10 April 2008
Bright Business(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 04,2008)
Jewellery & Accessories
Fashion jewellery buyers seeking medium to high-end decorative jewellery and accessories should seek out Shell Juli (HK) Co Ltd, which applies new techniques to forge natural shell and other adornments into beautiful jewellery with worldwide appeal.
Unashamedly confident of its role as a leading supplier of costume jewellery and accessories, and employing modern techniques such as die-casting, laser engraving and laser marking, Shell Juli produces an extensive range of items incorporating various types of genuine shells set into metals such as pewter, tin alloy, zinc and brass.
"We started out with shell bracelets," says General Manager Florence Harm. "From the outset, we felt we had a competitive advantage as buyers loved the different shells we used and the intricate designs as well."
Abalone shell from New Zealand was the initial material used. The natural shell was cleaned, polished and sliced to gain the optimum variation in colour and tone and best show off the mother-of-pearl appeal.
"We are a Korean company," says Ms Harm. "Korea has certain skills and techniques derived from the way traditional items of furniture are made, using shell for inlays and patterning, and we adopted those techniques to produce costume jewellery."
From bracelets, the firm diversified into producing unusual and attractive pendants and earrings, also using a greater variety of shells garnered from the Philippines to the Pacific Islands and Australia.
The shells are cut into round or straight slices depending on how the particular shell lends itself to a desired design. "Using accurate machines, we can obtain many special cuts that produce quite stunning effects," says Ms Harm. "It may not be gem jewellery, but our range is very saleable and commercial and easily meets the needs and demands of the fashion industry rather than the jewellery sector."
Shells often have unique properties. "For example, we have a darker-coloured shell from Tahiti that looks superb, and a rather special shell with a unique colouration from Broome in Australia, which is famous for pearls," insists Ms Harm.
"Another unusual and attractive shell is capiz, which we slice very thinly," she adds, explaining that capiz is the name of the outer shell of a marine mollusc found in the shallow coastal waters off the Philippines.
"It is a translucent flat shell that is pearlescent in appearance. In the fashion industry, capiz shell products are considered elegant and formal and are usually very popular items," she says. "Capiz is most commonly used for jewellery pieces either alone and independently or incorporated with mother-of-pearl to better expose its beauty."
Noting that Shell Juli manufactures in Shenzhen and Qingdao on the Chinese mainland, Ms Harm says shell is not only well-accepted and a long-term seller, but also comes in sufficient variety to fulfil the needs of the seasonal buyer.
"Philippine shell jewellery manufacturers bring a kind of ethnic look because they have so many different raw materials available, and their products sold strongly worldwide for about three years up until 2007, when the trend changed," Ms Harm says. "However, we manufacture in a way that is quite different. We mostly employ a casting process that can only be done at a competitive price level in China. As a result, our products are quite distinctive."
Shell Juli is optimistic about the future because many of its customers continue to express a preference for natural materials. "We have adjusted output slightly and now bring out lines that better serve certain brand-name companies, such as Marks & Spencer," Ms Harm advises. "We also add new colour effects with epoxy and transparent Formica to give sheen and depth, and develop lines especially focusing on the needs of mass sales."
The company reaches out to new customers through magazine advertising, the Internet and a website, in addition to attending about five trade fairs each year. "Our biggest market is the US, followed by Australia," Ms Harm says. "I suppose that is because we import a lot of shell from Australia and New Zealand and the people there are keen to buy their own produce. Business is also good in Europe."
Unusually, perhaps, Asia is not a ready market. "Only Japan is a strong market, probably because Japanese people are into natural products and because our range appeals to their appreciation of small and cute accessories," Ms Harm relates.
TEXT BY TONY HENDERSON