Hubert Burda Media

Jewels of the Orient

The time is ripe for Asian haute joaillerie marques to shine, Chow Tai Fook's Managing Director WONG SIU KEE says

Jewels of the Orient

With 2,000 outlets in over 470 cities in Hong Kong and mainland China, it is clear that Chow Tai Fook is the undisputed jewellery leader in the region. Specialising in fine gold jewellery and increasingly, diamond and gem-set pieces (this year marked double-digit growth for this range), the brand is now looking to conquer a new horizon: High jewellery.
Since 2011, four such collections have been unveiled, with each new range sold exclusively at the jeweller's annual VVIP-invite-only auction gala. This year, the company marked its 85th anniversary with the release of Reflections of Siem — a magnificent collection inspired by the ancient Khmer empire. Previews were held in just six cities, including Singapore (which has two outlets at ION Orchard and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands), ahead of the collection's October auction in Hong Kong.
Designed by Adrian Cheng, the brand's executive director and grandson of chairman Dato' Dr Cheng Yu-Tung, the collection comprised 13 sets each with a different story to tell of Cambodia's scenic beauty and former imperial dynasty.
A highlight was the Flamingo Rouge necklace that fused the brand's iconic bird motif with the geometric forms of the Angkor Wat. It showed off a 36.69-ct central pear-shaped tourmaline connected to wings of red tourmalines and white diamonds, set in a mix-and-match style akin to how temple bricks were once laid.
Another covet-worthy piece was the Halcyon necklace-and-ring set with aquamarines, lapis lazuli, tourmalines and blue sapphires mounted to imitate the floating villages of Lake Tonlé Sap. And who could forget the Zephyr earrings that reinterpreted the flaming Cambodian sunset into a cascading inferno of pink diamonds, pearls and red tourmalines?
Similar story-driven collections were Yun Yi (2011) influenced by China's Qing dynasty, Danseuse de Ballet (2012) that took its cue from French ballet history and last year's Ombre di Milano inspired by regal Milanese architecture.
So what prompted the move to high jewellery? Wong Siu Kee, managing director since 2011, fills Prestige in.
Why was Cambodia chosen as the inspiration for the latest high jewellery collection?
Cambodia is rich in history, nature and spirituality, which we felt could spearhead many stories for the new line. Who doesn't love ancient kingdoms, sweeping landscapes or the quietly romantic appeal of temple ruins?
Chow Tai Fook is the brand de rigeur in mass luxury jewellery, especially for consumers in China. Why venture into high jewellery?
Due to the rapid growth of ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) individuals in the region. In China alone, we have 1.3 million UHNW clients whose spending power make up 30 percent of our monthly revenue. They are also educated, highly discerning and want something unique. We'll meet this need with one-of-a-kind high jewellery.
Your auctions are sold-out affairs. What keeps customers coming back each year?
We offer new pieces annually and top-notch service with an “invisible value”. This is a 360-degree experience for the client, which does not centre solely on jewellery shopping, but an entire lifestyle where we organise private art, wine-tasting and networking events for them to enjoy.
How does the brand hold its own against established high jewellery players?
To foster loyalty and trust, a special sales management team visits all our stores to meet with customers and understand their needs. And it's really all about instant communication today so we use social media (WeChat and Facebook) and are currently Tmall's (formerly known as Taobao) bestselling e-commerce platform for jewellery.
The brand also operates on a vertical integration model where all jewellery is produced in-house — allowing us to filter down instructions quickly in the production process to capture fast-changing market demands. Finally, we invest in research too. For one, we have technologies that enhance the hardness of gold.
The brand has a traditionally Asian base. but what appeal do the collections have for the Western market?
A mix of Eastern and Western craft techniques and gems. In the new range, several kinds of jade popular with the Chinese were paired with white diamonds for a modern Western feel. We also used many tourmalines — a popular stone in the West — designed in a signature Western cabochon cut.
With 2,000 stores, of which 37 percent are franchisees, how does Chow Tai Fook maintain consistency?
We regularly send “mystery shoppers” into our franchised outlets to check on the quality of service and products. Also, every store, franchised or not, uses the same computer system so that headquarters may monitor sales performances, and adopts the same marketing campaigns.
Any expansion plans for the brand?
In the mid-term, we will continue investing in China as it remains one of the world's fastest growing jewellery markets. My dream is to open another 2,000 stores there in the next 10 years. In the long-term, we are targeting Southeast Asia, such as Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.