1 March 2000
SINGULAR DESIGNS(HKTDC Jewellery, Vol 01,2000)
Rita T Gioiello
A LOVE of jewellery as a child was what led Rita Tsang to start her own business custom-designing jewellery. "I saw my mother's jewellery and jewellery in shops, and I said to myself, 'Maybe one day I can make something like that'," Tsang says.
Her company, Rita T Gioiello (gioiello is the Italian word for jewellery), creates designs for jadeite jewellery and European-style gemset jewellery. "My design style is quite simple," she says, adding that she favours more traditional designs for jadeite jewellery but more contemporary styles for other pieces.
"My designs for jadeite jewellery are not quite as ornate as the most traditional styles. I like to have a touch of variation." Her signature style for jadeite jewellery combines diamonds with an 18K white gold setting. "The white and green colours go very well together," she says.
For European-style jewellery, she often uses single stones such as sapphires and rubies, sometimes South Sea pearls, and occasionally semiprecious stones such as topaz. Retail prices for her pieces range from US$258 to US$5,151.
The difference between Asian and Western tastes tends to centre on the stones. "Asians like larger stones than Westerners. In the West, the design is more important than the size of the stone."
Tsang views the design process as a collaborative one with clients, who come from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and the US. "With custom-made jewellery, you need to establish a relationship with the customer."
Buyers of custom-made jewellery tend to have different tastes than others. "People who want ready-made jewellery will just go to a shop and buy something. But those who buy one-of-a-kind pieces want something that is a little bit different." Her customers sometimes bring her heirlooms that they want re-designed or loose stones around which they want to build a piece of jewellery.
For inspiration, she draws upon a variety of design styles -- Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and even the clean lines of Scandinavian furniture. Each piece takes 1-2 weeks to produce. "Sometimes I get an idea very fast, sometimes it takes time. Sometimes you just sit there, and if you go to the park you think of it," she explains.
Tsang favours pendants and brooches because their surface area allows for more creative designs. She also feels these pieces get noticed first.
Rita T Gioiello was established in 1995 as a one-person operation. Tsang earned her credentials in gemmology and completed courses in jewellery design at a local university. Instead of hiring craftsmen, she subcontracts production of the 10-15 pieces she creates monthly to a local workshop. In 1997, she was joined by an investor-partner who stayed with the business for about two years.
"My partner was more interested in mass-market production and I wanted to do custom-made pieces, so there was a discrepancy in the directions we wanted to go in," she says.
Back on her own, Tsang's business has grown mostly through word-of-mouth. Women over 35 make up her main clientele. While she now deals with each customer on a one-to-one basis, she says she is open to the possibility of working with wholesalers or retailers.
She plans to focus more on sales in Southeast Asia. In terms of expansion, she is considering hiring one or two designers and perhaps opening her own workshop in the next few years. "But before I do that I want to build up my base first," she says.
Jace Group Ltd
IN the short time since it was founded, in August 1998, Jace Group Ltd has established itself as a jewellery exporter to be reckoned with. The company started by designing and subcontracting production of its 18K gold gemset jewellery. But by March 1999, it had opened a factory in Guangdong, mainland China, and expanded its range of products to include rhodium-plated sterling silver jewellery and gold-plated jewellery.
Today, the firm's 500 workers produce 50,000 pieces per month of 8-18K gold gemset jewellery, priced at US$20-2,000 FOB Hong Kong per piece, and 70,000 pieces of sterling silver and gold-plated jewellery, priced at US$3-15 per piece.
Known for contemporary European styling, Jace's gold jewellery is set with diamonds, precious or semiprecious stones from 25-80 points in size.
The company manufactures both plain sterling silver jewellery and silver jewellery set with cubic zirconia, synthetic sapphire or spinel, or natural semiprecious stones such as blue topaz, garnet and citrine.
Its gold-plated line is plated with 3-5 microns of 18K gold and set with the same types of stones as the sterling silver pieces. "We want to concentrate on the more commercial ranges. Our target customers are chain stores, catalogue houses and department stores," says Andrew Lau, manager and one of the four co-founders of the company.
Rings are the best sellers by far, accounting for 60-70% of total sales. Pendants are next with 20-30%, followed by necklaces and bracelets at 10-20%.
Most of the time, customers buy the company's own lines of finished products -- its three designers come up with 500 designs per month. But the firm is willing to produce according to customers' specifications. "It all depends on what the customer wants. We show them our merchandise, but maybe they have their own ideas. Even if they give us specifications, we still send them our design for their approval," Lau says.
So far, the company has focused its export efforts on Europe, mainly France and Germany. The US could be another potential market. "At the moment, we are studying the US market. We go to trade fairs there to show our merchandise. We have no plans to expand there yet, but that is our next step," Lau says.
What the company does plan to do this year is introduce its own brand on certain sterling silver and gold-plated jewellery items. "This will be a separate line. We want to create an image for our company to show customers that even when we make something for US$3-4, they can still see the quality."
Lau says quality and workmanship are as important for the sterling silver and gold-plated jewellery lines as they are for 18K gold. "We demand high-quality work. After casting and stone-setting, if other companies see some porosity they may let it go, but we do not. We care a lot," he says.
Lau and Elizabeth Chow, the company's managing director, both have backgrounds in jewellery sales. Of the two other co-founders, one is based in France and the other manages the factory in mainland China.
The company turned a profit in its first year and expects production to increase by 30% this year. "Our target for the karat gold division is to increase by 20%, from 50,000 now to 60,000-70,000 pieces per month. In the sterling silver and gold-plated division, our target volume is 100,000 pieces per month, up from 70,000 pieces now," Lau predicts.
Minimum order is 24 pieces per design for karat gold jewellery, and 100 pieces and up for the silver and gold-plated lines. Delivery takes 4-6 weeks after order confirmation.
Looking towards the future, Lau hopes his company will grow to become one of Hong Kong's biggest jewellery manufacturers. "But we don't want to be just big. We want to have a good reputation. When people mention our name, we want them to think of our good design, workmanship and service," he says.
WRITTEN BY ANDREA PAWLYNA
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