Jade has not lost its colour in the face of exorbitant rent levels in Hong Kong, as mainland Chinese buyers continue to shore up the retail industry in the city-state.
At Chow Tai Fook, one of Hong Kong’s biggest jewellers, sales volume of jade has been increasing steadily over the past few years, during which the Chinese (including those in Hong Kong) continue to be the largest group of jade customers, according to the spokesperson of the Hong Kong-based company.
This “ongoing demand” fuelled by affluent mainland buyers has enabled jade businesses to “reach a new peak”, said Marix Yuen, owner of the Hang Kwong Jewellery.
“Mainland demand has outstripped Hong Kong demand by a large extent”.
While some from the mainland make purchases for themselves, many other see jade products as a perfect gift for their relatives, friends and potential patrons, said Yuen, as guanxi (connections) continues to grease the wheels of Chinese society.
Jade and precious stones feature highly in Hong Kong-Myanmar trade. The category alone accounted for 9 percent of Hong Kong’s imports from Myanmar in 2013, according to the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department. Many ethnic Chinese believe jade brings them health, fortune and longevity.
China’s recent anti-corruption campaign does not appear to alter the calculus of the industry. The majority of products, including jade, are mass jewellery products with average selling prices at HK$2,000-HK$100,000 ($260- $12,900), and customers buy them for “real needs”, such as gift-giving and self-rewarding, said Chow Tai Fook’s spokesperson.
However, this ever-growing demand has been countered by tightening supply, caused by strict export controls on the part of Myanmar. Myanmar produces most of the jade on the world market.
“Now we have the Gems Emporium in Myanmar once a year. It used to be much more frequent. The entrance fee of the emporium has also risen significantly, from €10,000 to €50,000,” said Yuen.
Yuen attributes jade’s tight supply to “politics”, implying Myanmar’s distancing itself from China has taken a toll on the jade industry.
The jade industry, however, remains optimistic. Most jade retailers expect sustained demand from mainland buyers to boost the growth of the industry despite supply-side constraints and greater competition from China.
As an entrepot, Hong Kong has long been a regional trade centre for jade end products. To date, the majority of Hong Kong jade retailers procure finished jade products which have undergone processing in China.
Since the 1990s, Hong Kong has also started specialising in jadeite testing and certification services, carried out by the Hong Kong Jade and Stones Laboratory, to address the needs for authenticating jade products.