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IIJS Signature: Choicest for Choicest

05 march 2009

It seems that Indian jewelers have included in their inventory the science of “winning by skill, not numbers” advocated by Russian Supreme Commander Suvorov. This was the second time running that the Gem and Jewelry Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) was holding their IIJS Signature Show in the City of Panagi, the capital of the Goa State, in every way stressing its elite character. The show was devised by its organizers as the choicest for the choicest – literally so, not otherwise. But how did it look like in deed and not in name?

Despite the global economic crisis and extensive problems in the diamond and jewelry industry inside the country, the Council deems it not only possible but necessary to maintain the above mentioned format of this event where major national companies display all their products while the achievements of the Indian jewelry industry are then appraised by specially invited guests from all over the world.

No one was allowed to enter the territory of the Kala Academy, the local cultural center, harboring the exhibition hall, for this was a closed show. Armed uniformed men were guarding access ways on land and sea (patrolling the banks of the Monodovi River, keeping vigil on the watchtowers around the premises and onboard boats). That was quite a fundamental approach to security problems. And it was justifiably fundamental. There could not be any casual passers-by there. Actually, there was no need in them. The Organizing Committee was not after big numbers. Their aim was quality - on a long view.

The new project was launched two and a half years ago within the framework of the IIJS-2007 Show in Mumbai. But unlike the publicized Mumbai Exhibition being the second-in-size industry event in Asia, IIJS Signature is not targeted at provincial consumers, but at foreign merchants.

There may be no parallels drawn to the First Event in Vicenza, Italy, formerly known as VicenzaOro, which kicks off the jewelry calendar and sets the leading tunes in style for the whole year ahead. The intentions pursued by the organizers of IIJS Signature are less ambitious but more pragmatic: they are targeted at moving Indian jewelry out to be sold beyond this country. The timing and place for this show have a simple explanation: February in Goa is a high season and it gives jewelers an opportunity not only to have their business well done, but to have some leisure time as well.

In September 2007, the Council took pains to be vivid in depicting to international journalists the strikingly beautiful views, wonderful beaches and posh hotels awaiting the would-be show participants to top their impressions from the jewelry wealth displayed. The scope included then 200-250 exhibits and about 1 000 guests.

However, reality introduced its corrections to the “target figures.” The first exhibition attracted 98 companies and 350 visitors. The accent was made on the United States, the largest importer of Indian jewelry, whose market was considered the most promising at that time. Other areas were also under review as prospective bridgeheads for “landing jewelry assault forces.” Thus, GJEPC signed an agreement with the Moscow Diamond Bourse making it their official representative in the Russian Federation. Among the guests of IIJS Signature 2008 were businesspersons from the European Union, South-East Asia, China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, as well as trade delegations from Uzbekistan, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Iran, Japan and Pakistan.

The results were evidently positive enough to continue what had been started. The second round of IIJS Signature was held on February 20-24, 2009. The 72 exhibitors were accommodated in an air conditioned (a most important thing at +30ºC) hall sprawling on 1500 square meters. The number of visitors increased to 472, although only 105 came from abroad, while the rest 367 arrived from various states of India. As for the product range displayed, even a cursory inspection of the jewelry booths gave you a feeling that it was more intended for domestic and Asian markets than for the European or American markets.

Undoubtedly, there is certain charm and unique appeal in Indian jewelry. It is no coincidence that many Western jewelers are enticed by this theme. Take for instance Cartier with the famous tricolor (ruby-sapphire-emerald) of their corporate style Tutti Frutti suggested by the treasures of maharajas. Incidentally, speaking of Goa one may recollect that in the early 2000th the House of Cartier issued its Delices de Goa Collection inspired by the symbiosis of local arts and crafts and hippie subculture.

It is appropriate to remember that 2008 was the Year of Russia in India and 2009 was proclaimed to be the Year of India in Russia and currently 250 precious masterpieces of the Great Moguls Period are on display at the Assumption Belfry in the Moscow Kremlin.

All those who came to Goa were of course eager to see what their hosts considered the best and trend-setting pieces in the modern national jewelry art. However, to the eye of a typical Russian the major part of collections displayed at IIJS Signature looked more like apparel jewelry with a heavy tint of theatricality. There were stones too big to be true (of course they were natural, not imitated, but somehow it took some effort to believe it), abundance of glitter all around and exorbitantly voluminous and stodgy necklaces bearing very whimsical and elaborate decorative components… Silver and platinum were rare, everywhere there was only gold – the favorite metal of Hindus, their symbol of wealth and social status. It was clearly seen that the stake was placed on colored gems, the mere enumeration of which was not an easy task – rubies, sapphires, emeralds, tourmalines, aquamarines, garnets, beryls, citrines… However, what looked as classics to Hindus seemed exotic to Europeans. Did it occur to the members of the Council?

