Shenzhen Jewellery Museum: Bridging the ornament industry and culture
Name any tourist destination and one is sure to find museums there showcasing artefacts of different categories. However, it is not often that people come across museums dedicated to jewellery. A crowning jewel in the aesthetic and cultural circuit of China is the not-to-be-missed Shenzhen Jewellery Museum located in the gold and jewellery industry hub in Luohu District, Shenzhen. A one of its kind in the country, what makes this museum really special is the fact that it is situated in an industrial area.
Welcome to Shenzhen Jewellery Museum
Talking about functionality, Shenzhen Jewellery Museum is positioned as ‘one museum, one warehouse and three centres’. The museum houses international and contemporary jewellery while ‘Yiku’ is a large database of the industry. The ‘three centres’ comprise the Global Jewellery New Product Release Centre, the Shenzhen Jewellery Boutique Exhibition Centre and the Senior Jewellery Custom Experience Centre. From its very inception after more than two years of planning, design and construction, the museum has been inextricably linked to the industry. Chinese and German design agencies joined hands for this spectacular project.
While planning the museum, authorities also placed a lot of emphasis on narrating the story of jewellery.
‘The Treasure of Nature’: An immersive movie narrated the story of jewellery. It is not just an ornament, instead, it comes from nature, from the earth and the universe. The history of jewellery spanning 10,000 years and its craftsmanship is narrated. ‘The Light of Design’ showcases contemporary design works, including Chinese jade carvings as well as indigenous and Western design elements.
Some of the works on display have been collected by the museum authorities while others were donated or loaned from enterprises and individuals. ‘The Road to Shenzhen’ narrates the story of 40 years of development of Shenzhen Jewellery. ‘The Dream of the Bay Area’ has showcases for enterprises and the public welfare where excellent works and crafts can be displayed. State-of-the-art technology and its applications in the jewellery industry are also on display. As many as six thematic exhibitions have been held so far.
The museum cooperates with similar establishments from around the globe in hosting exchange programmes and shows. It also employs nationally renowned experts and scholars as consultants. “We have public spaces where the audience can find books on jewellery, look up information and make a silver ring for themselves. We invite excellent independent designers to share their design experience here or do cross-field interaction. The public can sign up for free,” said one of the officials of the museum. Teachers of primary schools are also invited to the museum and so are primary class students to work as volunteers and interpreters. The institution also hosts gemmology classes for students apart from having parent-child activities.
The museum acts as a bridge between economic development and culture. Apart from introducing the young but thriving industry to the public by narrating stories, the museum also allows people to participate in its activities. “At the same time, we also convey ideas that meet social needs, as well as cultural and design connotations to the enterprises through this platform,” said an official. Shenzhen Jewellery Museum, which has just celebrated its first anniversary, is also exploring the PPP model.
A peep into Shenzhen’s tryst with gold
Interestingly, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in which the jewellery hub is located. The hub boasts more than 7,000 companies, 250,000 workers, jewellery wholesale stores, office buildings, jewellery monitoring stations and factories. Shenzhen’s jewellery industry was non-existent 40 years ago. Shenzhen is adjacent to Hong Kong, and in the early days of reforms, there was a vast difference between the economic levels of both these cities. In 1977, the average annual income of a farmer in Shenzhen was just 270 renminbi, compared with 6,000 renminbi, or about 2,400 renminbi just across the river in Hong Kong. When Shenzhen began to welcome Hong Kong-based enterprises to set up factories, its labour advantages began to show. At that time, businessmen came to the city to set up shops selling toys and gifts, clothing as well as leather processing units. Then came gold jewellery as well.
However, the million-dollar question is what was the situation of gold jewellery in China at that time? Then, the circulation of gold and jewellery in the country was forbidden. They were only available in gift shops in hotels, which were meant for foreign tourists. Chung Ying Street is on the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and it was there that people from all over the country went to buy gold in the 1980s and 1990s, and it was quickly sold out.
As Hong Kong-invested enterprises made a beeline to Shenzhen, the first jewellery enterprise appeared in 1981. It recruited local workers and processed materials supplied by the city. Later, state-owned enterprises entered the fray and after 1990, gold was gradually liberalised. Thus Shenzhen became the pilot city in the country to carry out the “gold consignment” business. Some private enterprises were also engaged in the processing and sale of gold. This is a huge advantage for Shenzhen. During a period of 20 years, the supply of gold and jewellery fell short of the demand. Factory-made jewellery was sold out, and no one cared about style and workmanship. But after 2003, when gold trade was fully liberalised, the situation gradually changed, and companies began to promote and pursue brands. Shenzhen’s jewellery business made strides and the number of enterprises increased sharply.
The city’s gold and platinum delivery quantity throughout the year accounts for 70% of the Shanghai gold exchange material sales. The jewellery brands also boast excellent design and craftsmanship, showcasing Chinese craftsmanship to the world. The hub also has brands that have gone global such as TTF, pictured here with French star Sophie Marceau wearing its jewellery.
Although the jewellery industry is progressing in leaps and bounds, it has its fair share of challenges as well. While product homogenisation is high, its added value is low. There are inadequacies in areas such as design ability and branding. Compromises were made after 2013. Analysts feel that the jewellery industry needs the right mix of culture and better resources to rectify its anomalies.