By Cynthia Unninayar
When the September Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair opened at the AsiaWorld-Expo (AWE) on September 12, showcasing loose gems, pearls, and diamonds, sentiment was cautiously positive. Three days later, all that changed.
The show’s 36th edition boasted a record number of exhibitors at 3730, but a shortened show thanks to the arrival of super-typhoon Mangkhut, the most severe storm to hit the region in recorded history.
Although scheduled for five days, the event ground to a painful halt early on September 15, after only three, as the impending typhoon bore down on Hong Kong. Fearing the worst, exhibitors packed up early, while many visitors scrambled to find flights to leave the city before the storm hit full force on September 16.
The morning of September 16, the Hong Kong Observatory raised the storm signal to T10, the highest level, and the city and airport shut down. Normally bustling with activity and crowded streets, Hong Kong was completely empty as severe winds up to 223 km/h (138 mi/h) and heavy rainfall battered the area, causing severe damage.
The jewellery section of the fair had opened at the Hong Kong Convention and Exposition Centre (HKCEC) just two days earlier, on Friday, September 14. By Sunday, though, traffic had slowed as visitors rushed to change flights and get out of the area. The day after the storm, the HKCEC show reopened for the remaining two days, but to a noticeably smaller number of visitors.
While the foot traffic may have been less than hoped for at AWE, there was no dearth of beautiful products at the venue’s 1600 booths. Just about everything could be found, including inexpensive beads and carved stones, million-dollar diamonds and rare coloured gems, accessible freshwater pearls and high-value South Sea pearls, and everything in between.
While all types of gemstones were in abundance, Paraiba tourmaline continued its upward trend, with many booths showcasing both Brazilian and African varieties. Emeralds also seemed to be in the spotlight, as did their pink cousins, morganite. Several dealers indicated many buyers were looking for high-quality small stones of all types.
Over at the HKCEC on September 14, traffic was brisk in the antique jewellery section, but a bit slow elsewhere. Given the vast nature and universality of the show, jewellery was seen in every colour and style. In keeping with current trends, there were many examples of multi-finger rings, as well as earrings ranging from simple studs to sumptuous stilettos. Rainbow-coloured jewels were apparent at many booths, while statement necklaces also attracted attention.
The ‘Designer Area’ featured many creative artisans from around Asia and the world, although it was somewhat lost behind the ‘International Premier Pavilion’ (IPP). The designers’ section attracted a steady stream of onlookers, with a wide variety of pieces on display, from flamboyant bejewelled vests and headgear to high-end, award-winning gemstone and diamond pieces. The IPP, with its premium brands, was much quieter, and the adjoining ‘Fine Design Pavilion’ in the Grand Hall seemed to fare hardly better.
It was also noticeable that some brands from previous years were not exhibiting. Downstairs at the large Hong Kong pavilions, traffic was a bit stronger, although one local brand lamented only a few regular clients showed up, and no new contacts were made. Worry about the typhoon clearly impacted visitor numbers.
An atmosphere of worry seemed to be fairly widespread, not just at this show, but also at others over the last few seasons. It will be interesting to see what happens in the New Year.
A 25-year veteran of the jewellery and watch industry, Cynthia Unninayar travels the world reporting on the latest trends, promising new designers, global brands, and market conditions. Her interviews with some of the industry’s top players offer insight into what’s new and what’s happening on the global jewellery stage. Unninayar can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.