Stake positions Just Gold for deregulation of China market

Susan Oh

WITH its purchase of a 30 per cent stake in a major Beijing manufacturer, Henry Jewellery/Just Gold is positioning itself in the strictly regulated Chinese gold market.

''It's like cocaine,'' said managing director Stanley Wong. ''You can't get cocaine and you can't get gold in China. It's regulated by the People's Bank of China. Prices are artificially high.'' Mr Wong, who is optimistic the market will be deregulated in the next three or four years, said it was important to establish a presence in China.

''You ask Coca-Cola what the market difference is between Hong Kong and China,'' said Mr Wong. ''[China] is a very huge market. One of the last ones, the final frontier.'' To this end, Just Gold has acquired 30 per cent of Beijing Orafi Ornament, a Sino-Italian venture in manufacturing and wholesaling.

There is an agreement for a further 18 per cent stake in the short term.

In about three months it will begin its production at an existing 28,000 square-foot factory in Beijing with a staff of some 12 people.

The factory is now running at 20 per cent capacity, but Mr Wong hopes to increase that by investing $25 million and with trained, local workers.

He said he fought with board members to localise operations.

''I've turned the guns on them,'' he said. ''I said, ''let me hire the best people in China and train them. We don't have to be to looking over our shoulder - train them.'' The company has an equal pay for equal work policy, Mr Wong said.

But that does not mean he will not be taking advantage of the cheap labour market - there just won't be pay inequity among employees.

Mr Wong said he did not plan to bring in workers from Hong Kong.

He said Beijing was the perfect place to manufacture its 24-carat gold jewellery.

Beijing was a culturally rich city with many design schools and cheap, educated labour, he said.

''The cheap factor disappears as a country starts to develop but the culture stays,'' said Mr Wong.

While most companies go to the southern part of China to set up operations, Mr Wong said Just Gold was low-tech, relying on craftsmanship.

Just Gold sells value-added goods - gold with added design and craftsmanship, he said.

Television commercials featuring Beijing-born Canto-pop star Faye Wong are indicative of the market it wants to reach, primarily working women, aged 22 to 38.

Just Gold came on to the market three years ago and has since opened 18 branches in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. Projected sales for 1994 exceed $370 million.

Mr Wong predicted the company would be listed in 18 months.

''We haven't applied or anything yet. We're targeting for the end of 1995,'' said Mr Wong, adding there was no need to go public because the company was not in need of cash.