A Wellington-based jewellery designer has landed a deal with a major Chinese jewellery company to design an engagement ring collection.

Competing with cheap imports from China has been a bugbear for much of the Western world, especially in the jewellery industry, but a New Zealand jeweller has reversed the trend, signing a deal to design an exclusive engagement ring collection for the Chinese market.

Wellington–based Ian Douglas, an award winning jeweller and founder of The Inspired Collection, will provide 15 exclusive designs a year to the Chinese firm Hiersun.

Douglas’ designs will be manufactured in China and will be sold nationally at Hiersun’s 200-plus ‘I Do’ branded stores, retailing for between AU$1,200 and $6,400 each.

“It’s a highly unusual situation,” Douglas told Jeweller. “As we all know in the jewellery industry, most companies that do business in China do so to source product. A huge amount of world jewellery today is made there. This is a reverse flow and that’s what makes it so fascinating for people. Hiersun is the largest Chinese owned luxury brand in China, and for us to forge a link, to supply in to that as a small, basically unknown, New Zealand company is incredible.”

New business model

It hasn’t been an easy achievement though, Douglas has been meeting with companies globally for several years trying to garner interest in The Inspired Collection’s products and unique business plan.

“We present designs, instructions on how to make the piece and basically the whole process, and then sign off the intellectual property (IP) to an international partner like Hiersun,” Douglas explained. “They take care of manufacturing, production and distribution but it’s all marketed under our name.”

Douglas said the Hiersun deal began from a relationship that was forged at the Hong Kong jewellery fair last year.

“We decided to test the trade fair circuit, put the product and IP business model out there, and supply independent niche retailers ourselves out of New Zealand.

“We attempted that in 2010 in Hong Kong and got a lot of good feedback, but it really came together in 2011. We had just received the GIA prize for best piece of men’s jewellery in the world, and that gave us a lot of cut through and credibility. Hiersun approached us, and we started negotiating and signed a contract earlier this year,” Douglas explained.

The Inspired Collection jewellery designer Ian Douglas was elated with the Hiersun deal.

The Inspired Collection is the third international brand Hiersun has signed, already partnering with Philippe Tournaire and Efva Attling previously. Douglas said Hiersun came to him because they wanted something new and different.

“What they’re looking for is design that is different to the more traditional Cartier and Tiffany, which can even look generic now,” Douglas explained. “They want a fresh take on design.”

Exploding market

Douglas said that the Chinese market is a rising giant where the demand for western-style bridal jewellery is exploding.

“It’s still in its infancy, the country is going through an unbelievable rate of modernisation and Westernisation,” Douglas said. “The emerging middle class is staggering. From our information, only six per cent of Chinese women have diamond jewellery, but by 2020, 40 per cent will, so the growth potential is massive.”

Nevertheless, Douglas said there are a lot of issues Australasian businesses must consider before jumping into the exciting market.

“You would have to consider it, but we are really design focussed,” he explained. That’s where the future of the world is going. We can’t hope in Australia and New Zealand to manufacture and wholesale large volumes of jewellery. But if you’re smart, develop good products and form joint venture operations, then the scale is massive.

“Without credibility and a Chinese partner though, you can forget it,” he added. “I was told once at a conference that unless you’re prepared to give five years of endeavour and $2 million, don’t bother. It’s not for the faint of heart. This didn’t happen to us by chance”.


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