Bubble trouble hits Hong Kong jade sales

Bubble trouble hits Hong Kong jade sales

HONG KONG - Prized as a magical imperial stone, jade is a status symbol of the super rich in Asia, but rocketing prices in the top-end of the market have left traders in Hong Kong struggling to find buyers.

With the cost of high-quality raw jade and jade products surging repeatedly in the past eight years, prices tags are now becoming prohibitive and experts predict the bubble must soon burst as buyers are stepping back.

Driven up by the appetite of wealthy Chinese, the rising cost of jade is also being fuelled by fears of a shortage in supply from Myanmar, the key source.

"Consumers cannot accept the current high prices, therefore, no deal is reached," Hong Kong jade dealer Li Kwong-kei told AFP at the Hong Kong Jewellery and Gem Fair Friday.

Li, who has participated in the fair for more than 10 years, said it was quieter than in 2011 and 2012.

"We are forced to raise prices - it is increasingly hard to get high-quality raw jade from Myanmar. If you do not pay more, the good raw materials will be owned by the others," Li added, holding a green jadeite bangle with a price of HK$2 million (US$260,000).

"I have decided to wait for the prices of high- and mid-end jade to drop," said Judy Chen, a Taiwanese buyer at the fair.

"It appears to me that their prices are kind of at the peak."

Small businesses have also been affected - stallholders at Hong Kong's famous outdoor jade market while away hours chatting with their neighbours, as customers remain sparse.

"I have seen some of my peers quit their businesses," said 54-year-old stall owner Wong Fung-ying. "The prices are high while the market is quiet."

Jade holds mythical properties in China, where it is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring better health.

With no international pricing system, values have been increasing since 2005 as the newly-rich in China have bought up jade products. Seen as a classier option than gold, it has become a status symbol.

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