Sparkling times for London jewellers as Chinese flock in search of unique, vintage pieces

One owner of shops in the city’s famous Burlington Arcade says he has seen a 30 per cent rise in Chinese buyers of top-notch items

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 5:10pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 10:56pm

Mainland tourists are becoming a lot more sophisticated in their buying tastes, and rising to the top of many of their shopping lists in recent months have become unique vintage items of jewellery, often not to wear just to collect.

That’s according to Michael Rose, who is founder and managing director of Michael Rose Jewels, a London vintage jewellery business, who says he has been inundated with Chinese buyers looking for that something special and unique.

“Many Chinese customers come to my shops everyday and the numbers have kept rising in recent years,” Rose told the South China Morning Post in an interview at one of his four outlets in Mayfair’s Burlington Arcade in London — the iconic 19th century covered shopping street linking Piccadilly and Bond Street.

They [Chinese] are not coming to buy trendy or cheap jewellery for everyday use – they want to buy the very old, unique and classic vintage jewellery for collection purpose
Michael Rose, who is founder and managing director of Michael Rose Jewels

“But they are not coming to buy trendy or cheap jewellery for everyday use – they want to buy the very old, unique and classic vintage jewellery for collection purpose.”

Rose started the business under his own name in 1980 and still run his five shops, four in the Arcade and one in the centre of the city.

Burlington first opened in March 1819, and nearly 200 years later is still the UK’s longest covered shopping street, attracting over three million visitors per year.

When Rose first set up shop, China had just started its economic reform, in 1978 under president Deng Xiaoping but there were seldom any mainland tourists travelling to London, he says.

With rapid economic growth since, however, there came a flood of high-spending Chinese buyers who largely headed for the UK capital’s fashion outlets for luxury clothes and accessories brands ranging from Burberry coats and scarves to LV handbags.

“But the trend is now changing. I see many Chinese tourists who are more sophisticated, very well educated, and they know the background and story behind many of the most classical pieces of jewellery on sale here,” he said.

“I don’t need to hire Chinese language speakers to serve them, as they can all speak very fluent English.”

Their tastes are wide-ranging, he adds, but jade, pearls, and diamonds are most popular, stretching in price from few hundred pounds to hundreds of thousands. Rose says some buyers are also keen to have pieces personally commissioned.

“The Chinese come here to buy quality classical jewellery. They are looking for jewellery that is linked to certain historical periods, styles, or famous designers,” he said.

The Chinese come here to buy quality classical jewellery. They are looking for jewellery that is linked to certain historical periods, styles, or famous designers
Michael Rose of Michael Rose Jewels

A closer inspection at what’s on display in Rose’s shop reveals diamonds from India, pearls from Akoya in Japan, as well as pieces by top designers such as the Italian Aldo Cipullo – the creator in the 1970s of the iconic Cartier Love bracelet, which has become one of the best-selling items of all time. Cipullo is still the only designer to have his name engraved on Cartier jewellery.

Rose is fully confident he will continue seeing growing numbers of Chinese customers coming through his front door.

“They cannot find the same quality of vintage jewellery in mainland China or other cities. London is the best place, and has the largest collections of classical jewellery,” he said.

Since Brexit in June, that flow of Chinese customers has increased 30 per cent, he adds, as the pound has fallen by more than 15 per cent against the US dollar.

“This has meant everything is cheaper,” he adds. “Not surprisingly, Brexit has been rather positive for retailers like us in London.”

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