Four years ago, the jewellery company Just Gold thought it might be interesting to approach Hong Kong designers and ask them to create a range of jewellery. It made an overture to the Hong Kong Fashion Designers' Association (HKFDA), a list of nine designers was drawn up and much publicity arose from the venture - which was, of course, the general idea. 'Benny Yeung made a gold bra,' recalls Rowena U, the association's project director. 'It made a lot of noise in the press. The idea for Just Gold that year was that it wouldn't be commercial, it was just for promotion.' Such was the coverage, however, that the following year Just Gold decided to manufacture the designers' jewellery and sell the ranges in its stores. Business thrived and last week the fourth Just Gold-HKFDA collection was unveiled. It was not the most auspicious week in which to parade a metal the value of which is fluctuating like a barometer in a hurricane. Nonetheless, the six designers - Barney Cheng, Flora Cheong-Leen, Lu Lu Cheng, Allan Chiu, Walter Ma and Rowena U - were surely gratified to learn that sales were brisk. Their delicate, simple and, above all, wearable motifs (which include leaves, feathers, butterflies and stars) are evidently what the Just Gold customer wants to wear. This will not come as a surprise to Ian Ng, managing director of Just Gold, accountant by training and a man with his finger impressively on the pulse. Mr Ng, who is 31 but looks as if he's barely old enough to have left school, knows exactly who his target audience is and what they want. When Mr Ng returned from the United States in 1992, he decided what the newly-created company needed was jewellery which would attract a core customer. That customer was identified as female, aged between 19 and 29, with a soft spot for merchandise best described as 'cute'. Mr Ng approached Walt Disney with an idea to recreate Disney characters in gold. After a year of persuasion, the Americans finally agreed and, in 1993, the Just Gold Disney collection was launched. 'The figures after the first year were a surprise to me and to Disney,' says Mr Ng mildly. Indeed. Sales were 1,700 per cent above the companies' joint projection. Now Just Gold also has Warner Brothers characters grinning from its golden displays. The pricing in those display cases was a break from industry practice. 'The older companies have complicated calculations because the price of gold changes every day,' explains Mr Ng. 'But we know that in Hong Kong girls are greedy to ask the price of everything, and lunchtime is the peak hour. If they all want to look at products A, B, C, D . . . the calculations can take two minutes and that's a bottleneck. So we introduced estimated pricing, putting things into categories. That also cut down the jewellery-company phobia.' Once he'd captured this target market, Mr Ng wanted to diversify. Hence the approach to the HKFDA. 'We have our own in-house designers,' he says (his brother Eric is one of them). 'But they work 200 or 300 days a year, and they're set within the boundaries of the jewellery market. They know what can be done and not done. The FDA doesn't, so they can create something very new.' Naturally, this initial ignorance of what it is possible to create with gold brought its own problems. Walter Ma, for instance, admits it was difficult to marry his vivid imagination with the metal's physical properties. In the first, non-commercial year of collaboration, he fashioned an item which was inspired by the 15th-century gates of Italian palaces. It was intended to be a handbag but was too heavy and eventually ended up as a pendant. This year's inspiration has gone to the other extreme: it is feathers. 'We're always doing elaborate things for the catwalk,' he admits. 'But most girls prefer to buy something simple.' 'The first year was quite chaotic because we think freely, in a way which is different from jewellery designers,' says Rowena U. 'And it was Just Gold's problem to see how they can make what we produce. Now we attend a lot of meetings with their technicians, their product managers and their sales teams. To be practical, the previous collections have sold well - otherwise we wouldn't be doing it again.' What does the FDA get out of the arrangement? 'I must emphasise that the very first reason we did this was to make money for the FDA,' says Ms U. 'We're so poor. So the money goes to the FDA, but the income has been so good - and the reaction has been so good - that now we also give some of that money to the designers.' Mr Ng is delighted to see a return on what was a fairly risky venture. After all, he reckons Just Gold spent four months working with the designers in the first year of their joint liaison. That's a sizeable investment of time. This year, the group spent just a month working together. And there are no more showpieces. 'We have created the noise level now,' says Mr Ng. 'We have truly commercialised the product.' He means that in the best possible way. 'This year, high commercial value - that is, saleability - was the number one criterion,' agrees Barney Cheng who opted for necklaces of gold flakes set in crystal or gold lozenges wrapped in cord. 'Which is good. You try and create something which is interesting but which won't alienate potential customers.'