Many of the traditional Asian exhibitors of jewelry, diamonds and colored stones had set up national pavilions. These included pavilions from Hong Kong, India, Thailand, Israel and Turkey, and there were also individual exhibitors from Singapore, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Taiwan.
A common trend noticed by most exhibitors was the propensity of the buyers for colors, reflected in their choice of colored gemstones, particularly, in yellow and rose gold.
Mollie Bronstein, the proprietor of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based Mollie B. Distinctively Different Fine Jewelry, told journalists that color was “in” and a “hot” trend. She added that diamonds, combined with color, were in strong demand. This view was shared by Gary Berezowsky who has a store called Garbo Jewelers in Skillman, New Jersey. He said that pink sapphires, tanzanites, citrine in white, yellow, pink and yellow gold were popular.
The 17 Indian exhibitors, who were displaying a wide range of jewelry in diamonds and colored gemstones at their national pavilion, sounded upbeat, though some said that the JA Jewelry Show lacked the “international flavor” that characterized other events such as the ones in Las Vegas, Bangkok, Basel and Hong Kong.
Since 1999, Indian gem and jewelry companies have steadily increased their presence in the major markets, particularly in the United States, which is the world’s biggest market for Indian jewelry products. Bakul Mehta, the chairman of the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC), attributed the large Indian participation at the show to the growing bilateral trade between the two countries. India’s 2005 gem, diamond and jewelry exports to the United States amounted to US$4.485 billion, accounting for some 26.37 percent of India’s total gem and jewelry exports of US$16.5 billion; this was a 32.39 percent increase over the 2004 exports.
Surinder Singh, the Delhi-based deputy director of GJEPC, cautioned against the rising gold prices which could affect the jewelry trade. “Whenever there is a crisis in the Middle East, gold prices surge significantly. People are purchasing gold and this, in turn, is pushing the prices up,” he said.
Singh also discerned a trend towards white gold. More and more Indian consumers, for example, were now buying jewelry products which were formerly purchased only by Westerners. “The younger generation of middle-class Indians is more perceptive and better informed than their older counterparts as far as new designs, trends and the value of gemstones are concerned,” he maintained, adding that this was particularly the case with educated Indians who are technology-savvy.
Nayna Mehta, director of Aura Jewellery Private Ltd. of Mumbai, created the “Horizon” brand jewelry and also designed a 185 mm-high model of the New York World Trade Center, made from diamonds and 18 K gold as a tribute to the “Twin Towers”. Mehta agreed that the cash-flushed middle-class Indians were increasingly buying white gold jewelry. “Tastes are changing as far as the younger and more fashion-conscious generation of Indians is concerned,” said Mehta.
But Jaipur-based Amrapali, a company which manufactures designer jewelry and artifacts based on Indian historical jewelry, claimed that traditional Indian styles were doing better in the international markets. “Selling Indian crafted jewelry is now in vogue in the western markets, including the United States. Our jewelry is handcrafted,” said Rajiv Arora, a partner in Amrapali.
According to Arora, green stones, emeralds and fire opals are popular in India and many other countries. “Jewelry with a vintage appearance is popular as far as we discern it,” he added. Exclusive, hand-crafted jewelry, having traditional Indian designs, will gain in popularity, Arora said. He had received “good business enquiries” from buyers at the JA New York show.
The large Italian contingent had a mix of designers, jewelers and wholesalers in gemstones. Indeed, some of the exhibitors were representing special regions where traditional jewelry based on age-old designs and fashion is witnessing a renaissance. One such exhibitor was the Provincia di Napoli, a Naples organization which has done extensive historic research into 7th and 8th century jewelry which makes products that are “not copied but re-designed to suit modern taste and fashion trends”, said Nicoletta D’Arbitrio, the chief designer of the organization.
“Though historic, the jewelry is very modern and at the same time, appealing to people,” said D’Arbitrio in an interview at the show. She revealed that she had studied designers such as Armani and others who had been inspired by old designs.
