Gold is bold, but ice is twice as nice

Updated: 2013-11-17 07:13

By Xu Junqian (China Daily)

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Diamonds are set to sparkle in the Chinese designer jewelry market with an upsurge of interest in every girl's best friend, Xu Junqian writes in Shanghai.

If world-leading mining company Rio Tinto has its way, diamonds will not merely be the epitome of eternal, exclusive and everlasting love.

For the past few decades, the brilliant, sparkling, mainly white stones have supplanted the traditionally most favored gold among Chinese brides. Diamonds have become the very testament of love, thanks to the preaching of foreign companies like Tiffany, Cartier and the pioneer De Beers.

In 1993, the Luxembourg-based company De Beers debuted its translated advertising slogan, "A diamond is forever", on Chinese TV. Like a curse, the line has created such an upsurge in the demand for diamonds that a successful proposal cannot be secured without a diamond ring.

Gold is bold, but ice is twice as nice

 Gold is bold, but ice is twice as nice

Rio Tinto's Diamond Fashion Jewelry series features necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings studded with small-sized diamonds shaped into patterns of butterflies, ballet girls and auspicious Chinese characters. Photos provided to China Daily

 Gold is bold, but ice is twice as nice

Asian designers, including (from left to right) Aya Kamimura, Huang Chaoyan, Liu Fei, Tong Wenwei and Zhong Hua are invited to collaborate on Rio Tinto's Diamond Fashion Jewely collection.

But now, British-Australian metals and mining corporation Rio Tinto is trying to set a new trend in one of the world's largest jewelry markets by introducing what it calls "Diamond Fashion Jewelry".

"First, it's an accessory. Then there is the element of design. And it's priced between $300 to $1,000, meaning one can have many of them, instead of just one," explains Jean-Marc Lieberherr, the global managing director of Rio Tinto Diamonds, in an interview with China Daily in Shanghai to launch the concept.

In collaboration with five talented Asian designers, including Liu Fei, the first Chinese winner of the British Goldsmith Jewelry Design and Craftsmanship Award, a collection of four styles - Symbolism, Enchanted Nature, Romance Inspired and Play Pattern - is being introduced to "identify the design directions for diamond fashion jewelry" in China. Other designers of the collection are Aya Kamimura, Huang Chaoyan, Tong Wenwei and Zhong Hua.

Using stones from the Rio Tinto-owned Argyle diamond mine, the collection features necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings studded with small-sized diamonds designed into patterns of butterflies, ballet girls and auspicious Chinese characters.

"It's known to all that the Chinese market is growing rapidly," Lieberherr says. "There are tens of millions of new households expanding the middle-class segment. They aspire to diamonds, fashion and jewelry, but the supply remains rather stable, mainly for the bridal market."

Liu, the designer, called the mainstream Chinese diamond market a "conservative one", which is rather "dull" for a designer, while small diamonds allow more room to unleash the creative power of designers.

The latest figures from the Hong Kong Trade Development Council show that more than half of the jewelry purchases on the Chinese mainland resulted from weddings. In 2012, the annual sales of China's gold jewelry hit 400 billion yuan ($65.6 billion).

Yet, it is believed that an equally large, if not larger, market for the independent, sophisticated and usually single urban woman remains untapped. The company estimates that by 2020 the market for diamond fashion jewelry will reach 36 billion yuan.

"Affordable and fashion-driven diamond jewelry is already a popular trend, but the number of products available on the market remains limited," says Jing Jing, executive publisher and editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar Jewelry.

"Chinese women are very quick and talented in embracing new trends. A decade ago, the market consisted mostly of 24k yellow gold, while today 18k and white and rose gold are everywhere. The trend of diamond fashion jewelry is set to develop in the same way," she says.

The idea of fashion jewelry, or say, "affordable luxury jewelry", as it is generally marketed, is nothing new in China.

The Austrian precision-cut crystal producer Swarovski has won the hearts and purses of millions of Chinese women with its motto "a diamond for everyone", since it came to the country two decades ago.

Early in November, the company brought its Runway Rocks collection to Shanghai for the first time, by collaborating with the newly opened Lane Crawford department store.

Gold is bold, but ice is twice as nice

A trailblazing collection of the brand, it gathers works from the world's top designers to push the boundaries of fashion jewelry design. In Shanghai this year, a total of nine Asian designers, including Guo Pei, Zhang Huishan and Masha Ma, were invited for the project.

But the advantage of diamonds against the lower-priced yet similarly sparkling crystals, as Lieberherr believes, is "diamonds (are more valuable)".

"The diamond is the thing. It's unique. It shines like nothing else, with a very special luster that is unbeatable," as he puts it. Or as Marilyn Monroe sang: "men grow cold as girls grow old ... diamonds are a girl's best friend".

Contact the writer at xujunqian@chinadaily.com.cn.

(China Daily 11/17/2013 page13)