Industry experts came together at a forum on the second day of the HKTDC Hong Kong International Jewellery Show to discuss how new technology is changing different aspects of the jewellery industry, including design, manufacturing, marketing and retail, and what the trends indicate for the next decade.
Here’s what was discussed…
Breakthroughs in computer-aided design and manufacturing
The rise of computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) has brought about a revolutionary transformation of the jewellery industry, said Thomas Ng, core member of the International Association of Jewellery Merchandize Planning Professionals and representative of French software developer 3DESIGN.
Speaking at the seminar, Mr Ng explained that unlike in other industries, CAD and CAM applications only gained a major foothold in the jewellery industry from 2013, when global jewellery sales saw a downtrend following many years of solid growth. Manufacturers started looking more closely at CAD/CAM to develop new products and improve their craftsmanship.
In response to the challenges faced by the jewellery industry, including high cost, small quantities and short lead times in the production process, new technologies using CAD/CAM software have helped to improve efficiency and reduce costs. “It enables companies to break the distance barrier”, said Mr Ng. “It allows them to complete a design in one hour instead of 10 days and release it immediately around the world.”
Fundamental changes have also been seen in sales channels as the software used in online apps allows customers to custom-design their own jewellery, changing the colour, shape, stone and metal as they require. Meanwhile, new social media platforms are allowing companies to publish videos of their products instantly to target specific groups.
The future of 3D printing in the jewellery industry
At the manufacturing level, the advanced development of 3D printing in the jewellery industry has largely benefited jewellers in the areas of prototype-making and mass production, explained Robin Wang, co-founder of Jiangsu Totus Technology Co Ltd.
Reviewing the latest technologies used in jewellery 3D printing, he said printing with materials such as silver and gold has been regarded a breakthrough in direct production. “The key benefit is fast turnaround,” he said, adding that new printing technologies have largely shortened the manufacturing cycle, allowing higher precision and resulting in faster delivery times.
However, Mr Ng pointed out that 3D printing for mass production has only gained traction among the giants of the jewellery industry at present, given the high cost of machines and the factory space required. He explained that as technologies advance in the future, more jewellers could benefit from 3D printing.
Using mobile commerce to enhance shopping experience
Andrew Loo, founder of La Salle de Fabrication, told the seminar audience that his manufacturing company had developed a customised mobile app, which allows consumers to design their own affordable and unique jewellery. “Everyone can be a designer!” he enthused. Customers can design their own piece by simply describing it or providing a rough sketch to the company. Loo said they can provide the finished product to clients within 10 days of receiving a design.
In the Q&A session, Mr Loo was asked who his company’s target customers were. He replied that their major targets at this time were “office ladies” and those in the 50-60 age group, but that their goal was to use social media platforms to reach out to the younger consumer market.
Using AI and big data for smart retailing
Li Sha, operation director at Tencent Smart Retail, explained how Tencent uses artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to help individual shops and retail chains in Mainland China develop smart retailing, with a range of tools including WeChat payment, QR code scanning, and facial recognition technology.
Tencent smart retail can help stores in Mainland China track customer behaviour while they are in the store, such as where they go and in what order, where they linger, what they buy, and how they pay, according to Ms Li. This provides a database that allows stores to improve the accuracy and efficiency of their retail operation.
Tencent shows them how to modify their shelves and where to put hot items. Retailers are also encouraged to set up a membership system, with vouchers and special activities for members to develop interest and loyalty. This allows the retailer to target its members with promotions instead of spending much more money on general advertising. Tencent can also help small retailers develop mini-apps and use the WeChat platform to connect with their members, offering online promotions to combine the retailer’s online and offline business.
Tencent smart retail is focused on developing the retail industry, identifying problems and providing solutions, Ms Li concluded.