18 April 2019
Jewellery Industry Failing to Keep Up with Transformative Technology
Four industry stars took to the stage at the recent HKTDC Hong Kong International Jewellery Show to warn the industry that, compared to other sectors, it is falling behind when it comes to capitalising on the benefits of new technology.
During one of the most well-attended discussion forums at the recent HKTDC Hong Kong International Jewellery Show, a panel of industry experts set out to assess how new technology and a number of innovative concepts are now rewriting the rulebook for the wider sector. Under the heading From Manufacturing to Retailing: How Technology is Reshaping the Industry, four high-level speakers took it in turns to outline their personal view as to what the future holds for the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of jewellery items.
First to speak was computer aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) specialist Thomas Ng. A core member of the International Association of Jewellery Merchandise Planning Professionals and sole agent for French software provider 3Design, Ng was keen to share his concern that the jewellery industry was slow to adopt new technology compared with many other sectors.
Highlighting the benefits of the wider use of CAD in particular, he said: "Despite the rapid development of CAD over many decades, it really is only in the initial stages of adoption by the jewellery industry. This really only started to happen around 2013, when there was a drop in jewellery sales after years of solid growth in the 1990s. As a result, manufacturers tried to develop more products and looked to CAM and CAD to achieve this.
"The appeal is obvious – they improve efficiency, they're economical and make the manufacturing process more intelligent. It's like opening up Pandora's box, as they offer not one option but many. They personalise the production of jewellery, refine traditional craftsmanship and transforms traditional retailing. In short, they make what was once impossible easily deliverable.
"Most notably, 3D scanners, CAD and 3D printers enable rapid design and easy tweaks to manufacturing runs, allowing for production efficiency to be considerably ramped up. CAD software allows companies to break the distance barrier and release a product around the world, completing a design in one hour rather than 10 days and taking the lead with ease.
"There have also been fundamental changes to sales channels and models for tailor-made jewellery. Despite this, though, many people don't understand how mobile and social-media platforms are transforming the way business is done. Online apps allow customers to design their own jewellery and the application of artificial intelligence and big data means companies can precisely target consumers."
Ng was followed to the podium by Robin Wang, Co-Founder of Changzhou City-based Jiangsu Totus Technology, a specialist developer of 3D printing solutions for the jewellery, toys and dental sectors. A clear advocate of the wider uptake of cutting-edge technology, he shared Ng's concern that the jewellery sector was at risk of looking a little luddite.
Arguing the case for the wider use of 3D printing in particular, he said: "Despite 3D printing having been around for more than 30 years now, it is still a relatively new thing for the jewellery industry. In truth, it is not quite there yet. While digitalisation and personalisation are certainly the future of mass production – as shown by the pioneering approach taken by companies such as Adidas – the current levels of precision and accuracy still leave a bit to be desired.
"Additionally, while it is now possible to print precious metals, such as silver and gold, it is very expensive so costs still need to come down. The material costs are also high when it comes to 3D printing and there's a lot of wastage. Then there is the fact that the pixel resolution is not yet high enough, so jewellery has to be additionally polished, leading to yet more wastage.
"In terms of the undeniable benefits brought by 3D printing, it does, of course, allow for very fast turnaround and makes it very simple to produce prototypes for mass production. While there has been a degree of rapid development, as with the dental industry, 3D printing can't yet deliver everything the jewellery sector requires."
The third speaker, Andrew Loo, the Founder of La Salle de Fabrication, the Hong Kong-based company behind the bespoke jewellery design app of the same name, turned his attention more to how mobile commerce was now a key part of the purchase experience for younger consumers.
Urging jewellery manufacturers and retailers to rethink their current strategies, he said: "A new generation has gone online with their phones and this has changed the world. As a result, our industry also needs to change.
"We now know that everyone can be a designer. Using our app, for instance, customers can create exactly what they want. They can design their own jewellery by describing it or doing a rough sketch. All they then have to do is sit and wait for it. The turnaround is 10 days and the copyright belongs to the owner. After all, what has value for one particular customer does not necessarily have value for someone else."
The final speaker, Li Sha, Smart Retail Operations Director for Tencent, the Shenzhen-headquartered internet-services giant, focused more on the impact AI and big data were having on jewellery sales.
Arguing that that sector was now in the midst of a 'smart retail' revolution, she said: "Using artificial intelligence and facial recognition identification, it is now possible to track customers as they move around a shop, noting where they linger and where they stop. With all this information, we can then generate customer flow insights, which give very precise information. This then allows retailers to improve their shop layout and operation by, for example, knowing just where to place their best-selling items.
"Another thing that can be done is setting up membership clubs with special activities or even producing mini-apps. All of this makes it easy to run effective promotions, both online to offline and vice-versa. With this kind of software, jewellery retailers can double their sales and income."
The 2019 HKTDC Hong Kong International Jewellery Show took place from 28 February-4 March at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Jules Quartly, Special Correspondent, Hong Kong