Under efforts to keep recovery on track, suppliers of necklaces and chokers in China are widening product range and improving quality.
In the past several months, shipments have been rebounding slowly. Exports in July 2009, particularly, rose 24 and 11 percent year-on-year by volume and value. While figures for the subsequent months did not exhibit growth compared with the same period in 2008, the rate of decline has been weakening.
As a result of lowering the MOQ per style and designating a separate minimum number of models per transaction, buyers are looking for more variation in the selection. In addition, the quantity of samples being prepared every month has surged. Some exporters reported that from 1,000 prototypes, they now need to create several thousands.
To cope with increased demand, companies are beefing up their R&D teams. At least one designer and two sample makers are being added. Frequently, skilled workers are pulled from the assembly line to join the product development department.
The move has also resulted in shorter sampling time, which is now between one and three days from an average of seven.
Subscriptions to international magazines and visits to key markets are being continued as well, to help the R&D specialists come up with on-trend styles. Temgo Group Co. Ltd sends its designers to Italy, Germany, France and the UK.
Although these efforts have driven up costs, many suppliers indicate that the constant release of models boosted revenue to a level that covers the rise in expenses sufficiently.
Moreover, makers are improving testing capability to ensure the safety of their products.
Checking for heavy metal and phthalate content is currently being done mainly by third-party institutes. Most factories, however, now perform preliminary detection of lead and nickel by applying certain chemicals to incoming materials and output. Those that do not react are deemed uncontaminated but are still sent to independent laboratories for further inspection.
A few companies are also setting up their own QC workshops. Absorption spectrophotometers are one of the types of equipment in these facilities. The machines identify the presence of harmful elements by beaming light through a sample and measuring the color and intensity of the ray. Devices for examining physical properties such as tensile strength are also used.
To help recoup their investment, these businesses offer testing services to other exporters. For example, each piece checked by an absorption spectrophotometer is charged $5.
Further, a number of large enterprises are developing their own materials that are safe enough to meet international standards. For example, Neoglory, one of the top fashion jewelry manufacturers in China, teamed up with the Kunming University of Science and Technology to create a kind of zinc alloy. The levels of harmful substances in the metal are lower than foreign regulations. The supplier is already applying for three patents for this innovation.
|Products & prices|
China-made necklaces and chokers come mostly in metal or plastic.
Currently, vivid colors such as yellow, orange, violet, pink and turquoise are popular. Tassels and ring-shaped charms are trends as well.
In terms of structure, long simple chains with a cluster of pendants are dominating releases. A variety of shapes, textures and colors are combined for enhanced aesthetics.
Materials and complexity of design are the main price determinants. Jewelry makers can mix and match components of varying costs to issue lower quotes while achieving a look similar to a higher market segment.
Low-end models are between $0.25 and $2, and feature a single strand of simple plastic, glass, wooden, shell or fabric beads on plastic, nylon or cotton cord. Metal alloy chains, findings and clasps are employed. Styles are from 12 to 34in long.
Midrange designs top out at $5. They have copper, brass, zinc alloy, iron or aluminum chains plated in antique brass, silver or rhodium. Metal parts may also be polished or brushed. Ornaments are usually crystals, shell, zircons, CZs, mother-of-pearl, freshwater pearls or porcelain beads. Lobster clasps and other findings come in alloy and silver. Products are either composed entirely of decorative elements or feature a large but simple pendant. They are also free of nickel and lead.
High-end versions utilize stainless steel, sterling silver and titanium for chains, settings and findings. Electroplating options include silver, 18 and 24K gold, and platinum. Imported zircons, Swarovski crystals, saltwater pearls and silver charms adorn the models, some of which may have more than three strands.
There are at least 5,000 manufacturers and trading companies offering necklaces and chokers in China, 80 percent of which are locally owned. The rest are foreign-invested.
The category is estimated to account for 30 percent of the country's jewelry exports, which in January to November 2009 reached 167 million kilograms worth $877 million.
The majority of shipments are on an OEM basis. Only 30 percent are under ODM and OBM contracts.
Small businesses comprise about 70 percent of the supplier base. They are normally privately owned. Some do not have direct export capability.
The focus is on low-end models. Apart from necklaces and chokers, only a couple of other types of accessories are made. The R&D team's chief task is to prepare countersamples. All components are outsourced, mostly from local distributors.
Midsize exporters account for 20 percent of the industry. They concentrate on either volume orders of low-end and midrange jewelry, or small quantities of high-end styles. The product development team has three to five designers.
The processing of some components is performed in-house. At such manufacturers, there is usually a focus on one material. For example, a company may be able to create its own metal settings and links but outsources acrylic stones. They sometimes also sell the parts to other jewelry suppliers.
Cutting, polishing and drilling holes are the basic steps in creating wooden, shell, bone, horn and mother-of-pearl trimming. The blanks are then dyed or painted.
Plastic beads are either molded or cut from sheets. Glass may be mechanically drawn, molded or wound. Ceramic types are formed by wrapping clay around wire for a built-in hole. These are then fired before painting and glazing.
Large suppliers can make high-end necklaces and chokers with the help of more than five R&D specialists. They have the capability for most production steps, including electroplating. Certificates indicating that output is free of lead, nickel and cadmium are available to clients.
Regardless of size, however, all manufacturers assemble models by hand. Workers string beads and pendants onto cotton, nylon or leather cord, glue stones into settings and attach charms and closures with pliers.
Guangdong, Zhejiang and Shandong provinces are the main hubs for necklaces and chokers.
Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan and Foshan are the important cities in Guangdong. Companies in the province are able to adopt design trends quickly because of the proximity to fashion capital Hong Kong. They cater to the midrange and high-end markets.
Although many suppliers have direct export capability, they may also course shipments through the SAR. The destinations are the US, the EU, Southeast Asia and Australia.
The largest production center in mainland China, Yiwu houses most of the 3,800 jewelry makers in Zhejiang. Factories offer low-end and midrange models and benefit from a strong network of material providers. The US and Japan are the primary destinations.
Qingdao in Shandong is home to many South Korea- and Taiwan-invested enterprises, which ship upscale neckpieces to the US, Japan and South Korea.
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