“We do not target any age or earning group. However, each piece based on jewelry history can appeal to any generation. I am the only one here from Italy presenting such historic jewelry,” she claimed.
But there were also Italian exhibitors of unusual products such as Giovanni Apa of Torre del Greco, who was exhibiting necklaces, bracelets, rings, engravings, cameos and corals. The cameo and coral handwork arrived from across the Mediterranean in Naples in the 18th century and, later, Torre del Greco.
However, Mario Apa, the proprietor, felt that buyers were spending less this year, although the “customers are the same”. “I like the JA show as well as the JCK and the Vincenza shows,” Apa said.
Another Italian exhibitor Davide Molina, S.A. of Valenza, was displaying medium jewelry. Molina said that he could not “complain about this year’s result”, although he had less customers. He said that customers are now looking for new designs though not necessarily “offbeat” designs. “People are looking for old designs interpreted with a modern touch,” he said. But many Italians, including Molina, lamented that the strong Euro currency was affecting their business. “People are cautious about buying because of the appreciation of the Euro against most currencies, including the US dollar. The value of our products, in some cases, has gone up by 30 percent because of the Euro’s appreciation,” he said.
However he dismissed the prospect of outsourcing his products to China in an attempt to reduce the cost of production. “I cannot think of outsourcing my products to China because of the small volume involved. Although many Italians design their products in Italy, they do their manufacturing in China to cut costs,” he explained.
Because of the increasing attention its stones are getting in the global markets, Brazil has been making a strong pitch at many of the events taking place worldwide. Brazilian exhibitors were witnessing long lines of retailers and other buyers at the JA New York show. Some American buyers were fascinated by the wild and bright colors of Brazilian stones which, they claimed, matched the Brazilian temperament. According to the Brazilian Jewelry and Trade Association, a private organization which represents the country’s jewelry industry at home and abroad, Brazil is consolidating its place in the international marketplace by focusing on specific niches. Brazil is developing innovative urban designs which are a far cry from the perception about its jewelry products which were considered “exotic souvenirs”. Today, Brazilian jewelry “speaks a fashion language, totally in tune with the contemporary world in which fashion is a synonym for attitude”, to quote the association.
Rodrigo Figueira, the sales manager of the Belo Horizonte-based jewelry company Manoel Nogueira, which was displaying tourmalines, aquamarines, etc., at the JA New York show, spoke of the growing popularity of Brazilian colored stones. “Consumers are preferring colored stones to diamonds which are getting increasingly expensive. Asian consumers are showing keen interest in citrines, morganites, aquamarines, etc. Brazil’s best-selling stone is the aquamarine. Indeed, I personally believe that colored stones and diamonds will complement each other,” he said, adding that “consumer buying behavior differed from nation to nation”. “Indians love bargaining and would, usually, want the best quality product at low prices. The Chinese look for low quality whereas the Americans are willing to pay for high quality,” he observed.
Thiago Abdala, deputy director of F.R. Hueb, located in Uberaba/MG, Brazil, was displaying 18 karat jewelry studded with diamonds and Brazilian stones. His mantra for success is: “Innovate”. His company hires six designers because “we believe in originality in designs and do not copy. Brazilian stones reflect a rich diversity and provide inspiration. Brazilian stones can give jewelry a distinct character if used in an imaginative way,” he maintained.
Brazil’s exports of readymade jewelry amounted to US$100 million last year. The United States is the biggest market for Brazilian jewelry, accounting for 50% of the total.
The huge Hong Kong pavilion provided a convenient roof to the large contingent of exhibitors who displayed a wide array of products ranging from heavy jewelry through light fashion jewelry to stones and diamonds. While China did not have a separate pavilion of its own, its presence was ubiquitous through the products sold at the Hong Kong pavilion, the large part of which was produced in the mainland.
