Jenny Berich talks to local jewellery manufacturers who continue to thrive despite the rising flood of imported products.
The number of fine jewellery manufacturers in Australia has dwindled dramatically from the industry’s halcyon days in the 1970s to just a handful today.
Yet despite the huge drop in numbers, the surviving jewellery manufacturers have no plans to leave the industry they love and are confident that retailers and customers alike will continue to recognise and value the quality of the products they produce.
For example Aram Atakliyanfrom Sydney-based ADJ Australia, which has been manufacturing gold jewellery and chains for 28 years, strongly believes thatjewellery made in Australia is far superior in design and quality to the majority of imported products,
“Of course, the Europeans and Asians have great artists and designers that make fine jewellery, but Australian designers and jewellers know what designs are best for the Australian market,” he says.
“Retailers may argue that they can buy similar overseas products for less but to a certain extent, they will not get the same variety and quality that is available locally – and they cannot easily return the products if they are faulty or do not sell.”
“The retailers who promote and sell ‘Made in Australia’ jewellery are known as quality retailers and appreciate the fact that Australian-made jewellery they sell will not turn into a boomerang.”
Atakliyan also argues that Australian consumers genuinely like to wear Australian-made jewellery.
“In the same way that other nationalities value the products manufactured in their own countries by their own jewellers, Australians are proud to wear Australian jewellery and support Australian manufacturing jewellers.”
Similarly, Rita Williams, the owner and director of Sunstate Jewellers (formerly the Sunstate Group, a manufacturer of gold and platinum jewellery on Queensland’s sunshine coast for nearly 40 years) says Australian consumers respond incredibly well to Australian-made jewellery.
She says this is the main reason why all of the company’s products carry both the Green & Gold kangaroo logo and the Gold and Silversmiths Guild of Australia’s ‘kangaroo head’ hallmark.
“Consumers will often pay a slight premium for Australian-made as they are savvy enough to appreciate they are purchasing goods of a higher calibre.
“(In addition) our products carry a 25-year written guarantee, proof to consumers that Australian-made is outstanding quality.”
Nonetheless she readily acknowledges that although many jewellery retailers express a desire to buy Australian-made jewellery, price often overrides their wishes as many also mistakenly believe they can buy a similar product overseas for less money
“It often isn’t a similar product – it is a similar looking product,” she stresses.
“As a manufacturer it is easy to create two similar looking products and vary the price and quality significantly.”
She cites lower gold weight, lower quality gemstones, glued rather than pressure-set gemstones, and duo-coloured items crafted from single rhodium-plated pieces rather than two metal pieces as just some of the inferior materials and methods that can be used to produce lower-priced jewellery.
“The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ holds true because I don’t believe that the labour costs are that big as to have such a large impact on the price of finished goods.”
“Locally produced goods are often heavier, being crafted using more raw materials (eg gold) resulting in a better wearing product. Locally produced goods are also generally set using higher quality gems of superior cut and colour and are finished to a higher quality.”
Richard Munoz from Amaya, a Melbourne based business which has been manufacturing findings and fine jewellery since the mid-1970s, also agrees with the adage, arguing that locally-made jewellery is comparable with “the very best in the world”.
“I do not believe that the jewellery made in Asia is of a comparable standard of quality to what can be achieved in Australia,” he says, adding that the cost of returns, customer service levels, manufacturing lead times and continuity in quality are additional factors that have to be taken into account in any comparison between locally and internationally-produced jewellery.
He says that many jewellery retailers, particularly smaller independent boutique jewellers, support local manufacturers but manufacturers’ “capability and capacity is not realised because of the misconception that the Australian-made equivalent is more expensive than the import.”
“Thankfully out manufacturing techniques are unique and help greatly in keeping unit costs down so we can compete.”
Michael Obolerf rom Oblo Manufacturing is another strong advocate of the benefits of purchasing locally-made jewellery.
“Australian jewellery is usually heavier and at a higher standard than Asian jewellery,” he says. “Quality-wise it is on a par with European jewellery.
“Many retailers who choose to buy Australian-made do so due to better service, short delivery times and the flexibility to get the item they require in other metals and set with different coloured stones.”
Nonetheless, he agrees that many retailers still choose to buy on price alone although “the old ‘buyers beware’ saying is especially true of imports”.
“In general the local market is mainly price-driven with the perceived value being of more importance to many retailers than true value for money”.
He says retailers have the prerogative to buy cheaper imports but should bear in mind that Oblo manufactures jewellery that is designed with the Australian market in mind and “made to fit in with the Aussie dollar prime retail price points”.
“In addition, we service what we sell and are local in case of any customer difficulties.”
Andrew Ross from Savoy Jewellers, a Sydney-based manufacturer of wedding rings and bangles since 1966, is equally convinced that the quality of locally-made jewellery surpasses that of cheaper imports.
“Australian-made tends to be better made, being built up to a standard rather than down to a price like Asian jewellery mainly is,” he says.
“The manufacturing process and the quality of Australian-made is the same as that of jewellery made in Germany and Italy but is generally much cheaper.”
He says retailers who believe they can buy a similar overseas product for less money need to ensure they are comparing “like products”.
Mark McAskill, the managing director of Adelaide-based Mark McAskill Jewellery which has been manufacturing gold and diamond and coloured jewellery since 1982, also vehemently argues that Australian-made jewellery is typically “better than the quality of jewellery coming out of Asia”.
“Asian jewellery is getting better but we have more and better quality standards,” he explains, “but Australian designs are designed to suit the Australian market while the overseas designs are usually designed to suit the American or Asian market.”
For example, McAskill Jewellers’ coloured stone jewellery pieces are available in 9 carat gold to suit “local price points”.
