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Belt buckles: Design upgrades focus on shape, embellishment

Featuring unusual contours and motifs, releases are trimmed using various materials such as epoxy, enamel and rhinestones.

Manufacturers of belt buckles in China are raising the value of basic models to expand buyer options, with efforts directed toward enhancing visual appeal.

As part of this endeavor, suppliers are increasing output of products that boast unconventional designs. Casual styles come in the form of a crown, flower, butterfly, guitar or horseshoe. Fruit and animal motifs are popular as well.

Belt buckle
  This crystal-studded belt buckle from Dosen is made of zinc alloy and has nickel-free plating.
The latest releases are also decorated using a variety of materials, including enamel and epoxy. Some are studded with rhinestones or synthetic pearls.

More than one type of embellishment is often adopted in a single buckle. Floral kinds, for instance, can have a crystal-covered center and enameled petals.

Formal versions usually come in simple rectangular, oval and D-ring shapes. A matte, glossy, brushed, antique, chrome or pearl finish is applied to make models stand out.

Electroplating is the most common technique utilized, with silver, gold, gunmetal and brass as the top color choices. Large factories carry out the process in-house, while others subcontract to specialists.

China makers offer mostly upscale pieces that are certified free from azo, lead and nickel. The intricacy of the construction and the type of trimming employed are among the main price determinants for belt buckles. In general, more elaborate forms and decorations command a higher value.

The base material influences quotes as well. Releases below $1 are usually made of plastic such as PC and acrylic, while midrange products come in iron.

Brass, copper and stainless steel are preferred for high-end designs, which go above $2. Zinc alloy is employed in models across all price points.

Most companies purchase metal, plastic and other materials in Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces. Some large makers, however, choose to source from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea or Australia, as such versions are more durable than local counterparts.

Within the next six months, quotes are projected to go up 10 percent at most. This is because material costs have been rising of late. Zinc and iron, for instance, are currently about $70 more expensive per ton than in the beginning of 2009. Similarly, copper and brass rates have increased at least $1,000.

Many suppliers intend to withhold procurement plans until metal values go down to minimize upward price adjustments.

Industry overview
R&D, manufacturing, QC
Belt buckle
  Tianheng is offering model 44661-1, a zinc alloy belt buckle with a brushed finish. The size can be customized.
Industry overview

There are more than 500 belt buckle makers in mainland China catering to the domestic and international markets. Locally owned businesses represent 70 percent of the supplier base, while the rest have Hong Kong or Taiwan investment.

Most manufacturers also offer variants for bags, luggage, shoes and garments. They often produce keychains, buttons, zippers, and other metal-based accessories and garment trimming as well.

Outbound shipments are usually under OEM contracts. In the past year, many exporters have started sending their products to nontraditional destinations such as Mexico, Ethiopia, South Africa, India, Iran and Bangladesh. This kept the industry relatively stable even though demand from the developed markets of the US and the EU went down due to gloomy economic conditions.

Companies are also continuously exploring trade opportunities by attending local and international exhibitions, and utilizing the Internet to showcase their latest releases.

Zhejiang, Guangdong and Fujian are considered the top three manufacturing hubs for belt buckles.

The first province boasts established auxiliary industries and low labor costs. Most factories there are small and midsize operations exporting low-end and midrange pieces to the US, South America, South Africa and Asia. They are mostly based in Wenzhou, Yiwu and Ningbo.

Guangdong makers, which typically focus on upscale models, can be found in Guangzhou, Foshan and Dongguan. Suppliers benefi t from the province¡¯s strong network of service providers and proximity to Hong Kong.

Many businesses receive funding abroad, and are noted for their upgraded management systems, efficient production, and innovative use of materials and advanced technology.

Companies in Fujian concentrate on midrange designs priced 5 to 10 percent lower than those from Guangdong. Plants are mostly located in Shishi, Quanzhou, while traders are based in Xiamen.

Small and midsize enterprises make up the majority of the industry base. The former often have a workforce topping out at 200 and yield 500,000 belt buckles each month. Annual export revenue reaches $5 million.

With 200 to 500 employees, businesses operating on a medium scale generate foreign sales of $10 million yearly. Their monthly output is about 1 million pieces.

Large suppliers have more than 500 workers and gain not less than $10 million on overseas transactions. They produce at least 1 million belt buckles every month.

Factories are usually equipped with separate facilities for each manufacturing procedure. CNC molding and engraving machines are utilized for precise workmanship. Some companies adopt ERP systems to keep track of operations and orders.

R&D, manufacturing, QC

A typical product development team consists of five to 20 members. For small businesses focusing on OEM orders, R&D only involves molding and sampling, which takes two to seven days. Several skilled workers handle these procedures.

Midsize suppliers have about five in-house personnel who create up to 100 new styles monthly. Large companies hire as many as 30 specialists, allowing them to release at least 500 different models within four weeks. AutoCAD is the most common software utilized.

Employees with the R&D department usually boast 10 to 20 years of design experience. A few manufacturers even bring in multilingual or foreign technicians to minimize language barriers. Consequently, buyers¡¯ requirements can be relayed directly and precisely.

Belt buckle production starts with molding, which is often carried out by midsize and large makers using in-house facilities. Bulk fabrication begins after the client approves the sample.

Metal sheets are laid and shaped against the molds to form several pieces. Parts and components are welded if necessary. The semifinished models undergo grinding, cutting and polishing before electroplating. Embellishments are typically applied by hand.

Incoming, in-process and final QC are conducted. Small and midsize suppliers normally carry out visual and tactile inspections.

Apart from physical specifications, large enterprises often check materials, and semifinished and completed products for azo, nickel and lead content based on the AQL or MIL standard.

Similar tests can be performed on request by a local or international third-party facility.

This article "Belt buckles: Design upgrades focus on shape, embellishment" is originally posted in Global Sources.
Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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