40 Extraordinary Years: Hong Kong celebrates anniversary in style

40 Extraordinary Years: Hong Kong celebrates anniversary in style - Artificial Jewellery

Hong Kong is back in business after a four-year hiatus due to the pandemic. SAMUEL ORD walks the halls of Jewellery and Gem World Hong Kong.

The first Jewellery and Gem World Hong Kong trade show since the pandemic has come and gone, sure to be remembered for its electric atmosphere as the international jewellery industry undergoes great change.

As the first edition of the show to take place since the COVID pandemic began in 2020, the trade show floor was dominated by speculation about the future of the industry and a pensive self-reflection on the accomplishments of the past.

The theme of this year’s show, which concluded at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on 22 September, was ‘40 Extraordinary Years.’

In 1983, Headway Trade Fairs launched the Hong Kong Jewellery and Watch Fair in a hotel in Tsim Shai Tsui. The inaugural edition of the show had 110 exhibitions and summoned approximately 700 visitors.

How times have changed! This year’s show was a gathering of more than 3,400 exhibitors across two venues –jewellery exhibitors appearing at the HKCEC and loose gemstone suppliers showcasing their wares at the Asia World Expo.

More than 50,000 visitors participated in the seven-day event, travelling from more than 140 countries worldwide.

To celebrate the four decades of jewellery trade, organiser Informa Markets presented 40 individuals with awards judged to have made a lasting impact on the industry.

The award winners come from diverse backgrounds – from jewellery design and manufacturing, diamond trading, gemstone research, and technology companies.

The one thing they each shared in common was a history of elevating the jewellery industry itself – beyond their business interests.

Informa Markets vice president David Bondi said that after a flurry of last-minute applications from exhibitors, the importance of Hong Kong to global trade was more evident than ever before.

“This is an important opportunity to acknowledge the people who have stood by our side during times of triumph and supported us during days of adversity,” he said.

“What is clear to me, seeing everyone here today, is that Hong Kong is well and truly back on track. Standards in this industry are always improving, and we maintain that Hong Kong is the best place in the world to do business.”

Among the ‘Extraordinary 40’ award winners was Lawrence Ma, the founding president of the Diamond Federation of Hong Kong.

“I’m speaking from my heart when I say how happy it makes me to see you all in this room,” Ma said.

“I don’t think you understand just how desperate we were to see everyone back in Hong Kong again after everything that’s unfolded since 2019. This is a time to celebrate.”

Informa Markets hosts two major jewellery fairs in Hong Kong each year. Jewellery and Gem Asia Hong Kong took place for the first time in four years in June.

In September of 2022, Jewellery and Gem World Singapore occurred as a one-off event in lieu of the traditional September show, as Hong Kong was still impeded by pandemic restrictions.

All the colours of the rainbow

The trade show began on 16 September at the Asia World Expo, a stone’s throw from the Hong Kong International Airport.

The halls were packed with loose gemstone and diamond suppliers, and the consistent feedback from exhibitors and retailers was that colour gemstones are continuing to enjoy a moment in the sun.

It was pleasing to see Australian faces with a role to play on the international stage, and among the crowd was Justin Thomas, owner of Black Opal Direct, a company based in Lightning Ridge in NSW.

“This is our first time exhibiting here in Hong Kong, and it’s been a good experience,” Thomas told Jeweller.

“[I would agree] that the location may feel a little limited or isolated, and from what I’ve heard, the foot traffic is possibly slightly down. With that said, I think there’s a real tendency to overthink these things, and we have been happy with our reception with buyers.”

Black Opal Direct is active on social media and has a YouTube channel boasting more than 230,000 subscribers. The company posts regular videos exploring various aspects of the opal trade – from supply and mining to cutting and polishing and everything in between.

Thomas said this education was vital in establishing new relationships with retailers.

“We’ve spent a lot of time educating the mainland Chinese buyers about our business and our products, and we’ve created some very strong leads as a result,” he said.

“That sort of education is essential in this business, and we’ve seen a lot of success from our YouTube channel in particular. We’ve got viewers from right around the world; in particular, it’s popular in the US.”

A short walk away from Black Opal Direct was another Australian company – Opals by Emmanuel Christianos – a business that has been trading opals since 1958.

Australian opals remain in high demand abroad, particularly in Asian countries; however, supply has become a significant issue as the ageing mining industry finds itself with a reduced workforce.

George Christianos explained that his company has recently returned to mining to address this problem.

“Supply is still very much an important issue facing our industry. We’ve recently returned to mining to try and address that,” he explains.

“We just couldn’t guarantee that we would have the supply to meet the demand in places like Hong Kong.”

Because of this confluence between supply and demand, Australian opal prices have consistently risen in recent years. Christianos said there was an interesting distinction between Western and Eastern buyers in response to this environment.

“Buyers are hesitant for many different reasons at this stage – it’s mostly about the state of the economy, of course. Western buyers are seeing current prices and are very apprehensive,” he said.

“The same can’t be said for the Chinese buyers we’ve spoken with. They don’t have these concerns at all; the demand is just so high for opal, there’s nothing to worry about.”

The importance of the Australian opal industry was highlighted in the Extraordinary 40 presentations, with Damien Cody of Cody Opal Australia acknowledged for his service to the broader industry.

“Damien [Cody] is arguably one of the world’s leading experts on all things opal,” the event organisers said.

“Director of Cody Opal Australia, he has been instrumental in professionalising the opal industry and bringing the gemstone to global prominence.”

Aquatic treasures

The demand for pearls and pearl jewellery in Asia remains as strong as ever for similar reasons – supply is uncertain, and prices are increasing in response.

