Swiss-based pearl wholesaler Golay Buchel aims to expand into China's retail market through partnerships with mainland firms. Golay group, founded in 1887 by Louis Golay, has more than 1,000 points of sale in 20 countries, giving it the largest global pearl distribution network. Hanspeter Pieth, managing director of Golay Hong Kong, said the group's Shanghai office had been studying China's retail market for more than a year and had found that mainlanders were ready for luxury products. According to Trade Development Council figures, he said the mainland jewellery market was worth about 100 billion yuan (about HK$94.51 billion), of which pearl items comprised 5.4 billion yuan. 'We feel it is the right time to go a step further after seeing satisfactory performance from a trial sale of Golay pearls in major cities,' he said. The group will meet more than 60 mainland retailers from major cities at its first Golay distributor conference in Shanghai today to explore possible partnerships. He said some retailers took part in Golay's trial sales. Golay's Hong Kong partners such as Chow Sang Sang Jewellery, which has 20 shops and counters in China, are included on the list. Mr Pieth hoped this partnership could be extended into the mainland. He added the Swiss group would provide its expertise to enhance its China partners' product diversification and staff training. 'Our partners can make use of our worldwide distribution network, our designs, our international credibility to enhance their competitiveness,' he said. Through its partnership arrangements, Mr Pieth said Golay could expand into the mainland retail market without making a huge capital commitment. He said sales of pearl jewellery accounted for about 5 to 10 per cent of most jewellers' business. 'This is relatively small compared with sales of diamonds and gold necklaces,' he said. 'We believe it is largely because of the confidence issue as there is no transparency to customers on the standard of pearl quality.' To address the issue, Golay introduced quality guidelines to customers in Europe in 2000 when it decided to launch its own collection to tap the consumer market. Mr Pieth said Europe was still Golay's largest market.