Jewelry; China’s High-End Consumers Dare to be Different

China’s jewelry consumption isn’t growing at the breakneck speed of years past, but evolving tastes among high-end consumers still present opportunities for both established and emerging players.

As the Hong Kong International Diamond, Gem and Pearl Show kicks off this week, we take a closer look at the market. Jewelry consumption in China has experienced significant growth over the past decade, with this period also representing a major evolution in consumer tastes and a shift in purchasing methodology.

Traditionally, Chinese jewelry consumers have been considered, well, rather traditional. Known for their love of gold – World Gold Council research shows that 82 per cent of Chinese agree that ‘gold jewelry is as much an investment as a fashion statement’ – with traditionally “Chinese” motifs and materials, such as jade, also playing a major part in traditional consumption patterns.

More recently, diamond consumption has also increased, with research from De Beers showing China’s market share in the global diamond trade increased from 3 percent in 2004 to 16 percent in 2014.

Beyond gold and diamonds, however, is a newer appetite for colored gemstones and a wider variety of materials and styles. According to Chaoqiu He, founder of Qiu Fine Jewelry, this represents “quite a noticeable change happening in China”.

“The jewelry trend is for more gemstones, especially sapphire, emerald and ruby,” she said. “It’s still niche market, but more valuable clients are coming out.”

Looking ahead, industry experts point to online sales as a potential bright spot for the jewelry market in China. Hong Kong players such as Chow Tai Fook and Chow Sang Sang now sell online via Tmall.com, and both Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels launching China e-commerce sites in 2015, but online sales of jewelry still account for only 5 percent of the industry total. This number is expected to rise in the future, particularly in lower tier cities where consumers don’t have access to the same variety of brands available in first tier cities.

Consumer Insights

This article was compiled with the assistance of a range of wealthy Chinese consumers from major cities in Greater China with an annual income above USD 250,000 who were interviewed about their jewelry consumption habits, tastes and future plans.

MONEY MATTERS

Luxury

According to data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, gold, silver and jewelry sales were flat in 2016, with a combined absolute value of around RMB 300 billion, this represents slowing growth when compared with a 7.3 percent year-on-year growth rate for the category between 2014 and 2015.

Most of the wealthy consumers we interviewed for this piece, however, are showing no signs of slowing their jewelry spending in 2017, with more than three quarters planning to spend the same or more than in previous years.

One-third of the respondents are prepared to spend RMB 1 million or more for a special item of jewelry as an “investment”.

Desire to be Different

A sense of difference, of having something unique, is becoming increasingly important to luxury consumers in general, including high-end jewelry purchases. Among the wealthy Chinese consumers we interviewed, uniqueness was overwhelmingly the quality they were seeking when buying high-end jewelry.

In terms of materials, most respondents cited a variety of stones among their favorites, with pearl, emerald, ruby, sapphire and diamonds proving particularly popular.

Of the brands cited by respondents, Cartier, particularly their classic collections remained an enduring favorite, and the brand is working hard to cement its popularity with the next generation. According to data from search engine Baidu, Cartier was the most searched-for prestige brand among Chinese millennials in the first six months of 2016, thanks in large part to the brand’s partnership with key opinion leader Lu Han.

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