Over 120 jewelry merchants showed off a dazzling array of gems, semi-precious stones, corals, and crystals at the 17th Taipei International Jewelry Show yesterday.
Scheduled until December 25 at the Taipei World Trade Center Hall 3, the trade fair features one-of-a-kind pieces from delicate sculptures made from corals to intricately designed crystal figurines. Mass-produced items from jade trinkets and pearl jewelry to affordable chunky fashion accessories are also being exhibited at the show.
The Taiwanese love their gold and gems, said Chao Yuen-chuan, president and chief executive officer of the Taiwan External Trade Development Council.
"Last year, we imported US$1.4 billion-worth of jewelry but we only exported US$100 million-worth of gems in the same year. That means (our imports) are 14 times bigger than what we are selling overseas," Chao said.
"Taiwan is a very (big) market for jewelry and other related products. Demand for gold in Taiwan is also very high. In fact, we are one of the top five gold importers in the world."
Taiwanese companies play a major role in the jewelry and fashion business, not only in Taiwan, but in Asia. Although most of those manufacturers have moved their factories to other countries to lower their production costs, many of them have kept their marketing and design teams in Taiwan.
"The Taiwanese' purchasing power - especially when it comes to gold and jewelry - remains very strong," Chao said. "(To keep up with the market's demand for quality jewelry), we have to train and develop local designers."
The Taiwan Jewelry Industry Association in fact invited eight universities to showcase their cutting-edge designs at the fair, the official added.
The association, the lead organizer of the jewelry exhibition, is pushing for advances in Taiwan's precious gems and metals production processes, and spearheading research programs on processing machines and tools, officials said.
The group also collects relevant business reports, monitors global design trends, and assists members who want to take part in local and foreign jewelry exhibitions, they added.
"We have been launching joint campaigns to help our members break into the international market," said Hsiao Hsin-tsai, an official with the Taiwan Coral Association, and proprietor of jewelry companies Fortunemore Co. Ltd. and Hsin Shen Gem Co. Ltd.
One of Taiwan's "star" coral sculptors is Huang Chung-shan, Hsiao said.
Huang, who recently won a string of awards in Japan, specializes in the production of one-of-a-kind coral installations. One of his masterpieces, the artist said, is his "White Guanyin."
"This item is made from one piece of the rarest of all corals - the white coral," Huang said. "The original piece weighed 13 kilos, and the finished product - my 'White Guanyin' - weighs just three kilos."
In the collectors' market, this unique item could fetch "millions of (Taiwan) dollars," he continued.
"It took me eight months to finish this sculpture. The entire process had been painstakingly slow since I had to very carefully snip, shape, and polish the coral," he said.
The devil is literally in the detail, Huang added. The artist's "White Guanyin" has hundreds of minute features from the cloud-like waves and the elaborately carved dragon to Guanyin's ornate shroud and tiny, delicate fingers.
"Even her shawl looks like the real thing. It looks like a flowing piece of cloth," Huang said.
The artist was so protective of his "White Guanyin" that he considered canceling her appearance at the jewelry show. At the fair, the rare item rests inside a glass cabinet that is protected by a waist-high fence.