Asian buyers want more than just diamonds

Mouawad

Dubbed the "World's most sought after" emerald jewelry, the "Grand Esmeralda Suite" – a 30-carat necklace and earrings set featuring 7 unoiled deep green gems – is making its first Asia appearance at a jewelry show in Singapore.

Created by Switzerland-based luxury jeweler Mouawad, the exquisite piece with a $14.5 million price tag aims to capture shifting demand for high-end jewelry in Asia.

"Things have shifted from the old days when everything was about white diamonds. Nowadays, people are interested in investing in colored stones," said Jean Nasr, managing director at Mouawad Singapore, referring to precious stones like rubies, sapphires and emeralds. "There's a sense of competition and it's also about making a statement. Women of today are also very confident and they want to show that they dare to be different."

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Growing demand boosted prices of colored stones by 30-60 percent over the past six years, Angela Loh-Bém, festival director of Singapore JewelFest, an annual high-end jewelry show, told CNBC.

Rare colored gems such as Tanzanite and Paraiba Tourmaline are also gaining traction among Asia's jewelry buyers, she said. The former is an increasingly rare stone available only in the depleting mines of Tanzania, while the latter changes into a brighter shade of blue under heat.

"Asians are now looking for things that are hard to come by. The bottom-line is rarity that they can afford," said Loh-Bém.

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Changing demand

Increasing affluence in Asia and consumers' ability to research purchases on the internet underlie the shift in preferences, industry watchers say.

Southeast Asian consumers are one of the most educated buyers in the region, according to Loh-Bém: "There are many educated shoppers right now who know exactly which gem stone they want and how much they should buy it for."

"Two years back at the Singapore JewelFest, there was a gentleman who came looking for a 13-carat aquamarine," she said. "That is very specific and he's a man!"

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Demand for Objet d'art – jewelry that resembles art pieces – and innovative pieces is also increasing, according to industry watchers.

German jewelry maker Heinz-Mayer, for instance, received positive responses from Asian buyers between the ages of 35 to 50 years old for its "Rolling Diamonds Bracelet", which it will exhibit in Singapore.

"Asian consumers are learning quickly. They have become more educated but continue to demand only the best. The more educated consumers are open to moving away from brand names as they discover lesser-known, more exclusive hidden champion brands," a Heinz-Mayer representative told CNBC via email.

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Not worried about China

China's economy is slowing as Beijing re-balances toward consumption-led growth, while an anti-graft campaign continues to limit luxury spending, but some jewelers are not worried about demand in Asia's largest jewelry market.

"China has been consistently improving. Lately there's been a slowdown which has affected some in the country but that said, we still have the middle income range that are becoming more affluent," said Mouawad's Nasr.

Jewelry sales in China totaled $75.8 billion in 2013, roughly 42 percent of global consumption, according to a report by Research and Markets.

"India used to only invest in gold but now it's changing, they are spending more money on diamonds and colored stones," Nasr added. "We also have customers from Myanmar, Indonesia and different parts of the region that are still spending, so you win some you lose some."