomes more pronounced amid a volume-driven pearl sector. According to Shafiian, pearls of lesser quality are flooding the market and demand for high-grade products, 18mm to 20mm Australian pearls for instance, remains unmet.
Golden pearls, especially those in darker, more vivid colours, are also in short supply as opposed to “champagne” or creamy pearls. Prices of top-quality gems are stable or increasing but those of champagne pearls have softened due to their volume.
Traders are also waiting for other markets to start buying pearls again. For a time, the pearl sector was heavily focused on buying and selling to China since other markets were affected by the global economic slowdown.
Chinese customers have always been partial to round pearls to make classic earrings and pendants but there’s also a thriving market for irregular pearls, especially baroque or drop shapes since these have more character.
"Demand for pearls and pearl jewellery is stronger than ever – wealthy people are wealthier and have more disposable income. The only setback is the tight supply of high-end products,” he noted. “Prices go up or down but pearls will always have a following; there's always a buyer or a designer who wants them.”
Coloured gemstone jewellery expert Sutra Jewels is training its sights on Asia as it aims to further expand its international customer base, the company’s Dennis Chung revealed.
The US-based manufacturer’s main markets are the US, Europe, Russia, Asia and the Middle East.
“Sutra used to cater mainly to America but we’ve been developing other markets. We’ve been in Asia over the past three to four years and we are gradually being recognised in the region. People are seeking to work with us to introduce our brand to the market,” noted Chung.
The company is also eyeing to extend its business in the Middle East, which currently includes Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai and Qatar.
Sutra has made a name for itself in the coloured gemstone jewellery category with distinctive pieces embellished with premium-quality sapphires, emeralds, rubies, tanzanites, opals and Paraiba tourmalines, among other gems. Each refined jewellery piece is further accentuated with diamonds of the finest quality.
Chung stressed that buyers looking for pieces that push the envelope of jewellery design go to Sutra to fulfil their sourcing needs.
At the moment, buyers are eyeing extraordinary pieces that are reasonably priced.
“Our clients want a unique piece with a luxurious look. Not everything luxurious has to be very expensive; it depends on the design and the quality of the materials used,” the company official said. “We work with a great deal of coloured stones from an expansive inventory so we offer product and design variety.”
Among Sutra’s best-loved pieces are those adorned with Paraiba tourmalines, emeralds and opals. The company also has diamond jewellery collections.
According to Chung, Middle Eastern buyers mostly go for bigger, bolder jewellery pieces as opposed to Europeans who favour more feminine and classic designs. American clients meanwhile have wide-ranging tastes while those from Asia gravitate towards smaller pieces with exceptional designs.
Prices of high-end jewellery pieces remain stable owing to steady demand, disclosed Chung. But with buyers being more price conscious than ever, manufacturers are now working closely with brands to be able to provide end-customers with products that truly resonate with them through customisation, he continued.