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[Photo of HKCEC]The biggest trade fair in Hong Kong is, hands down, the Jewelry Fair.

The International Jewelry Show organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) is also widely accepted to be the largest industry fair in the world. The March 2010 leg covered virtually every inch of purpose-built exhibit space, plus hallways, of the 90,000-sqm Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center (HKCEC).

It was a fitting end to a quarter that began with the announcement in January that the HKCEC beat out Suntec Singapore and the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre in Haymarket's poll for Best Convention and Exhibition Center in the world.

Several records were set at the HKTDC Jewelry Show's 27th edition. The over 2,600 exhibitors representing 44 countries and regions not only posted a 12% increase from the 2009 leg, they also set a new fair record. The record-breaking number is even more significant since fair bookings were made amid the widespread economic uncertainty throughout the world.

It was also a record for the Philippines that, for the first time, invested in a Philippine Pavilion. The Philippines ranks 27th among Hong Kong's major suppliers of fine jewelry, an improvement from it's 36th place ranking last year.

Asked to explain the massive turnout of suppliers and visitors at the Winter Jewelry Fair, Diamond Federation of Hong Kong president Lawrence Yung-Yi Ma says, “Even in a recession, ladies still buy jewelry. Maybe having a smaller budget, a different style to reflect a different consumer pattern, but they still buy.”

Ma also says that, unlike other trade shows that limit the extent of transactions that can be performed during the fair itself, at the Jewelry Show, “You see it, you pay, you can take it away immediately. So we even have Hong Kong consumers coming in, even if it's not intended for them. We do not differentiate from a shopper or an entrepreneur who has a store in Manila or Jakarta.”

That the Hong Kong Jewelry Show is posting record numbers isn't all that surprising given that the former colony is the world's fourth largest supplier of fine jewelry, just behind Italy, America, and India. That is why, despite Hong Kong being the biggest exporter of imitation jewelry in the world, the largest, continuing investments still pour into the precious jewelry sector.

The industry's favorable investment prospects are largely due to an expanding local market driven by tourist purchases. The Hong Kong Tourism Board reported in 2008 that overnight shoppers in Hong Kong spent around 14.5% of their total shopping money on jewelry, while visitors from the Chinese mainland spent 16.2%.

Although investments in value-added processes, including marketing, have been retained in Hong Kong, manufacturing continues to shift to the mainland province of Guangdong, particularly the city of Shenzhen and the Panyu District.

Aside from infusing capital into Guangdong factories, jewelry manufacturers are also investing in shortening the product development cycle through computer-aided design.

Investments still follow the market demand for pure gold and jade, of which Hong Kong is a top supplier. But, in recent years, the trading of pearls has notably increased.

Another bestseller: Diamonds. Set in white gold, 0.48-carat sets (colorless grade, not yellowish), for instance, cost less than US$500 at the March fair. That's easily a fourth of the price elsewhere in Asia. With prices like that, it's no wonder there was little elbow room left at the show.

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