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$120m worth of gems on show at JewelFest 2010
by Reico Wong

THE boom is back in the jewel industry. Demand for precious gems is picking up where it left off before the financial crisis to continue its dramatic rise, and prices of jewellery are spiking in tandem.

JewelFest returns today for the eighth year, with more than 40 established jewellers like eminent international brands Mouawad and Hearts On Fire, together with local retailers like Lee Hwa Jewellery and Soo Kee Jewellery.

Visitors can see more than $120 million worth of jewels on show. Organisers are expecting sales for the 10-day event to hit $10 million, and visitor numbers to rise by about 20 per cent from the over 20,000 last year.

"Consumers are increasingly viewing fine jewellery not just as accessories but also as personal treasures that can retain, if not appreciate, in value over time," said Mr Jean Nasr, managing director of established Los Angeles- based jeweller Mouawad.

While diamonds remain all the rage, the popularity of other- coloured stones - such as emeralds, sapphires, rubies and jade - are peaking too.

Prices of higher-quality sapphires from Myanmar have jumped as much as 30 per cent in the last couple of years. Prices for emeralds from Zambia - typically the most sought-after - have risen as much as 25 per cent, while those from Colombia are up by about 15 per cent, Mr Nasr estimated.

However, he emphasised that the price of each gemstone can differ greatly, depending on its quality, cut and carat size.

The value of higher grades of jade, such as the ice-jade category, has also jumped tenfold since 2000, said Mr Ho Nai Chuen, managing director of On Cheong Jewellery.

Experts say the strong purchasing power of the Chinese, and of Asians in general, has contributed to the jewel industry's resurgence. This is largely due to the substantial strengthening of most Asian currencies against the US dollar this year.

Prices of higher-quality gems have also been driven up because of increasingly scarce supply. In Singapore, retailers are also seeing an increase in spending among consumers.

Lee Hwa said many customers are now opting to pair diamonds and coloured gems.

"Customers are now more adventurous in their jewellery picks. They covet chic and sophisticated pieces with more unique designs," said Ms Elaine Ng, senior brand manager at Lee Hwa.

Singapore JewelFest 2010 is on at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza from today until Oct 10. The event is open to the public from 12pm to 9pm.

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