By  on July 2, 2007

HONG KONG — Asia's biggest midyear jewelry fair marked its 20th anniversary by setting records in both number of exhibitors and exhibiting space.

The Hong Kong Jewellery & Watch Fair was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre June 22 to 25 and drew more than 1,160 exhibiting companies from 31 countries and regions, filling exhibiting space of more than 350,000 square feet. More than 17,000 buyers attended the four-day event.

Celine Lau, director of jewelry fairs for event organizer CMP Asia, said she expects the fair to continue to grow. "As the product life cycle is getting shorter, international buyers have to source goods more often than before," she said.

The fair highlights fine finished jewelry as well as loose stones, jadeite and the region's most comprehensive pearl selection. Still, diamonds were the focus this year as Belgium's Prince Philip and his wife, Princess Mathilde, made an appearance at the fair to promote diamonds from Antwerp. (In 2006, Belgium's exports of polished diamonds to Hong Kong reached $1.52 billion, making the territory Belgium's biggest market for diamonds after the U.S.)

Royalty aside, the fair had a few new attractions, including a pavilion for packaging and technology and another dedicated to silver jewelry, where exhibitors including Hong Kong's Superstar Jewellery Co. expressed satisfaction with the new arrangements. "It's really good for our customers — it makes it easy to see everything together," said Superstar representative Yen Ma.

Less pleased were the 530 exhibitors of Asia's Fashion Jewellery & Accessories Fair, which runs concurrent with the HKJW, but can no longer fit into the same venue. The show takes place in the relatively new, and relatively far away, Asia World-Expo. Although free shuttle buses and express trains ran between the two events, the number of buyers making the commute was disappointing to exhibitors.

"It's not ideal to be out here," said George Nussdorfer, vice president of operations, Greater China, for Swarovski, "The traffic isn't ideal, but it's targeted. Of course, a bigger audience could cause a whirlwind effect — and the products deserve to be seen," he said.

Nussdorfer had a point; Swarovski splashed out to introduce its Crystallized: Swarovski Elements brand to retailers as a marketing tool. "It allows us to reach the end consumer and make an impact, to help the consumer understand what the Swarovksi name means," said Nussdorfer. The booth featured a display of vintage Swarovski-laden fashions, accessories and jewelry by the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, Isabelle de Millery and numerous Asian design teams.China was the focus country of the Fashion Jewelry Fair, but Chinese manufacturers spent more time reassuring buyers than participating in the promotional fashion parades. The Chinese contingent was acutely aware that recent health scares — from tainted pet food and poisoned pharmaceuticals to lead paint on children's toys — had buyers anxious. Signs advertising the use of safe materials were rife.

"Everything is lead-free and nickel-free," said Gloria Xu of Lamanda Jewelry in Guangzhou when asked about the materials used for the company's trendy youth-oriented jewelry. Xu said that North American buyers were concerned, and were also changing what they were looking for. "Accessories were big in the last couple of years and buyers overstocked. Customers had too much inventory. Now they are going back to simple, classic designs," said Xu.

Simplicity was indeed an important trend to emerge from the two fairs, but others were clear too. Most notably, black is back, especially when paired with gold. Natural materials and earth and sea tones are very popular, too, and asymmetry is in — from overall design to the cut of individual stones, crystals and beads.

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