A love affair with African gem stones

A love affair with African gem stones

CHINA - When Wang Yang moved to Botswana in 2007, it was to be with her husband, whose company had relocated him to the country. But after three years there, the former accountant had fallen in love with African gems and used her new-found interest to launch her own company.

When I met the 29-year-old, she was busy with customers, showing them some deep blue tanzanite jewelry. Her shop in Beijing sells a wide range of jewelry containing gems mined in Africa, many of them colorful stones that are becoming increasingly popular in China.

"With more Chinese women dressing in a Western style, they are beginning to look for colorful jewelry, such as African jewelry, that matches their clothes and looks more fashionable," says Wang.

This is a move away from the traditional gold and jade jewelry that Chinese women used to wear, according to Wang.

"As China becomes more internationalized and more people study abroad, coloured gems are beginning to become more popular here," she says.

China is now the second-largest market for coloured gems, she adds, with around 400 billion yuan (S$82 billion) worth sold every year, yet they remain just 3 per cent of the country's total jewelry sales, as opposed to 30 per cent globally.

Wang believes this factor, along with the high price of jade, leaves room for a rise in the market for the coloured gems in which her shop specializes.

Most of Wang's clients are relatively young, born in the 1980s or later, and spend less than 10,000 yuan on their first purchase from her shop.

"Unlike other jewelry such as gold and diamonds, which tend to look the same, coloured gems come in many styles," Wang says, and because of this customers return often.

Her most popular jewelry is priced at between 10,000 yuan and 20,000 yuan and monthly sales can reach as much as 500,000 yuan.

Such hefty profits were far from Wang's mind when she first moved to Botswana. On arriving there she made an effort to get out and make new friends and gradually through them developed an interest in African gems.

Botswana is among the top gem producing countries in the world and known for its diamond trade.

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