8 March 2006
Changing Course(HKTDC Jewellery, Vol 01,2006)
Universal Jewellery Design Center Ltd
|Universal Jewellery Design Center Ltd provides an extensive range of jewellery styles to suit all tastes|
There are always valuable lessons to be learned - even after almost half a century in business - as Universal Jewellery Design Center Ltd (UJDC) found in 1997 when the Asian financial crisis began to bite.
Virtually overnight demand evaporated for the 57-year-old, family-owned company's high-end, handmade jewellery, which was designed and built around diamonds and other precious stones.
The directors were reluctantly obliged to consider closing the company, executive director Kenneth Kwan recalls, but a sense of obligation to employees at the Hong Kong factory persuaded them to explore alternative strategies.
"Before 1997 our business was based on major pieces, sold to Asian markets," he explains. "When the Asian crash slowed that area of business down, we established our factory on the Chinese mainland to take care of mass production of medium-quality pieces for new markets."
The intention was to reposition UJDC internationally so that the company would be less exposed to risk from adverse conditions in any single market while simultaneously maintaining standards so that established customers would come back when times got better.
"We tried to learn from the Asian financial crisis and balance the business by opening the mainland factory, then an office in the US followed by one in Europe," states Kwan.
UJDC also retained its Hong Kong factory for model-making and high-end production. "We still have around 100 people in Hong Kong," Kwan explains, "while our mainland factory in Panyu employs about 300 people."
He notes proudly that UJDC trained all the mainland workers. "We hired new people with no experience at all, because once people have acquired bad habits it's hard for them to improve," Kwan maintains. "For the first nine months we had no production at all, just training."
The investment has paid off as UJDC has refocused its business, established a presence in new markets, and regained much of its traditional customer base.
"Now we sell a lot to the US and Europe, manufacture for several brands and also do business in Japan and the Middle East - almost everywhere," says Kwan. "However, we have no plans to develop brands of our own as we do not wish to compete with clients on their own turf."
UJDC, whose FOB Hong Kong prices start at around US$100 and go up to more than US$1m, offers an extensive range of jewellery styles to suit all tastes.
"We make almost everything," Kwan says, admitting that the company doesn't do much men's jewellery, but has made almost everything else.
"We have made many interesting things - ornaments such as tigers, elephants, horses and vintage cars, tissue boxes, picture frames, a scarf made with diamonds and even a gold and diamond baby's pacifier."
On a more traditional level, UJDC produces brooches, necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets created by a company-trained, in-house team of designers and generally set in gold or platinum.
"We carry all kinds of precious stones - diamonds, coloured and black diamonds; rubies; emeralds; sapphires; black, white, gold and brown pearls and some semiprecious stones," says Kwan, who also designs pieces.
He maintains that a diversity of stones and styles is the best way to tempt customers, so that when they visit the UJDC showroom it's like a jewellery supermarket. "Almost every day we have new products come out," Kwan claims. "We keep creating new things, so every time a customer comes there are new things to see."
UJDC also boosts its exposure by participating in several major trade shows to promote its goods - including the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show, the Hong Kong Jewellery and Watch Fair, the Basel Fair, the JCK Las Vegas Show, and the JA International Jewelry Show - but Kwan says most business results from customer visits to the Hong Kong factory showroom. "Many customers prefer to come to see us in Hong Kong, and if I go to see them I can carry only a limited amount of goods," Kwan adds.
WRITTEN BY ROBERT PIERCE
Universal Jewellery Design Center Ltd
Unit 2, G/F, Blk A, Focal Industrial Centre,
21 Man Lok St, Hung Hom,
Kowloon, Hong Kong