The annual Hong Kong Gem and Jewellery Fair has become too important for the UAE to ignore, say industry experts. This year, more than a dozen manufacturers, designers and suppliers set up booths at the city’s cavernous exhibition and convention centre from September 14 to 17 to show off their wares.
“It’s one of the biggest in the world and it’s a very important place to make connections,” says Kaushal Jhaveri, a director of Dubai-based Jhaveri Jewels, whose company was attending the Hong Kong show for the first time.
Indeed, networking is the major activity for UAE-based exhibitors at the Hong Kong show and Mr Jhaveri says he made connections with existing and potential customers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and India.
“We don’t really come to make new sales here, and we don’t expect Chinese buyers,” he adds.
Although growing, jewellery trade ties between the UAE and Hong Kong are not yet robust. Dubai and Hong Kong are both major gold and gem trading centres. “Dubai is well known for its gold trade and also serves as an active re-export centre,” says Wings Cheung, general manager of the Hong Kong Jewellery Manufacturers’ Association, an industry group.
Most of Hong Kong’s jewellery manufacturing has been shifted to the Chinese mainland, mainly to Shenzhen and Panyu in adjacent Guangdong province. Under the mainland and Hong Kong closer economic partnership arrangement, Beijing has granted all products of Hong Kong origin, including jewellery, tariff-free treatment since 2006.
However, Hong Kong remains the gateway to China in terms of networking, exhibitions and as a centre for negotiations, contracts and company and joint venture formations.
For its part, Dubai is an important clearing house for precious metals, gems and, especially, pearls. Hong Kong imported nearly US$650 million worth of pearls and other gems from the UAE in 2012, a 47 per cent increase over the previous year and 97 per cent of total imports of such items. Negligible amounts were also imported from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq and Israel.
For UAE-based jewellery companies, China remains a relatively expensive market. “Prices are an issue,” says Mr Jhaveri. “We can buy gold a lot cheaper from India.” In terms of sales, exhibitors say, Chinese customers have yet to embrace the chunky, bold styles favoured by Arab designers, while neither the more delicate Chinese styles nor classic jade jewellery have caught on in the Middle East.
However, interest is growing. Last year, the UAE accounted for 5.3 per cent of Hong Kong jewellery exports by value, up from 3.3 per cent in 2011. “Our diamond jewellery sets — comprising earrings, bracelets, pendants and necklaces — have become more popular among Middle East buyers,” says Mr Cheung of the HKJMA. Younger Middle East buyers prefer single pieces, he adds.
The association has spearheaded a recent push into the Middle East market, arranging exhibitions at the Mideast Watch and Jewellery Show in Sharjah and Jewellery Arabia in Bahrain. From this year, the HKJMA will attend the Gold and Jewellery Exhibition in Kuwait, and the association is looking at future participation in shows in Doha and Muscat.
Exports of high-end jewellery from Hong Kong to the UAE grew 85 per cent in 2012 to HK$462 million (Dh218.8m) and accounted for 5.3 per cent of total jewellery exports, according to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.
The Middle East’s potential has spurred Hong Kong-based jewellers such as Aaron Shum Jewelry, which opened its Dubai store in 2010. However, many of the most prominent Hong Kong designers, such as Dickson Yewn and Kai-Yin Lo, are too occupied meeting demand from China to consider other markets. “I don’t have any Middle East clients at the moment,” says Mr Yewn.
For their part, UAE-based designers have not given up in their attempts to crack the Chinese market. André Meyerhans, a Swiss jewellery designer based in Dubai, was encouraged by the interest shown in his debut at the Hong Kong Gem and Jewellery Fair.
His Mario Uboldi range of jewellery, inspired by artistic Arab themes such as mashrabiya latticework screens, garnered significant attention at the show. “I’ve had interest from China, Japan and Malaysia as well as Europe,” he says.
Mr Meyerhans says he was motivated to attend not only to tap overseas sales but also to show an international audience what can be achieved in the UAE using only domestic design and manufacturing processes. “I would like to see ‘Made in the UAE’ as a jewellery label that is regarded with pride.”
Hong Kong is currently promoting its next major event, the International Jewelry Manufacturers’ Show, to be held in November. The UAE exhibitors are likely to be adding another date to their calendars. “Given the interest I’ve been shown here,” says Mr Meyerhans, “I would expect to be back in Hong Kong.”