“Most overseas manufacturers will only manufacture in 14 and 18 carat gold but many Australian want to buy 9 carat gold and are not willing to pay more for 14- and 18-carat.”
McAskill says retailers should value Australian-made jewellery.
“If they’re buying locally they’re helping our economy.”
He says retailers comparing the price of “cheaper” imports with Australian products should also consider factors such as quality, turnaround times on special orders, trading terms (accounts/cash up-front), delivery times and guarantees.
“We offer a 10-year guarantee on all our products so we are happy to fix any faults.
“However if a retailer imports a product, even if it has a guarantee, fixing it can be very costly as it has to be sent overseas for repairs and the retailer has to deal with a lot of extra costs such as freight, duties and the cost of transferring money.
“Australian manufactured jewellery might look more expensive at first but if you add up these hidden costs and compare ‘apples with apples’ I’m pretty sure that most times we’ll come up trumps.”
Annet Atakliyanf rom Isaac Jewellery, the Sydney-based manufacturer of gold and platinum chains, believes that although the quality of Australian-made jewellery is at “German standards”, it is largely undervalued by the market.
She says local retailers no longer value Australian-made jewellery as “the world has turned into a global village and we are forced to compete and find our niche in the global markets”.
Nonetheless she believes end buyers do value Australian-made jewellery.
“The public honours the fact that it is Australian-made. They prefer it and why not? It is local jobs, wealth and sanity.”
Meanwhile Andrew Cochineas, from the Palloys Group (Palloys, AGS Metals and Regentco), asserts that Australian fine jewellery is not only high-quality but is also often cheaper than many imports.
“When you buy overseas, you generally have to buy large quantities,” he says. “That means that you have to tie up capital waiting for the products you’ve bought overseas to sell. The cashflow advantage with buying locally is that you only have to buy what you need when you need it.
“(In addition) when you buy overseas, you have to pay import duty – obviously locally-made products are import duty free.”
Cochineas says that when the cost of capital and import duty are factored into jewellery buying decision “generally, lower-priced jewellery items that have a large labour cost component can be made cheaper in Asia because labour is proportionately cheaper there”.
“(However) I say ‘generally’ because if your only cost is tumbling and polishing with minimal setting, even mass-produced products can be made cheaper at home in Australia.
“Higher carat jewellery items with or without precious stones are seldom actually cheaper to buy overseas.”
Finally Kevin Harries from Jo Bangles (the Gold Coast-based manufacturer of gold and silver jewellery for 30 years) and the Queensland representative for the Gold & Silversmiths Guild of Australia, strongly argues that jewellery made in Australia and marked with the Guild’s markings are of unrivalled quality.
“There is no comparison of any product that is marked with the Gold & Silversmiths Guild of Australia markings,” he stresses.
“The markings are indisputable and traceable for consumer protection.
“Hallmarking and carat marks were designed for this reason. Unless you can trace the origin there is no protection.
“If the item is carat marked only, you should ask yourself: ‘Does the metal comply to the current Australian Precious Metal Standards?’ and ‘Where was it honestly made if there are no traceable markings?’
Harries says that such information is “generally not promoted” by mainstream retailers and is “being lost in translation, misunderstood or not provided at all”.
He dismisses arguments by some retailers that they can buy similar products overseas for less money as he too believes they must compare “apples to apples ” and “you will get what you pay for”.
“Guild members usually do not make light-weight disposable jewellery to compete in the mass market,” he says.
“Individuality does come at a higher price but the Guild markings reinforce any extra cost with an indisputable guarantee to be 100 percent Australian-made and able to be traced back to a single maker.
“My major concern is retailers are not capitilising on the Guild marking system and are oblivious that a quality piece will be heavier so obviously it will cost more.”
Australian retailers and shoppers may still be undecided about the benefits of buying locally but manufacturers are convinced they play an integral role in the local jewellery industry and their survival and growth is essential to us all.
To that end many of the manufacturers believe they should receive more support from the Federal Government and/or Jewellers Association of Australia.
For example Rita Williams from Sunstate Jewellers says “it would be nice if the JAA supported and promoted companies and suppliers who are Australian-made as these are the companies which are able to provide employment and apprenticeship opportunities to people who actually make jewellery”.
In a similar vein, Richard Munoz from Amaya suggests that the JAA should promote Australian-made jewellery.
“As a recognised national association perhaps the JAA has a larger role than it realises in measuring our manufacturing capabilities and promoting this to its members and even the Federal Government.”
He suggests that the Federal Government could help local manufacturers in a variety of ways.
“Currently there is practically no protection at all from imported products. If a fair trading platform is an agenda then further tax concessions, reasonable research and development grants and an increase on the import duty on finished jewellery would be a good start.
“Real support of the manufacturing sector by the Federal Government could only help in realising the potential of some incredibly technical minds and business, resulting in jobs and prosperity.”
Laura Sawade from Peter W Beck agrees that the JAA can assist local manufacturers by encouraging jewellers to purchase Australian-made product.
“The JAA can also encourage consumers to buy local and to be aware of what they are purchasing,” she says.
“The Federal Government can assist the industry by supporting jewellery apprenticeships and training. By providing facilities and support for the next generation of jewellers the Government will greatly help the jewellery industry into the future.”
In conclusion, irrespective of any action, or lack thereof, by the Federal Government and the JAA to promote Australian-made jewellery, the future of local manufacturing is largely in the hands of local retailers.
Retailers can choose to stock Australian-made products, imported products or a mix of both – in the same way that Australian consumers can choose to buy their jewellery from a local jewellery retailer or online from overseas…