1 Sept 2003
Fresh Appeal(HKTDC Jewellery, Vol 02,2003)
Diamonds In The Rough
Fook Yue Pearl Co Ltd
The US and Europe are major markets for Fook Yue Pearl Co Ltd, a significant manufacturer and wholesaler of medium- to high-end freshwater pearls
Man has long created an industry from the rich, iridescent residues of irritated molluscs, keeping pearls at the forefront of the jewellery industry.
But over the last 10 years, the affordability and highly successful farming of freshwater pearls have opened this market to a much larger and more diverse audience of pearl lovers.
Hong Kong company Fook Yue Pearl Co Ltd recognised the potential of this wider market 15 years ago when, as a family business, it established a freshwater pearl supply company sourcing from Zheijiang Province, one of the main centres of the Chinese mainland's freshwater pearl industry.
Today Fook Yue has become a significant manufacturer and wholesaler of medium- to high-end freshwater pearls with its own pearl farm and 30,000-square-metre processing factory in Zhejiang.
"We sell more than seven tons of freshwater pearls a year, not only from our own farm but also directly from others in the area as demand requires," says company director Tony Ho. "As we are familiar with Zhejiang, it was a natural choice to position our factory there."
The company has more than 100 skilled workers who sort, drill, process, grade, polish and string a wide variety of freshwater pearls in numerous shapes, sizes and colours.
"We specialise in medium- to high-end, round, semi-round and baroque shape pearls and sell a variety of colours," explains Ho. "Our price range is upwards of US$500 per kilo, but we've sold as high as US$10,000 for one precious freshwater piece."
Ho says that at the high end of the market there is a growing trend for special items, such as freshwater pearls in highly unusual shapes, colour and excellent lustre. "Because these are very rare, they can command much higher prices," he adds.
In the general market though, Fook Yue's most popular pearls are its 6mm-8mm rounds, although the company provides pearls of more than 14mm in diameter.
Even for these more regular items, pearl tastes vary from market to market. "Buyers from the US, which accounts for half our business, prefer our 7mm-8mm white, medium-lustre, round pearls," says Ho.
"In Europe, which is responsible for 30% of our sales, lustre is the top priority - Europeans are attracted to pink-toned pearls and are willing to pay a premium for lustre."
These markets, and Fook Yue's other customers in Asia, know that pearls are a classic jewellery item not subject to the whims of the fashion industry. "But even as a wholesaler, we are still affected by high-street demand and the impact of the global economy," says Ho.
"For the last few years the overall market for pearls has been generally slower but Fook Yue has enjoyed a very stable business environment."
Fook Yue has been sheltered from the economic downturn in part by a core of more than 50 long-term customers, many of whom have been with the company for more than 10 years. Now customers include wholesale dealers, television direct sales networks, brand suppliers and retailers.
"Our customers know they can depend on us for constant, stable supply, excellent quality and speedy delivery, usually within seven days for a minimum order of US$1,000," explains Ho.
He claims that Fook Yue's grading and quality control is highly reputable and that the company provides a wide variety of natural colours, shapes and sizes that some other manufacturers cannot offer.
"In addition, we have long-term experience in freshwater pearls from selecting the best materials to sorting, grading and polishing." says Ho. "We understand what our customers need and believe their success is our success. And, of course, our prices are very reasonable - a must in this industry."
But while business is stable, Ho says the company cannot afford to become complacent as competition is increasing, not only from Hong Kong suppliers but also their mainland counterparts.
"Chinese mainland companies were previously limited to pearl farming but they are now moving to market," notes Ho.
"However, Fook Yue's critical strength is our experience and knowledge of the business, our better supplies, our grading, our quality control and our service. After all, if you have a good pearl, you can always sell it."
WRITTEN BY SANDRA JENNER
Fook Yue Pearl Co Ltd
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