15 April 2008
Ceramic Crafts(HKTDC Gifts, Premium & Stationery, Vol 02,2008)
They may date back centuries, but ceramics and porcelain are still very much in demand
A world filled with hi-tech gadgetry and instant information technology might be expected to have little time to appreciate the finer things in life, but thankfully this is not the case.
The age-old attraction of small, beautiful objects remains as strong as ever, and none are more delicate and delightful than those useful items crafted from colourful ceramics or fine porcelain.
Ceramics date back thousands of years to the dawn of recorded history, when early humans gathered clay and shaped and fired it in primitive ovens in the ground.
Today there are two common types of ceramics: earthenware, a porous material which is fired at a low temperature and made waterproof with a glaze, and stoneware, a hardwearing, non-porous material fired at a higher temperature.
Often called china or chinaware because it was first made in China, porcelain is characterised by its whiteness, delicacy and translucency, and is known primarily for its use in the high-quality practical and decorative household items now seen worldwide.
Many of these decorative objects make perfect gifts and some such as the fine porcelain figurines produced by Wise Unicorn Industrial Ltd are so elegant and boast such fine workmanship that they have become collectible items.
"The quality, detail and finishing of our products sets us apart," claims Manager Sharon Hung. "We have some 50 in-house designers and sculptors who work closely with each other and take great pride in their work."
The company started in 1985 in Taipei, Taiwan as an international trading and manufacturing company specialising in high-quality polyresin, cold-cast bronze, pewter and porcelain figurines and collectables.
Today, Wise Unicorn boasts some 3,000 staff in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, including about 30 employees in the R&D department and 80 in the QC and QA departments in its two ISO 9001-certified factories in China, Ms Hung advises. "Clients can choose to work on their ideas with the help of our brand design team for worldwide distribution, or supply their own artistic vision for us to realise," she says.
She adds that one of Wise Unicorn's outstanding qualities lies in the craftsmanship of its workers, who provide the human touch that ensures the originality of each piece.
"Our figurines are technically challenging to produce due to the delicate shape and design," Ms Hung explains. "We take great care in making extra supports and use moulds that ensure every angle, position and detail is perfect, and it is this dedication that adds extra value to our products and makes them highly collectible items."
Supplying fine porcelain figurines such as the slim bride (model BP00487AA) to high-end department stores and boutiques worldwide has given Wise Unicorn an expert view of a unique market segment that emphasises quality above all else. "There is an increase in demand for these high-quality figurative pieces in today's market," Ms Hung maintains.
Quality is also of the utmost importance to T.K. Rich Co, which produces many porcelain and ceramic products ranging from practical household items such as cups, plates and teapots to vases, fruit bowls and colourful decorative products.
"We offer high quality workmanship - many of our items are hand painted," notes Manager Florence Tam. The company can also produce items that are printed, which lowers the cost. "The demand for hand-painted versus printed items is about 50-50," she adds.
T. K. Rich's whimsical porcelain cat is typical of the type of bright and attractive product popular among wholesalers and importers in established markets such as Europe, South Africa and the US, Ms Tam says. "Demand from Eastern Europe is starting to open up now," she adds.
Win Seng Mfg Fty Ltd, however, has seen an increase in demand in the US for products such as its 6.3x4.7x5cm porcelain trinket box (model WS101-MA070196). "Some customers and designers see products offered in the European markets and change some of the designs to suit the US market, but these are usually for items produced in large quantities," Sales Manager Joyce Cheng explains.
The company has two factories: one for open items such as decorative and household products made from porcelain, polyresin and stoneware, which are all painted by hand to add extra value, and the other to handle famous licensed brand names.
In the case of the latter, Ms Chung says Win Seng asks its in-house sculptors to come up with a "clear design" for the client's approval. "Our sculptors are very open and flexible and can turn a basic concept into a solid design in about seven days," she says. "It is very important that we offer a one-stop-shop service, from design idea and quality assurance to follow-up and shipping."
This ongoing commitment to customer satisfaction will undoubtedly ensure that Hong Kong manufacturers continue to produce excellent earthenware for many years to come.
TEXT BY MARTINE BEALE