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Italian jewellery exports may recover in 2008

Italy’s jewelers may see export volumes edging up in 2008 after years of decline thanks to efforts to restructure their businesses, the organizer of a trade fair said on Sunday.

But participants at the upmarket jewellery fair in Milan said they saw a lot of uncertainty ahead as gold prices stormed new record highs and the dollar fell against the euro, making Italian jewellery too expensive in the key US market. “We hope this year will be under a sign of recovery,” said Dino Menarin, chairman of Vicenza Fair, which organized the fair in Milan running March 2-4. “We hope that export volumes will grow 2-3% and value growth will be much stronger,” Menarin told Reuters on the sidelines of the event which brings together exclusive jewellery makers and international buyers.

Italy, regarded by many as a world leader in jewellery design, has slipped behind India, China and Turkey in terms of total production volumes. About 75% of Italian jewellery is sold abroad. Menarin estimates that export volumes were flat last year, hit by surging gold prices and the weak dollar. But the director of Italy’s goldsmiths’ body, Federorafi, Stefano de Pascale was more cautious saying sky-high gold prices and the weak dollar may hit Italian jewelers in 2008 again after an almost certain fall in export volumes in 2007. “It would have been great if we finished last year with a growth in export value and volumes at the same levels as in 2006. But I am afraid there will be a fall (in volumes), because of the euro and gold performance," de Pascale told Reuters ahead of the jewellery fair.

Top-end growth drivers
Official Italian statistics on 2007 jewellery exports are expected in about a month. In the first nine months of 2007, Italian jewellery exports jumped 19% in value and edged up 0.8% in volume, Vicenza Fair’s data has shown, sparking hopes the sector may have bottomed out after years of decline. But sector experts said the Q4 was disappointing for jewellery sales as consumer sentiment was hit by an the credit market crunch and fears of an economic slowdown. Menarin said many Italian jewelers have reorganized their businesses to address market demand and have invested a lot in marketing, preparing the ground for the sector recovery.

High-end Italian jewelers -- most of whom are major exporters -- are expected to be the main drivers of the sector’s recovery this year as they have been less affected by high precious metals prices and turbulence on the financial markets than mass-market jewellery makers, he said. “We are betting on the high-end jewellery. We believe that this particular segment will distinguish Italy on the international markets,” he said. Roberto Coin, who sells a lion’s share of his exclusive diamond-rich jewellery costing up to $5.4 million in Northern America, said clients have been postponing orders in the hope, that the economic situation improves and gold prices fall. “There is a lot of uncertainty on the market, especially in America... People find it more difficult to decide on buying jewellery. Such indecision may cost 10-30% (of sales),” Coin said. Coin said he aimed for a more than 10% sales growth this year, after a 25% jump in 2007 and planned to start making luxury leather bags in 2008 to back up growth. (Reuters)