Anyway, the modern fashion gives preference to bright, sparkling and bulky accessories with ethnic motifs and national hues. And the exclusive nature of IIJS Signature more implied a “cocktail palette” of jewelry than casual adornments. The price level also left no chances to an “average customer.” So it seemed that on the whole the exposition was governed by “the choicest for the choicest” concept. Still, the guests from Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan were obviously more enthusiastic about what they saw, than those from Russia or Poland. And the numerical superiority of Indian businesspersons among the invited visitors was self-explanatory.

Maybe the organizers were afraid that the crisis situation in the world economy and the December incident in Mumbai involving hostages would diminish attraction to the exhibition on the part of foreign visitors and thus chose local wholesalers and retailers as their target audience. However, the representatives of the Council did not agree with such interpretation during the meeting with the Russian delegation and stressed it once again that their major task was to promote Indian jewelry to the international market.

The same idea was aired in the inauguration speech of Vasant Mehta, GJEPC Chairman: “Unique design, high quality, newest technologies, creative potential and moderate prices allow the Indian jewelry industry to make offerings to the world market.”

Mr. Mehta quoted the following export figures in U.S. dollars in the period from April 2008 to January 2009: there was a total decrease of 2.29%; cut and polished diamonds went down 2.85%; and the only increase of 3.29% was displayed by the color gems segment.

“Export has a growth potential,” the Council Chairman said. He believes that “there are no grounds for panic and despair. Whereas the world’s large economies are going through financial hardships GJEPC is sure the situation will develop in a favorable way. Gems and jewelry are one of the best forms of investment and demand for them will never cease.”

To extend its presence to the international market the Council plans a series of steps to promote the “Made in India” Brand in the key areas, including the Middle East, Russia and CIS. IIJS Signature is to facilitate a broader dialogue between sellers and buyers to “clear the way towards a new era of cooperation in the field of trade and investments.”

The members of the Council are smart at spinning out money. But they are perfectly aware that advertising is not the thing to be frugal about. Coming out to the world arena is a very costly pleasure. So it would be easier to go this way together, in a joint front – that is offering a national product and not trying to push through commodities made by some company going alone. In this context the coxswains of the Russian jewelry industry have something to learn from their Indian counterparts. It is not enough to declare the City of Kostroma to be “the jewelry capital of Russia.” People should be convinced to believe it beyond the jewelry-making Village of Krasnoye near that city. Image building requires thoroughgoing financial inflow and coherent organizational work. And this is especially true in the field of precious metals and gems. Low-budget marketing is sometimes labeled as “partisan,” and partisan raids are not able to win a victory in your campaign if you need a large-scale strategic “offensive.”

Having invited 10 delegations to their exhibition – coming from China, Syria, Uzbekistan, Hungary, Azerbaijan, Poland, UAE, Russia, Iran and Ukraine – the Council covered their guests’ expenses for accommodation in a five-star hotel on the Indian Ocean shore and everyday transfers to the exhibition. The guests were offered a business program including visits to the exposition, negotiations with the participating companies, official meetings and informal discussions with the high-ranking members of the Council and their counterparts from various countries, as well as seminars with the Italian TGF Group to get briefed on jewelry trends for 2010 and the Martin Rapaport Agency to discuss new realities in the diamond industry, all of this accompanied by the Swing Party at one of the night clubs on the Candolim Beach.

It is clear that investments are not quick to pay back. However, GJEPC’s current assets include agreements with Iran, Russia and CIS to promote diamond jewelry and other products on their territories, as well as the memorandum of intentions signed with the Shanghai Diamond Exchange to sell Indian rough diamonds in China where jewelry manufacturing is gathering good pace.

Having described the IIJS Signature Show as being “sufficiently small to be efficient, but sufficiently diversified to meet the requests of world-wide jewelers” GJEPC Chairman Vasant Mehta said he considered this project to be successful and promising. The majority of exhibitors expressed their willingness to take part in it in the next year.

Rough&Polished, Mumbai-Goa-Delhi