3 Sept 2007
Man-Made Marvels(HKTDC Jewellery, Vol 02,2007)
|Wing Wo Hing Jewelry Group Ltd specialises in pearls of all shapes, sizes and shades|
Everywhere there is nothing but bulging transparent bags of pearls that come in all sizes, shapes and colours - from white, pink and purple to russet.
The Wing Wo Hing Jewelry Group Ltd showroom contains an enormous variety of pearls covering the eight basic shapes - round, semi-round, button, drop, pear, oval, baroque and circled.
Co-founder and managing director Lily Lam explains that perfectly round pearls are the rarest and most valuable shape. "Semi-rounds are also used in necklaces or in pieces where the shape of the pearl can be disguised to look like it is a perfectly round pearl," she says.
"Button pearls are like a slightly flattened round pearl and can also make a necklace, but are more often used in single pendants or earrings where the back half of the pearl is covered, making it look like a larger, round pearl."
The pearls are cultivated in pearl "farms" in Suzhou and Zhejiang Province on the Chinese mainland, where the host oysters are fed grains of sand or other minute foreign objects that irritate the bivalve mollusc inside.
The sand slowly forms into pearls that grow bigger the longer they are left submerged - though 3-5 years is the norm - and are inspected daily to ensure that the water has sufficient nutrients to maintain the pearls' growth.
The mammoth operation is a fitting tribute to the far-sightedness of a company that was founded in 1981 and today has a factory in Nanhai, south of Guangzhou on the Chinese mainland that covers some 240,000 square feet and can produce up to 500,000 pieces of pearl jewellery a month.
Not even the shell goes to waste: neatly trimmed to the required shape, the most lustrous examples of mother-of-pearl are turned into decorative necklaces, bracelets and brooches.
Almost every completed set of necklace, bracelet, earrings, ring and brooch is assembled with chains and settings of 925 silver.
Not only are the pearls artificially created, but even the colour can be changed to order. "The customer has a choice of more than 100 different shades to match the latest fashion trends," Lam explains.
Wing Wo Hing now has more than 1,000 employees, and its main export markets include such key areas as the US, Europe, Japan and other Asian countries.
Lam serves as the company's eyes and ears, attending jewellery shows in Europe and the US but focusing most of her attention on the three annual jewellery exhibitions in Hong Kong.
"I am always alert for emerging trends in size, shape and colour," Lam says, "as we must react as fast as possible in order to catch the newest jewellery wave."
But what's hot in the US - currently a splash of vibrant colours set off by whites - isn't popular with European buyers, who lean to the traditional lustrous whites. "The US is the market with the biggest potential for growth," Lam maintains. "Americans have the money, and set the latest trends."
She believes that an important part of salesmanship is to be "a good listener", noting that retailers have direct contact with the customer.
"The comments they pick up, and the ideas they form, are always worth listening to in terms of design and future product development," Lam says.
She points out that the Internet has transformed today's business world into a 24-hour marketplace where a would-be customer can get quotations from half-a-dozen suppliers within minutes, and those slow to reply miss out on the order. "That's why we have salespeople on duty round the clock," Lam explains.
This commitment to customer service and satisfaction certainly pays off - Wing Wo Hing scooped competitors with an order for more than US$2m-worth of pearl and silver necklaces and bracelets for a big-time US customer in 2003.
"Since then, we have continued to go from strength to strength and are determined that Wing Wo Hing will remain the first choice for top-quality artificial pearls," Lam concludes.
TEXT BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
Wing Wo Hing Jewelry Group Ltd