Exhibitors expect sales to be strong at the 2007 show as export figures rise HONG KONG'S jewellery industry has sparkled in recent years, with exports rising 13.7 per cent last year to HK$29billion, according to Hong Kong trade statistics from the Census and Statistics Department. The figures follow export growth of 23 per cent in 2005 and 19 per cent in 2004. Hong Kong's major jewellery export markets all posted gains last year. The United States, with a 47.2per cent share, was up 7per cent, and the European Union, which has a 23.2 per cent share, rose 15.2per cent. Exports to China, still a small market with a 2.8per cent share, increased 46 per cent, while Russia, even smaller with a 0.5 per cent share, showed a whopping 208per cent rise. 'Everyone is happy. We think the export increase will be in two digits again this year,' said Edward Cheung Chi-wan, chairman of the Hong Kong Jewelry Manufacturers' Association. Mr Cheung said Hong Kong's jewellery manufacturing capacity continued to grow. 'Ninety-five per cent of jewellery companies have factories in China. The factories are larger, management there is better and the labour is more skilled,' he said, adding that more and more companies had earned International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) certification. Faced with increasing competition from jewellery production in the mainland and other countries, Hong Kong manufacturers are putting more emphasis on value-added aspects such as design. 'Original design manufacturing is still the main thing, but several companies have started their own brand names,' Mr Cheung said. Exhibitors such as Top Brands at the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show, being held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from March 6 to 10, are banking on another strong year for sales. 'We are looking forward to a good year,' said Vivian Wong Mei, marketing manager at the company, which is a licence holder for the three-year-old jewellery brand Elle. 'We want to introduce the brand to more distributors around the world.' Elle's sleek, geometrically designed sterling silver jewellery set with diamonds, coloured gemstones or cubic zirconia sells for HK$200 to HK$4,000 a piece, and is designed for casual or office wear. Jewellery and accessories designer Lo Kai-yin said the quality of design had improved significantly in Hong Kong over the past five to 10 years. 'It's moving up,' she said. 'There has been quite a lot of development in jade. Designers are modernising it. That's been a good trend. Jade is no longer just green - you can have yellow, red, white, lavender and black jade.' She described the use of new materials, such as titanium, palladium and even non-metals such as wood, as a positive step. 'You see stainless steel mixed with precious metals and other mixed metals that include alloys,' Ms Lo said. But she added that manufacturers needed to invest more resources in developing Hong Kong design talent. 'They need to appreciate design and what it can bring to their businesses,' she said. Design consultant Norman Siu Wai-chung saw increasing market diversification ahead for Hong Kong's jewellery exports. 'That diversification may come from new growth markets, such as Russia, or from a deep penetration of certain market segments, such as niche marketing,' he said. Niche marketing includes fashion-orientated jewellery, a major development in the jewellery industry in the past few years. 'We are seeing many differentiated designs according to the season. There is a greater focus on this, especially in the low to medium jewellery segment,' he added. Dr Siu said the Hong Kong jewellery industry's role in the mainland was filled with challenges. 'Most Hong Kong companies want to explore this market, but it's hard to figure out what will sell in China. There's not enough reliable data. Cities and regions there have their own culture,' he said, adding that companies were typically employing a trial-and-error approach.