8 Sept 2004
A Cut Above(HKTDC Jewellery, Vol 02,2004)
A Cut Above
Yee On Gems & Jewellery Fty Co Ltd
|Yee On Gems & Jewellery Fty Co Ltd produces half-finished products from more than 100 varieties of semiprecious stones, such as mabe pearls, natural turquoise, sea bamboo coral and shell|
The customers who sought teenager Wong Tat Wah's skills to cut and polish their semiprecious stones 30 years ago could never have imagined just how far the talented teenager would go.
Little did Wong himself realise that three decades later he would own one of the leading semiprecious stone companies in Hong Kong, along with a string of enterprises from hotels to restaurants on the Chinese mainland.
Today, Wong's Yee On (Group) Ltd produces half-finished products from more than 100 varieties of semiprecious stones, such as mabe pearls, natural turquoise, sea bamboo coral and shell.
Yee On also carves a wide range of stone gifts and decorative items such as popular gem globes, fountains, gift sets, decorative and fancy items and watches, which comprise some 10% of its business.
"We supply semiprecious stones in any size from small fancy-cut beads to boulder-sized raw pieces for artists to carve," explains administration manager Lap Fong Ng Hung. "Our stones are produced in a myriad of shapes and sizes, primarily for the jewellery and fashion trades."
Yee On started manufacturing in Hong Kong in 1973, but moved operations to the mainland more than a decade ago to maintain its competitive edge.
The company now owns a 20,000-square-metre production facility in Yan Tian, Dongguan, which employs more than 3,000 skilled workers to select, cut, craft, polish and drill stones. "We have one Hong Kong team leader for every 100 workers from the mainland, which ensures standards are maintained," explains Hung.
Yee On also has more than 100 people in its Hong Kong headquarters who focus on marketing, quality control and logistics. "Most of our products are returned to Hong Kong for final checking and shipment, mainly to wholesalers worldwide," she adds.
Hung describes the business as one with long-term stability. "Customers always need well-cut and finished stones for the jewellery and fashion trade, but the number of cuts and the types of stones varies continually, with customers always looking for something new."
Hung claims that while turquoise, malachite and lapis never go out of style, other stones move in and out of fashion. "For example, crystal is currently popular in colours such as pink, while tourmaline is in demand because it's believed to promote health and well-being if worn against the skin."
The fashion industry also creates major demand for stone types as well as cuts, says Hung. "For the past few years freshwater pearl and shell have been very popular, with shell a highly effective and less expensive alternative."
Yee On offers numerous cuts of shell, including fancy and carved, and a variety of colours. "Currently, the rectangular and devil cut are popular, and white and pink are the enduring colour trend, with younger consumers opting for abalone shell."
However, Hung says that while irregular shaped freshwater pearls are currently in vogue, "round pearls will come back into fashion - they always do".
Whatever the demand, Yee On has an ample supply, owning freshwater pearl farms on the mainland, obtaining cultured and mabe pearls from its cooperative partnerships in Australia and sourcing semiprecious stones from long-term suppliers in South Africa and Brazil.
Yee On is renowned for its turquoise, which it now mines on the mainland, having developed technology to stabilise mainland turquoise after the mines in Arizona closed.
North America is Yee On's largest export market, taking 40% of its business, followed by Europe with 30%, the Middle East, Japan, Asia and Australia. "We are also looking at expanding our business in Russia, where our gem globes are particularly popular," adds Hung.
In addition, Yee On is always on the lookout for new stones that might appeal to customers, such as jasper in spotted black and white, and different uses for its products.
While creating new cuts, stones and uses keeps customers coming back, Yee On is also expanding its efforts to reach out directly to its clients. "We have increased our number of overseas visits and advertising, and have participated in 20 of the major jewellery and gift fairs around the world during the past year," says Hung.
It's this continual assessment of customer needs that ensures Yee On stays at the forefront of the semiprecious industry, which, despite the foibles of the fashion business, continues to have a stone-solid future.
WRITTEN BY SANDRA JENNER
Yee On Gems & Jewellery Fty Co Ltd
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