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Classic Keepsakes(HKTDC Jewellery, Vol 01,2008)

Special Occasion Jewellery

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Life's special occasions can be celebrated in an infinite variety of ways, and jewellery is a highly popular option

Forget the champagne toast, party or special indulgence when it comes to celebrating a big event such as a wedding anniversary, school graduation or a job promotion.

Special occasion jewellery is a growing phenomenon around the world, with the list of events worthy of commemorating continually expanding.

"It used to be just St Valentine's Day, Christmas and wedding anniversaries, but now there are a host of other events such as Mother's Day and graduations, and we think there is a lot of potential for even more occasions," says Alan Yiu, Manager at diamond and jewellery manufacturer Brilliant Trading Co (1974) Ltd.

One typical characteristic of special occasion jewellery is that pieces tend to be bigger and bolder than everyday jewellery, a phenomenon that is particularly true for wedding anniversaries, which are a major occasion for giving jewellery.

"When people get married, they may have a one-carat diamond ring," Mr Yiu observes. "But if they're celebrating their wedding anniversary, we find they may want 1.5 or 2 carats to show off a bit."

White diamonds may be preferred in Asia, but he says more customers are willing to combine them with fancy pink or fancy yellow diamonds for colour contrast. "Jewellery with a heart motif is a favourite for St Valentine's Day, as are stars for Christmas," Mr Yiu notes.

Two strong jewellery trends in vogue overseas and in Hong Kong are micro-pavm diamond settings and chocolate- coloured gemstones, especially pearls, along with 18-karat "chocolate" gold.

Blue gemstone tones are especially hot with topaz, aquamarine, sapphire and tanzanite ranking high in popularity, followed closely by purple and pink shades such as amethyst, pink topaz and pink sapphire, and yellow gemstones like citrine and fancy yellow diamonds rapidly gaining ground.

These colour trends bear out the observations of Hong Kong Jewelry Manufacturers' Association Chairman Addy Wong. "When it comes to special occasion jewellery, there appears to be an increasing demand for colourful designs," he believes. "Coloured gemstones and coloured precious metals, such as yellow and rose gold, are providing a more creative palette for designers."

Many jewellery designers in Hong Kong and elsewhere take their cue from Italy, where rich, extravagant jewellery designs serve as a benchmark for the rest of the world.

"Hong Kong looks to European brands but European designers are also looking at different parts of the world for new ideas," acknowledges Brilliant Trading's Mr Yiu. "So you're seeing jewellery now that features Asian symbols like bamboo and vegetable gourds."

Nowhere is this more evident than at Zn Concept Ltd, which derives its Zn brand and image from the philosophy of Zen, Asian concepts and the Oriental cultures that influence its jewellery designs.

"We follow international trends but we mix them with Chinese elements," says Sales and Marketing Manager Jackie Lam, explaining that the eight-year-old OEM/ODM/OBM company exports to Russia, Europe, the US, Singapore and Malaysia and also operates three retail outlets in Hong Kong.

One of the company's most successful special occasion lines has been its Road to Beijing collection, which capitalises on both the upcoming Olympics in Beijing and increasing international fascination with Chinese culture.

"We use a lot of red and black agate, green jade and sterling silver, with engravings of Chinese calligraphy," Ms Lam says, adding that the 500 pieces in the collection account for about 40% of the company's overall sales and are priced from US$4-100 per piece FOB Hong Kong.

Two other collections that have done well are Zn Concept's 50-piece Baby Collection (US$4-6 per piece FOB Hong Kong), with tiny sterling silver charms and pendants of baby strollers, teddy bears, ducks, fish, dogs and other items to celebrate the birth of a baby, and its Chinese New Year line.

The latter features half a dozen different mice designs as its centrepiece, reflecting the fact that this is the Year of the Rat. "We have a very original design style, which is based on four main philosophies - simplicity, passion, balance and naturalness," Ms Lam explains.

Not to be outdone, John Chan Ltd sells opulent, handmade jewellery that retails for US$20,000 and up in the company's main market in the US. "For special occasions, we mostly do wedding anniversaries and birthdays," says Manager Alan Chan.

He observes that husbands usually buy jewellery for special occasions, but sometimes if a woman is single and gets a big bonus, she'll buy for herself. "In the US, people love pearls," Mr Chan notes. "A lot of career women like big South Sea pearls."

Style-wise, he points out that customers who are looking for special occasion jewellery are less likely to want trendy designs. "These kinds of items tend to be more collectible because the stones are bigger and the jewellery is more dramatic," Mr Chan maintains. "A woman wants to know that she can pass the jewellery on to her daughter and it will still be wearable."

Jewellery to mark a school graduation is necessarily less lavish, but the event is a time-honoured occasion for gift-giving. "For a girl graduating from high school, we suggest a strand of small pearls or a necklace with a 10-20 point diamond," says Mr Chan.

A woman's 40th birthday is another significant event for which jewellery is appropriate, according to Nathalie Moisy, owner of Ensemble Int'l Ltd, which makes custom-made jewellery with French and Asian flair that retails for US$2,000-100,000 per piece.

Recently relocated from Tokyo to Hong Kong, Moisy's clients come from Europe and the US and the company focuses on earrings, rings and pendants for career women.

"Many of the designs are from Nature, such as flowers," Ms Moisy explains.

"We do a lot of stackable rings and pieces are colour-coordinated so they can be mixed and matched."

Her jewellery is substantial, full-bodied and feminine, not airy or lightweight. "I start with a form and simplify as much as I can," Ms Moisy says, adding that she likes micro-pavm diamond settings because they allow for more flexibility in design and freedom of expression.

Besides diamonds, the range of coloured stones in her jewellery includes citrine, amethyst, different coloured sapphires such as green, pink, yellow and blue, bi-coloured tourmaline, kunzite and aquamarine.

Compared with Europe, Ms Moisy says Hong Kong designers are more conservative, relying on classic styles set with diamonds and precious stones. "The look of jewellery here is also more delicate, with flowing lines and tiny lines put together," she remarks.

Trinity Jewellery Ltd Director Herbert Hui notes that the amount spent on special occasion jewellery can be 10% -15% more than for everyday jewellery.

"For job promotions, a lot of people want solitaire diamonds. For graduations, micro-pavm diamonds are more suitable," he says.

His firm sells diamond and precious stone jewellery priced at about US$400 FOB Hong Kong for items with smaller stones and from US$6,000-128,000 for custom-made jewellery featuring a 5-6 carat centre stone.

"Our biggest growth area for special occasion jewellery is at the higher end," Mr Hui says, with the greatest demand from China, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Ultimately, whatever the market there is clearly a huge and ever-expanding range of classic jewellery keepsakes to mark that special occasion and ensure it remains a pleasant memory for many, many years.