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Italian jewelry exports to the US and emerging markets offset Russia and Middle East tensions

by Katy Mandurino

It's true that the crisis between Russia and Ukraine has been felt. It's also true that the turbulence and the geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and in African countries have hurt export figures.

But the Italian jewelry market in the first part of the year has largely held thanks to the growth trend in the United States, a very important destination for Italy, and emerging countries. And, despite the prices of the raw materials, the high-end market has also taken off again.

The photograph of the Italian goldsmith and jewelry sector is marked by ups and downs, but the operators are feeling cautiously optimistic.

“The first months of 2015 were characterized by a high level of uncertainty -- with the demand coming from oil-producing countries suffering from the falling oil prices and the Chinese economy in a slowdown,” notes Stefania Trenti, an economist at Intesa Sanpaolo's Study and Research Department, who together with the Goldsmiths' Club created a joint report on the sector.

Italian companies still seem to believe in an acceleration in the coming months: the production index in the sector has, in fact, registered a clearly positive trend (+12.7%) in the first three months, indicating a good situation in the orders.

“Despite the phase of instability that has contracted the positive trend of the first three months of the year,” specifies Augusto Ungarelli, President of the Goldsmiths' Club, “the figures regarding our exports remain more than good: in the first quarter, 87% of the turnover of Italian companies came from exports. An unequivocal sign of a recovery that has not stopped.”

Looking at available data, the beginning of 2015 in the jewelry business was marked by a stable climate both in revenues (+0.9%) and in exports (+0.6%). The stalemate in foreign markets was the result of a sharp reduction in shipments to the United Arab Emirates (-27%) and a return to growth in Switzerland (+13.2%).

“The figures should be interpreted in the right way: for Italy the Middle East means, above all, Dubai, a strategic hub where goods are sorted out for China, India and destinations for us that are still not very accessible due to high custom duties, Africa, the Syrian area and Russia,” said Ungarelli. “The negative percentage is influenced by the tensions in these countries and by the decrease in oil prices.”

The sales performance in Hong King (+26.6%, after the boom of approximately 118% in 2014) continues to be excellent, as well as in the US market, where sales of Made in Italy jewelry continue to grow. (+11.6%).

“The US data is significant, despite the fact that barriers are kept high even in the United States,” said Ungarelli.

And even the high-end market is seeing a return to important and valuable jewelry. The demand that are arriving little by little from Iran is interesting, especially after the signing of the agreement on nuclear power, which has, in fact, opened the country to the global market.

This is a territory where Italy can have good opportunities, considering the tradition that Iran - with the presence of the Shah and the pomp that went with it - has in terms of appreciating jewelry; this is not, in fact, a market that needs to be developed.

The European market, however, continues to be weak. Even if the positive trend continues in flows towards France (+15.6%, related also to the role of the Italian production centers as suppliers to the luxury French fashion houses) and Spain (+11.6%), there was a slowdown on exports to the United Kingdom (-2.9%).

“We cannot accept that this weakness becomes chronic,” concludes Ungarelli. “The European market and the Italian one must be put back on their feet. But to do so requires, today more than ever, a major operation of synergy between institutions, ministry, fairs, ITA (Italian Trade Promotion Agency, Ed.'s note) and all of the industry leaders who can help especially the small and medium businesses become more international.”

“I am relying very much on the boost that can come from the Made-In-Italy plan by the Deputy Minister for Economic Development, Carlo Calenda,” he concluded. “In this sense, the fairs and, in this case, the Vicenza Oro jewelry Fair, has a very important role.”