Ken Lo, the director of Eternity Mfg. Ltd., of Hong Kong, who was displaying 18 karat diamond-studded jewelry, sounded philosophical when he said that “fashion is always changing from year to year”. “White gold has become a hot item since 1996. People are getting tired of yellow gold,” he observed.
According to Lo, the U.S. economy is doing “extremely well”. “The consumers in the United States prefer better value and, in effect, white gold. Consequently, the diamonds used have to be of a better quality.” He also felt that consumers were showing a strong propensity for colored stones.
Lo felt that Hong Kong’s jewelry show was becoming an important venue in Asia and had definitely scored better than its Bangkok counterpart whose importance was declining as Thailand becomes less and less important for the production of stones.
Albert Hui, general manager of Octagon Jewellery Co. Ltd., Hong Kong, whose company has been participating at the New York show for a decade, noticed a decline in the number of buyers at the show. “The jewelry market is inundated by excessive exports. The U.S. consumer is willing to pay for good quality products. Although the JA is a local show, we had enquiries from South American customers,” he said.
Sam Gin, vice chairman of the Hong Kong Jewellery & Jade Manufacturers Association, was also exhibiting his jewelry products which, he said, had generated good business. Gin, who supplies to American buyers on ODM basis, was upbeat about the future business. “We are working towards branding our products. New York is the location for me,” he emphasized.
Gin believes the best-selling items are diamonds and stones such as sapphires, emeralds, etc. “I would say that Sri Lankan blue stones and Columbian emeralds are very popular right now,” he added.
Thai gems and jewelry
Though their numbers at the JA New York show are declining, Thai exhibitors appeared upbeat about business. Anil Shah, managing director of Bangkok-based Ariha Diamond Jewelry Co. Ltd., exhibited a wide array of necklaces, bracelets, and rings. He said that he was at the New York show to expand his business in the United States. “Our major market is Europe but we are now looking to enter the United States as well. We have received some good enquiries, including some from retail and wholesale buyers,” he said.
Nathnee Thamavaranukup, the vice president of Blue River Diamond of Bangkok, described the event as a “good show”. She felt that although the show had lost some of its allure, there were signs of a revival. The main exhibits of Blue River were reproductions of antique jewelry. “We also have special unique handcrafted sets made of coral, rubies, etc.” Nathnee raised a pertinent point when she said there were too many shows around, often confusing the customers who are forced to visit all the shows because they do not know if they are “missing out on something”.
Blue River has a large base of customers in the United States, many of whom came to the show. Blue River uses several kinds of stones which are purchased in Africa and elsewhere. Nathnee also revealed that the Thai government was trying to make Thailand a hub for the trade in gems and stones. Thailand, she said, would continue to be an important trading center for the stones even if the country’s mines are depleted.
Barbara Lipatapanlop, an expert veteran on the gemstone industry of Thailand where she worked for several years with the Thai Gem and Jewelry Association, declared that the gemstone business is picking up after a recent lull in the market. Lipatapanlop, who is now the executive director of the New York-based International Colored Gemstone Association (ICGA), discerned the rising popularity of colored stones.
“Prices of diamonds and gold are currently very high. More and more designers believe that they can innovate with colored stones and gems. Besides, colored stones offer the flexibility and can still be available at affordable prices. Colored stones are also popular because more and more people are educating consumers who are becoming aware of new stones and even understand the finer properties of Tanzanites. People tend to buy stones when they understand them,” Lipatapanlop said.
Many experts are saying that Thailand’s natural resources are just about depleted. Will the trade move out in the future to countries where there are larges reserves of stones? “No, I do not think so. Thailand’s stone-cutting and processing industry is very sophisticated. Thailand is also a trading center and is more developed and better known than, for example, Brazil or Madagascar. Indeed, even stones from Brazil or Madagascar are traded in Thailand,” she emphasized.
Although it is a regional show, attracting retailers mainly from the east coast region of the United States, the JA Jewelry Show of New York, held from July 30 to August 2, continues to attract Asian exhibitors.