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Diamonds Dazzle At Basel(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 06,2007)

Swiss Time

 

 

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They have long been firm fashion favourites, but diamonds look set to sparkle even more brightly in all kinds of watches and jewellery during the coming year.

Diamonds clearly led the craze for new styles at the recent BaselWorld 2007 exposition - along with more vibrant use of colour, tourbillons and leather straps - while jewellery saw greater use of pink gold.

The most precious and desired of gems was present in a variety of different configurations at the world's leading watch trade show, which was held from April 12-19, 2007.

Luxury brands showed the way with the new Concord ladies' watch, the C1, flaunting a half-carat diamond in the crown, the Omega Constellation Double Eagle Chronograph a brilliant barrage of bling with diamonds surrounding the crown, and Patek Philippe's Gondolo discreetly displaying diamonds at the right and left side of the bezel.

Another trend that attracted a great deal of attention from all levels of the global watch industry was the greater variety of dial colours. "Orange is coming as a trendy colour - and multicoloured watches," observed Hong Kong Watch Manufacturers Association (HKWMA) president Tommy Leung.

Hong Kong exhibitors were paying more attention to colours and good design, Leung added. "I see two main directions: one for more traditional tourbillon watches and the other segment richly ornamented - be it with jewels or Swarovski stones or pearls," he predicted.

Tourbillon watches have become more popular among Hong Kong presentations, with the prices for Peace Mark or Kentex products varying between US$600 and US$900 depending on the model.

Kentex mainly serves the Japanese market. "We renewed our product," explained company spokesman Kenji Hashimoto as he presented a watch that featured a titanium case and band and a tritium gas tube radiation.

Hashimoto observed a trend towards leather straps in fashion watches. "This is a market which we have not addressed so far, but see as an option for the future," he added.

Buyers clustered around the Hong Kong booths were apparently looking for watches in prices ranging from US$20-35, and with unusual designs. "That is what customers are asking for, but they are often ordering more traditional watches," noted C's Enterprises director Cindy Lam, whose firm offers watches combining different materials like Swarovski stones and sweetwater pearls at prices ranging from US$15-40.

Meanwhile, pink gold was in full revival mode in the jewellery sector. "It is combined with pink sapphires or rose quartzes," said Bronia Yip from Hong Kong's Goldiaq Creation, which produces pieces such as a medium-priced micro set comprising a ring and pair of earrings with pink sapphires and diamonds that sold for US$8,500.

It was a different story for King's Mark Designers & Mfy Ltd. "Clear colours are important for us this year," explained manager Olivia Ma, whose company sells earrings with transparent gemstones at between US$380 and US$500 wholesale. "Customers are asking for fancy and unusual design concepts."

Clearly, the record 100,000-plus visitors who attended this year's BaselWorld - a healthy 8% increase on last year's figures - were spoiled for choice.

This was equally clearly reflected in the order books of 2,100 exhibitors from 45 nations who exhibited their international exclusive new ranges and luxury collections at Basel.

Hong Kong traders in particular reported an increase in orders, while some exhibitors made important new contacts with dealers in Russia, Brazil and the Middle East.

"I see new markets in Eastern Europe, mainly Russia, having very high potential," said HKWMA president Leung, adding that success in these new markets requires following European design trends.

However, the real progress in sales at BaselWorld 2007 was in the luxury segment, where Swiss watch manufacturer Hublot sold a handful of its US$1m watch festooned with many different jewels, while customers lodged orders for later delivery.

Watches in the medium segment also saw higher demand than last year too, according to Zenith Int'l communications manager Alberto Colangelo, who claimed the show was a great success. "We have recorded double-digit growth compared with last year," he said.

Many other companies also reported expectations of double-digit growth this year, mainly because of higher local demand in most European countries.

For example, Swiss watch value exports in 2006 reached US$11.4bn, a 10.9% net increase of more than US$1.08bn compared with 2005.

Observers expected 2007 to follow the same trend, though at a slightly lower rate, with Germany in particular predicted to reverse the poor domestic demand of recent years.

However, watch and jewellery suppliers will have to be aware of increasing consumer consciousness of social issues such as the origin of the diamonds liberally used in both watches and jewellery.

As a result, companies like Sacar and Times are beginning to offer Kimberly Process guarantees which certify that diamonds are not used to finance wars.

Others are offering certificates issued by the Gemological Institute of America, while an industry-wide discussion about certificates of origin for gemstones is also beginning. "The International Coloured Gemstone Association occupies a very strong position in this area," said the new president Andrew Cody.

The World Jewellery Confederation president Gaetano Cavalieri stressed that "discussion on consumer confidence is linked to the debate on fair business practices in our sector."

Fair business practices, sustainable development in terms of the environment, the battle against counterfeit goods and efforts to inform customers are, in his opinion, the most significant issues.

Wide-ranging industry developments and discussions such as these serve to underscore the importance of BaselWorld, and the Swiss organisers are investing heavily over the next few years to ensure the fair's continuing success.

A beginning was made this year with BaselWorld Village, located in Basel's city centre, allowing visitors, exhibitors and journalists to meet and enjoy the relaxed but elegant surroundings.

By 2012, the US$291m invested in the infrastructure will see Hall 1 expanded with an extra floor, while Hall 3 will be completely replaced.

Hall 6, the traditional venue for most Hong Kong exhibitors, will be demolished - although nobody seems to bemoan the loss of this traditional residence. "The new hall will be more suitable - this is very good news for us," concluded the HKWMA's Leung.

BIGGEST AND BEST

Hong Kong watch and jewellery manufacturers hit BaselWorld 2007 en masse, once again hosting the largest pavilion at the leading Swiss trade fair.

The Hong Kong pavilion organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (TDC) consisted of 326 companies that sprawled over 6,500 square metres.

Hong Kong's 166 jewellery companies, 132 suppliers of watches and clocks, 13 watch parts suppliers and 15 packaging companies were a major lure for the 101,700 high-profile buyers from 100 countries who attended this year's fair.

Overall, the Hong Kong delegation was happy with orders concluded at the show, with most watch companies reporting better business than the previous year due to good visitor traffic and positive buying sentiment.

In general, they said, buyers were looking for quality, design-driven products and were pleased with the variety on display. "Good designs mean good business," observed TDC's director for Germany Winchell Cheung.

"New contacts with dealers from Russia, Brazil and the Middle East were especially encouraging and proved that Basel is still the most important show for Hong Kong's watch and jewellery sectors."

NGA Co Ltd managing director Tse Wai Hang agreed, noting that the pedestrian flow was satisfactory this year, despite fewer buyers from the US.

"Business was up by 20% for the first three days compared with last year," he noted. "Buyers were looking for special and uniquely-designed products."

Kultajousi of Helsinki, Finland, product manager Susanna Soini was one satisfied customer. "I have been working with Hong Kong for 15 years," she revealed, adding that she loved the ease of doing business, the designs and the flexibility - apart from the good price. "Fashion watches are now really popular in Finland, so I am stocking up here at Basel."

Responding to changing demands was Angie Wong of Fat Tat Lee Watch Co, which was exhibiting at Basel for the first time. "The buyers were amazed by the new functions of our Smart Watch, which was designed and developed in-house," she explained. "We will participate at Basel next year and definitely bring some new designs for buyers."

This year's pavilion was the 21st organised by the TDC at Basel and clearly confirmed BaselWorld's continuing importance as a major forum for Hong Kong's watch and clock and jewellery industries.

TEXT BY PIA GRUND-LUDWIG