By Bernardette Sto. Domingo
Renowned for its dedication to precision and quality, Japan has become one of the world’s most prolific manufacturers of pearls and finished jewellery. It has also maintained leadership in the diamond jewellery sector over the years. Moving forward, Japan is building momentum for the Japanese Akoya pearl as a true symbol of the country’s propensity for artistry and innovation.
Japan has effectively built a distinguished reputation in the international jewellery industry, thanks to its meticulous craftsmanship and commitment to perfection.
Propelled mainly by solid demand in the local market, loose diamonds and finished diamond
jewellery are the country’s strongest-performing sectors, accounting for more than 50 percent of overall sales.
Pearls, however, comprise about 15 percent of the sector. Hence, Japan is investing heavily in marketing campaigns to further promote pearls, Japanese Akoya in particular, as a truly Japanese merchandise to the global jewellery world.
In an exclusive interview with JNA, Chiaki Nakagawa, newly elected chairman of the Japan Jewellery Association (JJA), said the Japanese Akoya pearl is taking centre stage in the country’s promotional efforts over the coming years.
Japan’s jewellery sector has three core areas, namely manufacturing, wholesale and retail, according to Nakagawa. The retail business performed steadily compared to the same period last year, with some retailers such as department stores that sell high-end pieces recording an increase of about 30 percent in sales. The industry, however, observed some difficulties in the manufacturing and wholesale sectors.
Japanese pearl companies likewise recorded stable business, buoyed largely by sturdy sales at international jewellery shows in Hong Kong.
“The market is generally still quite slow, with some improvements in the luxury jewellery segment. Manufacturers want to play it safe so instead of directing resources to producing something fresh or buying new materials, they opt to be more conservative and wait for the market to stabilise,” remarked Nakagawa.
Jewellers are also facing new challenges including competing for customers’ attention against other big-ticket sectors such as technology, fashion and tourism, revealed the JJA chief. Citing a number of industry studies, he said the younger generation of buyers are more interested in buying smart phones and travelling.
“This further highlights the need for the industry to become more creative in promoting jewellery to the modern consumer, especially young people,” continued Nakagawa.
JJA, he said, is maintaining a positive outlook heading into 2020 when the Olympic Games will be held in Japan.
“Our association wants to take advantage of the hype surrounding the 2020 Olympics to help redirect the customers’ attention back to jewellery. We are talking about more aggressive promotional and marketing campaigns,” disclosed Nakagawa. “At the centre of these campaigns is the Japanese Akoya pearl, which we want to intensely promote among foreign tourists.”
The Japanese Akoya pearl is the most ideal product that Japan can market to overseas visitors because it’s “truly Japanese,” he noted, adding that Akoya pearls are one of the most sought-after products at international jewellery fairs.
Jewellers are likewise banking on the increasing number of tourist arrivals to Japan to help fuel demand for Akoya pearls.
“We expect more tourists going to Japan to start buying Akoya pearls, and eventually lend credence to their beauty and unique appeal. Improved sales could result in media exposure, which would further impel demand from local and overseas buyers,” stated Nakagawa.
Citing government data, he said Japan is eyeing 40 million tourists by 2020, thanks in part to the 2020 Olympics, from the current figure of 24 million.
The association is also focusing on strengthening one of the core projects of the JJA – the Jewellery Coordinators’ Programme or JCP.
JCP provides training to jewellery store clerks and shop sellers who directly interact with customers. There are currently 9,000 jewellery coordinators. In the next five years, the JJA is targeting an increase to 15,000 coordinators.
“As the new JJA chairman, my goal is to continue fortifying this initiative to benefit more people in the industry. The aim has always been to educate salespersons to have a deeper understanding of the product that they are selling, thereby boosting consumer confidence,” noted Nakagawa.
The overseas market is extremely significant to the Japanese jewellery industry, Nakagawa said. Some of Japan’s leading manufacturers and retailers have started looking east, building factories or retail shops in the Greater China region. Perhaps the most compelling example is that of legendary pearl expert Mikimoto’s expansion strategy in Asia. The company has established retail shops in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and is planning to put up more shops.
“Majority of Japanese jewellers also regard Hong Kong jewellery fairs in March and September as the most important platforms to reach out to foreign markets, especially China. The JJA remains committed to helping these companies carry out additional promotional campaigns in Hong Kong,” revealed the JJA chairman.
Japan, however, continues to rely on local consumption to spur growth in the jewellery sector. “We import more than we export. The local market is quite strong. But everyone is now looking at the international market, especially Asia, so we are also moving towards that direction,” he noted.
Japan’s strength hinges upon three points: Design, which is evident in the country’s reputation as a trendsetter in fashion and design; technique, which was developed through Japan’s long history in jewellery making; and unique materials such as the Akoya pearl.
Education, which primarily involves having professional, well-educated personnel in retail shops, is also an indispensable part of Japan’s growth strategy, added Nakagawa.