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World Jewelry Centers



World Jewelry Centers

Jewelry is an important industry all around the globe. Here's a run-down of the world's most important jewelry centers.

The making and wearing of jewelry for body ornamentation probably goes back to the Stone Age, and practically every society on earth has its own form of jewelry production and design. Of the major jewelry centers in the world, however, there are just a handful that produce the majority of what we find on the market today. Whether you go into a jewelry store or shop from your couch or office via TV or the Internet, most of the jewelry you're seeing originates from the following centers:

Some of the most imaginative and high-fashion jewelry in the world comes from Italy, where designers are closely attuned to the world of fashion. Jewelry-making here is an art, with designers unveiling yearly collections of the latest designs, shapes, colors and textures. Italy is the world's largest producer of fine jewelry, with about 8,200 factories annually producing an estimated $6.4 billion worth. Its major product is gold and gold jewelry, from lightweight stamped charms and earrings and machine-made gold chain to one-of-a-kind handmade items set with all types of gemstones--diamonds, rubies, amethyst, tourmaline and lapis.

Jewelry is manufactured throughout the country, but most jewelry production comes from the "Golden Triangle"--Vicenza in the northeast, west to Valenza Po and the Milan area, to Arezzo in the central part of the country. Also important is the region around Naples, where cameo and coral carving is a time-honored art.


Hong Kong/China
About a decade ago, most of the jewelry from this region was actually designed, manufactured and shipped from the tiny territory of Hong Kong. But with the opening of China, a huge work force and mass production grew almost overnight. Today, China and Hong Kong produce a massive amount of jewelry per year and export it all over the world. Most familiar designs are diamond and gemstone jewelry, which can begin as low as $50 and go up to several thousand dollars. Some very costly pieces are made by these manufacturers, but the great majority of Chinese jewelry is sold at popular to moderate prices.

Generally, Chinese jewelry is classic rather than highly imaginative in design, but there is increasing effort among top manufacturers to introduce more original designs and high-fashion pieces. Exports consist of gemset jewelry, usually of 14- or 18-karat gold set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. For the Chinese market, however, the product is different: chuk kam, or 24-karat gold jewelry, pearls, jade and carvings.


In less than two decades, Thailand has emerged as one of the world's powerhouses in the production and supply of fine jewelry, from very inexpensive silver and marcasite pieces to opulent ensembles of diamonds and precious gemstones set in 18k gold and platinum. Thailand, like Hong Kong, was originally known as a supplier of low-cost goods that retailed for less than $100.

However, as demand for its products increased, workers became more highly skilled and received higher wages. This upped production costs and jewelry prices. In an effort to counteract the higher prices, Thai manufacturers are working to upgrade the quality and design of their jewelry. The most popular jewelry from Thailand are small gemset rings, earrings and necklaces of rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds. Prices run the gamut from lightweight, inexpensive items to complicated gemset designs that command thousands of dollars.


United States
The jewelry industry dates from the country's founding when Paul Revere and other silversmiths setup production in the New England region, but today, key production centers are New York, Los Angeles and Florida. In recent years, fine jewelry designers have sprung up in all corners of the country, including a handful of craftsman the 1960s who have since built their businesses into international brands. Unlike the fashion industry, where American designers have a recognizable look and style, jewelry design is across the board, incorporating as many different looks and themes as there are designers.

The best-selling American jewelry, however, is geared to the taste of the American customer, who wants pieces that can be worn with any type of outfit. Important, formal styles appreciated in other parts of the world have a limited market here. While a growing number of American manufacturers export their goods around the world, the sheer size of the domestic market keeps a large portion of the goods at home.


Although the production and design of fine jewelry go back centuries in this country, India, like Israel, made its modern entry into the world of fine jewelry through its diamond-cutting expertise. Most of the cutting and manufacturing is centered around the central western city of Bombay, now known as Mumbai. In this region, there are hundreds of small manufacturers producing gold, diamond and gemstone jewelry for domestic and foreign consumption.

Backed by support from its government and trade organizations, India will export jewelry valued at more than $350 million this year. Best-selling styles are diamond fashion jewelry and watches retailing for less than $500, but many Indian firms are now expanding into higher-fashion diamond jewelry and fancy gemstone collections aimed at sophisticated shoppers in Europe and the United States.




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