The declining numbers of tourists from mainland China has hit Hong Kong’s retail sector, especially in luxury goods such as jewellery. Several leading jewellery chains in Hong Kong have announced plans to close stores in the near future, with the slowdown likely to continue in the near term.

Economic uncertainty in mainland China, the United States and Europe has led to consumers becoming cautious when it comes to purchasing luxury goods, several local jewellers say.

However, demand remains. Jonathan Abram of Ronald Abram says: “All segments, including those buying jewellery for their own use, individuals who purchase pieces as gifts, and collectors are still moving. It’s just slower than before.”

The competitive upscale jewellery retail market in the city, encompassing established home-grown jewellers and international brands, is resilient. More selective shoppers are gravitating towards quality and exclusivity, rarity of the gemstones, and the prestige and heritage of brands.

Some high-net-worth-individuals (HNWI), keen on diversifying their investment portfolios, recognise the investment value of important jewellery. This is true for designs set with top-grade gems because demand for gemstones of exceptional quality always outstrips the supply.

“The appeal of top-quality gemstones to consumers continues,” Abram says. Catering to an international clientele, Ronald Abram specialises in rare diamonds and coloured gemstones of exceptional quality.

Confidence and prestige matter in the purchases of high-ticket items among affluent mainland Chinese shoppers.

“At retail level, well-heeled mainland clients purchase [international branded] jewellery,” observes Vickie Sek, deputy chairman and director of jewellery Asia at Christie’s Hong Kong.

“But at auctions, they focus on the quality and rarity of the pieces because the Christie’s brand inspires their confidence.”

Caroline Scheufele, co-president and creative director of Chopard, is positive about sales in Hong Kong.

“Consumers are switching to branded jewellery. Chopard has had two strong pillars: watches and jewellery.

“Hong Kong people have started discovering our jewellery collections. We have been promoting and showcasing our brand more actively. We have an exclusive high-jewellery segment. Thanks to our involvement in the red-carpet event at the annual Cannes Film Festival in France, our brand profile is high. Many clients look forward to our high-jewellery collection. VIP clients will call in advance to make an appointment to view the collection as the pieces will be out of stock quickly.”

Cecilia Fong, managing director for greater China at Wellendorff, echoes Scheufele’s sentiment. “It’s a growing trend that local shoppers seek uniqueness in jewellery. Wellendorff is known for its genuine value and extraordinary craftsmanship, which is how we have remained competitive,” Fong says, adding that the brand sees increasing demand from locals and tourists. “We have select stores in Asia. This makes our boutiques in Hong Kong a destination for some tourists when they visit the city.”

At upscale jewellers, the presence of members from the families owning the businesses makes a difference. On top of the prestige, selection of high-end pieces often involves lengthy discussions with experts about the quality and rarity of the gemstones, and the intricate designs and production of the pieces.

Abram says clients always want to speak to the owner of the business.

Professional women have a busy lifestyle. They want efficiency and versatility in everything … jewellers need to tailor their products to the specific requirements of their target customers
Caric Hon, executive director and CEO of Larry Jewelry

Investment is on the minds of some HNWIs when they shop for luxury items. Chopard organises private exhibitions for its high-jewellery collection around the world, including Hong Kong. “The clients here appreciate the exclusivity and uniqueness of the pieces. They understand the investment value of important pieces,” Scheufele says. “When the right items are bought, they gain value over time. The pieces can always be redesigned and the important gemstones reset.”

Apart from the slowdown in overall retail sales, jewellers in Hong Kong are confronted with another challenge: clients’ changing preferences, particularly the requirements among professional women with deep pockets. Upscale jewellery is expected to be one of the highly versatile luxury fashion statements that accessorise women’s outfits for different occasions, from formal business meetings during the day to parties in the evening.

Scheufele thinks that while diamonds are always the favourite among women, they also wear jewellery designs that are more versatile, complementing their daily work attires and casual wear. Then they add a few pieces to attend cocktail parties.

Abram observes that the lifestyle of many women has changed and more are looking for less formal and more versatile pieces that they can wear more often.

“Over the years, many have received pieces of jewellery from family and friends. They have found that if they do not wear the jewellery, they do not get much out of it,” Abram says.

“People now seek wearable and practical pieces. These designs fit into their lifestyle more easily. Across the board, the lifestyle has become more casual and people dress in a more casual manner. They travel more and there are not as many formal occasions as before.”

This emphasis on the “functionality” and versatility of jewellery has prompted jewellers to adapt by diversifying their offerings. Caric Hon, executive director and CEO of Larry Jewelry, says:

“Professional women have a busy lifestyle. They want efficiency and versatility in everything … jewellers need to tailor their products to the specific requirements of their target customers.”

The increasing number of jewellery auctions held in the city is a positive development for the local jewellery retail market.

“Jewellery auctions attract serious buyers from all over the world. This is positive for both auction houses and high-end jewellery brands,” Fong says.

“Hong Kong has built a reputation over the past few years as the ultimate place for fine arts and jewellery lovers in Asia. With more auctions held in Hong Kong, auction houses and participants are constantly raising the bar in the industry. This motivates the brands to raise their standards and up their game.”

The clients here appreciate the exclusivity and uniqueness of the pieces. They understand the investment value of important pieces,” Scheufele says. “When the right items are bought, they gain value over time. The pieces can always be redesigned and the important gemstones reset."

Apart from the slowdown in overall retail sales, jewellers in Hong Kong are confronted  with another challenge: clients’ changing preferences, particularly the requirements among professional women with deep pockets. Upscale jewellery is expected to be one of the highly versatile luxury fashion statements that accessorise  women’s outfits for different occasions, from formal business meetings during the day to parties in the evening.

Scheufele thinks that while diamonds are always the favourite among women, they also wear jewellery designs that are more versatile, complementing their daily work attires and casual wear. Then they add a few pieces to attend cocktail parties.

Abram observes that the lifestyle of many women has changed and more are looking for less formal and more versatile   pieces that they can wear more  often.

“Over the years, many have received pieces of jewellery from family and friends. They have found that if they do not wear the jewellery, they do not get much out of it,” Abram says.

“People now seek wearable and practical pieces. These designs fit into their lifestyle more easily.  Across the board, the lifestyle has become more casual and people dress  in a more casual manner. They travel more and there are not  as many formal occasions  as before.”

 This emphasis on the “functionality” and versatility  of jewellery has prompted jewellers to adapt by diversifying their offerings. Caric Hon, executive director and CEO  of Larry Jewelry, says:

“Professional women have  a busy lifestyle. They want efficiency and versatility in everything … jewellers need  to tailor their products to  the  specific requirements  of their target customers.”

The increasing number  of jewellery auctions held in   the city is a positive development  for the local jewellery retail market. 

“Jewellery auctions attract serious buyers from all over the world. This is positive for  both auction houses and  high-end jewellery brands,”  Fong says.

“Hong Kong has built a reputation over the past few years as the ultimate place for fine arts and jewellery lovers  in Asia. With more auctions held  in Hong Kong,  auction houses and participants are constantly raising the bar in the industry. This motivates the brands  to  raise their standards and  up their game.”