23 Feb 2004
Recreating Nature(HKTDC Jewellery, Vol 01,2004)
Prince of Pearls
Sanwa Pearl Trading Ltd
|Mabe pearls or synthetic stones produced by Sanwa Pearl Trading Ltd are available in different colours and sizes, adding flexibility to today's fashion trends|
Whether looking for mabe pearls or synthetic stones, "quality is the key to customer satisfaction", according to Sanwa Pearl Trading Ltd managing director Henry Fung.
"Pearls used to be more than half of our business but the growing popularity of our synthetic stones has shunted pearls to just 20% of our business today," explains Fung.
He attributes this shift in popularity partly to the drop in value of pearls and partly to the flexibility of coloured stones - whether real or created. "Today, consumers are keen to follow style and fashion, and synthetic stones are more adaptable to these trends," says Fung.
To counter fluctuations in customer demand, Sanwa offers a range of five to six key high-end items, including mabe pearls, shell mabe, and synthetic pearls, and two groups of coloured stones - created opals and created gems such as synthetic turquoise, lapis and dye-coloured coral.
"Synthetic and created gems have become very acceptable in the jewellery market as they are easy to match in size and colour and can be used for 14- and 18-carat gold settings and even silver," he says.
Sanwa's two factories on the southern Chinese mainland employ some 300 staff to produce a wide range of cuts and colours. The rough stones are created from natural stone components treated under high temperature and pressure with a special non-resin, non-plastic bonding agent and then dyed to create turquoise and coral in a variety of colours.
"Created stones are resistant to high temperatures and therefore very suitable for jewellery designs in gold or rhodium-plated metal," says Fung.
As the strong demand for natural coral and turquoise has outstripped nature's limited supply, more jewellery manufacturers are considering created stones as alternatives. "Last year turquoise and coral colours were very popular, but for 2004 the demand is for much stronger tones, such as dark blue turquoise, bright orange coral, lemon and green coral and classic black and white," Fung adds.
Sanwa processes Japanese and Australian material into mabe pearl, with 12-15mm sizes and US$8-15 per piece FOB Hong Kong the most popular size and price range. "They are ideal for earrings, pendants, rings and brooches," Fung observes.
The company also processes high quality shell pearl in Japan, resulting in creations that are "most suitable" for the top end of the shell pearl market. However, created opals sourced from Japan are the firm's most popular stone. Due to their construction, these are available in highly coloured hues and easily matching colours and shapes.
"We began exporting synthetic and imitation opals, especially rough stones, to the US in 1995 as it was particularly popular as inlay in American Indian jewellery," says Fung.
Today, Sanwa exports more cut cabochons and beads to the US and other markets as imitation opals have been well accepted in the jewellery and accessories market. "We also hope for a huge market for this stone on the mainland in the near future."
Sanwa's major market remains the US, with some 50% of its business, followed by Europe with 40%. "Altogether, we have some 1,000 customers, a number of whom have been with us for years," says Fung.
"Our business is particularly suitable for Europe where we largely supply jewellery designers looking for quality, special cuts, while our US customers like simpler, less expensive items but in much larger quantities."
Whatever the market, Sanwa sees stable business ahead. "What is real and what is not real is not so important to customers anymore, and this sentiment is likely to increase with the growing popularity of TV shopping channels and Internet selling," Fung believes.
"The weak point of natural stones is that you have no control over their shape and colour, making matching and pairing difficult, but you don't have that problem with created stones."
WRITTEN BY SANDRA JENNER
Sanwa Pearl Trading Ltd
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