The booming jewellery sector in Shenzhen has caused a surge in demand for professionally trained individuals from all over the country. Across the border from Hong Kong, Shenzhen is the mainland's largest jewellery manufacturing and distribution centre supplying the domestic market. It accounted for 70 per cent of all jewellery sales in the country, said Himmy Yau Lai-him, director of mainland affairs of the Hong Kong Jewellery Manufacturers Association. According to China Economic Net, total retail jewellery sales in the mainland were estimated to be 160billion yuan (HK$175.04 billion) in 2006. Thanks to a buoyant economy and increased affluence in the major cities, the mainland's jewellery retail sales have been registering double-digit year-on-year growth in the past decade. 'The standard of living in China has improved tremendously, which has driven demand for jewellery,' Mr Yau said. 'It is ingrained in the Chinese culture to purchase bridal jewellery and give jewellery away as presents. Jewellery retailers are opening more shops all over the country and many source their merchandise from suppliers in Shenzhen.' Figures from the Hong Kong Trade Development Council show there are about 2,000 jewellery producers in Shenzhen. 'Unlike Panyu in Guangdong, where most factories are established by export-oriented Hong Kong jewellers, the majority of production facilities and wholesale offices in Shenzhen belong to domestic enterprises. They target buyers in the mainland,' said Mr Yau, who is also the owner of Himmy Jewellery in Hong Kong. The fast-developing jewellery trade in Shenzhen had substantially increased its recruitment of professionally trained individuals, he said. 'There are many professional training institutes offering jewellery industry-focused design and production programmes in addition to gemmological courses in China.' Many Hong Kong professionals have also been lured to work in Shenzhen. 'Experienced designers are in particularly strong demand because they are very conscious of international trends. They work for mainland companies and offices opened by Hong Kong enterprises,' Mr Yau said. 'Many factories in Shenzhen employ production managers from Hong Kong, because of their extensive experience.' Manufacturers in Shenzhen supply all sorts of fine jewellery in 24-carat and 18-carat gold with diamonds, pearls and coloured gemstones. Some specialise in silver and platinum jewellery. Jewellery trading in Shenzhen is expected to get an additional boost. Shenzhen's municipal government had adopted a long-term policy to develop its service industry by encouraging the development of the trading business, Mr Yau said. 'It has shifted the emphasis on the labour-intensive and polluting industries to economic activities with higher value added. It is also for environmental protection considerations.' Apart from the domestic trade, an increasing number of international jewellery manufacturers and retailers with brands have visited the city to explore the potential in the market. 'They look for local partners to set up retail chains in China,' Mr Yau said. 'Market regulations [regarding imported fine jewellery] have been relaxed in recent years since China became a WTO member.' Being the mainland's jewellery distribution hub, Shenzhen boasts some of the largest jewellery fairs in the country. 'The well-organised ones are held in March and September,' he said. 'Many domestic manufacturers exhibit to get orders for processing and to recruit franchisees for their branded jewellery. International buyers visit the shows to source semi-finished products and jewellery.' As consumers in the mainland are spending more on higher-priced jewellery items, they need additional quality assurance from retailers. This has led to a surge in demand for identifying and certifying services. Most certificates for diamonds and other coloured gemstones are issued by gemmological laboratories in major cities. Most of these labs are affiliated to the Beijing-headquartered National Gemstone Testing Centre. However, some consumers prefer certificates issued by international institutes such as the International Gemmological Institute (IGI) and the Gemmological Institute of America. IGI is the only international institute which has set up a gem lab in Hong Kong. Soon Israel's World Gemmological Institute (WGI) will open one to serve the mainland's growing market. 'Demand [in China] for certificates outstrips supply,' said Rafael Aharoni, the WGI's chairman for China, Hong Kong and Macau. 'WGI will establish a lab in Hong Kong to serve the trade in China in the near future. We will recruit local gemmologists to work in the lab,' Mr Aharoni said. 'Consumers and jewellery professionals in China are welcome to attend courses offered by the WGI and Chinese businesses are welcome to send their goods for certification in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the WGI's research centre will share the findings of its research projects [with the trade in China].' The WGI is a non-profit organisation established by the diamond trade in Israel. It was established in 1977 when demand emerged for diamond certificates from professional gemmological laboratories, Mr Aharoni said.