On the opening two days of trade at the Asia World Expo, the pearls section was packed with buyers eager to acquire goods as quickly as possible in fear of missing out.

Among the crowded floor was a familiar face – Adam Crase of South Sea Pearls and Jewellery.

Specialising in pearl mounts, fittings, and finished pearl jewellery, Crase said the demand for pearls in Asia shows no signs of slowing down.

“The industry is always changing; it’s very dynamic and fluid, and there are a lot of economic factors that are up in the air, such as currency, for example,” he explained.

“I’ve been coming to these shows for 15 years now, and I can say that it always gets easier. We’ve developed strong relationships with our clients, and of course, it’s always great to forge new ones at events like these.”

It’s undoubtedly an exciting time to be a member of the pearl industry, with the challenges of supply shortfalls offset by rampant demand.

The industry is also expanding technologically, as pearl products are used in everything from provenance services to biomedical projects.

“We’ve had a good fair – lots of sales and many questions from buyers who aren’t familiar with our business but are hoping to learn more, which is always a good sign,” Crase said.

“It was an exciting feeling stepping out onto the floor again the past four years, and the first few days, in particular, were very busy. We couldn’t speak with everyone that we wanted to, which is a good problem to have.”

Show stoppers

At the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, the crown atop the head of the trade show was the fine jewellery pavilion, located on the third floor.

Some of the world’s most remarkable fine jewellery was on display, and despite being somewhat ‘out of the way’ compared with the remainder of the show, the hall was consistently full of admiring visitors.

Hong Kong-based House of Dehres was front and centre in the pavilion, with displays showcasing eye-catching jewellery designs featuring unique gemstones sourced from around the world.

House of Dehres executive director Simon Zion said he was pleased with how the fair unfolded. 

“I would say that it’s been a little bit quiet, which is what we expected as the recovery from the pandemic continues. For us, it’s about the quality of the visitors rather than the quantity. We are hoping to meet ‘serious’ buyers, and in that regard, we are happy,” he said.

“This is a complex economy, and as exhibitors, we must be mindful of that when speaking with visitors. They have a lot of factors to consider before purchasing and are within their rights to be cautious.”

The meticulous craftsmanship and intricate attention to detail were immediately evident at the House of Dehres, and visitors and even other exhibitors were quick to offer praise about the jewellery on display.

Jewellery fairs offer a picture of the industry at large and an opportunity to plan for the future. Zion said that after three unprecedented years of interruption, forecasting was difficult.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in the market for many different reasons,” he said.

“That said, fancy colour diamonds and colour gemstones are selling well. They are still very much in demand.”

Another exhibitor in the fine jewellery generating significant attention was LJ West Diamonds – showcasing remarkable fancy colour diamonds, including the pinks sourced from the Argyle Diamond Mine.

Australian managing director William Gant was generous with his time, discussing everything from certification and provenance to design and the broader state of the diamond industry.

“I think the first thing that strikes you when you event an event like this trade show is the sheer size – it’s gargantuan,” Gant joked.

“It can be exhausting to navigate, and you could never hope to see it all, but I think both locations are good, and it’s clear the organisation is down pat. I think the organisers have fine-tuned their approach to how an event like this should run.”

While rings, necklaces, and earrings are always eye-catching, one collection that captured attention was platinum lapel pins designed by Raymond C. Yard, fashioned in the shape of a golfing rabbit featuring pink and blue diamonds.

“We’ve spoken with many retailers here in Hong Kong that are looking to purchase remarkable fine jewellery, which is pleasing for us,” he said.

“Looking around this hall, I think it’s a gathering of some of the best fine jewellery the world has to offer, and hosting the seminars nearby was a terrific idea – we’ve had many new visitors introduced to our stand.”

What does the future hold?

While introspection and reflection was the key theme of this year’s trade show, it also presented an opportunity to look forward and plan for the future.

While pearls, colour gemstones and fine jewellery all appeared to sell well, the diamond pavilions were dominated by uncertainty.

Everything from the impact of Russian diamond sanctions to the influence of lab-created diamonds on the market weighed heavily on the minds of visitors and exhibitors.

During the Extraordinary 40 Awards presentation, Ahmed Sultan Bin Sulayem – executive chairman of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre – had a simple message.

“The past four years have been a reminder that we should embrace the hard times, for without them, we would grow weak,” he said.

During a Q&A session featuring four award winners, Jeweller put forward a simple question – “With 2030 now less than seven years away, what are your predictions for the remainder of the decade for the international jewellery industry?”

Each panellist offered a unique answer, addressing everything from evolving technology to changing consumer patterns; however, Lawrence Ma stole the show with an unexpected response.

“I think if I’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that no one truly knows what the future holds. Who could have predicted everything that has unfolded since 2019?” he asked.

“It’s important to educate yourself, of course, and to plan for the road ahead, but as to what the world will look like in 2030, I don’t think anyone really knows.”

Ma had another important message for the crowd – a principle he said would serve the jewellery industry well, regardless of the challenges ahead.

“During these times, I’m reminded of the words of my brother Michael. Learn, earn, and return,” he explained.

The lesson was not about business but instead about community. Learn everything you can to prepare yourself, earn the respect of those around you with your practices, and then return the favour by supporting others.

Jewellery and Gem World Hong Kong returns in 2024, beginning at the Asia World-Expo on 16 September and concluding at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on 22 September.

More reading:
Hong Kong Homecoming: jewellery industry welcomes trade show return
Hong Kong jewellery fair celebrates industry trailblazers
Fair organisers predict Hong Kong show will be one to remember
Stunning diamond necklace leads auction in Hong Kong
Lucky numbers: Infinite Blue expected to make waves in Hong Kong

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