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Italy loses gold jewellery exporter top spot to India, U.S

PRECIOUS-ITALY-JEWELLERY-INDIA-US:Italy loses gold jewellery exporter top spot to India, U.S

Reuters  |  By David Brough</p>LONDON  

london November 2, 2012, 19:41 IST

london 11 02, 2012, 19:50 IST

has lost its position as the world's premier gold exporter, overtaken by and the United States, and risks slipping further due to its high cost base and tariff barriers.

For years was the world's biggest manufacturer and exporter of mass-produced and crafted gold Bulgari, Damiani and Roberto Coin are Italian luxury brands celebrated worldwide for their opulent use of gold and gemstones and cutting-edge designs.

But the Italian goldsmith sector is fighting an uphill battle against punitive import duties imposed by markets such as China, and competition from lower cost producers benefiting from improving design skills and the latest technology.

Soaring prices of gold and high salaries, have inflated Italian manufacturers' costs.

Domestic gold sales have slumped due to the recession in and the soaring price of gold, which hit a record price in euro terms last month.

"Demand for is one of the first things that drops in a recession," said Licia Mattioli, who is president of Italy's Federation of Goldsmiths (Federorafi), and heads a family-owned gold manufacturing business in Turin.

Sales of gold in were down 15 percent in volume terms (to 4.8 tonnes) and fell 9 percent in value terms year on year in the second quarter, figures from the World Gold Council showed.

Steven Tranquilli, director of Italy's federation of retailers, Federdettaglianti Orafi, estimated that gold retail sales were down 20-25 percent year on year in

Total revenues of the Italian goldsmith sector in 2011 stood at 6.3 billion euros, down 16 percent from 2007, according to Federorafi.

The Italian industry flourished on the expertise and skills built up by family-owned businesses over generations and the prestige of "Made in Italy" design and manufacturing. is seen as an trend-setter in design.

But now and the United States have overtaken as exporters in volume terms.

There is also intense competition from lower cost gold manufacturing origins such as mainland China, Hong Kong, and Thailand, Mattioli said.

"and the United States have tax advantages over Italy," Mattioli said.


She said that Indian manufacturers can export gold to the United States duty-free up to a certain volume, whereas all Italian gold exports to the United States had to pay duty.

Indian and Brazilian manufacturers pay low duties when they export gold into EU markets, she added.

Manufacturers in and the United States have benefited from greater economies of scale compared to the fragmented nature of the Italian goldsmiths' industry, as well.

Improving design skills and technology, and cheaper labour, give manufacturers in developing countries such as a competitive edge.

Italy's gold manufacturing are centred in Vicenza, Valenza, Arezzo and Bassano del Grappa. Most production comes from family-run goldsmith workshops with small workforces.

Export-focused Italian gold manufacturers gather three times a year, in January, May and September, at the VicenzaORO trade fairs in Vicenza, which attract hundreds of retail buyers from around the world searching for the most exciting new designs for their stores.

Gold is currently trading at historically high levels around $1,700 an ounce, having touched an 11-month peak of $1,795 on October 5.

The current environment of relaxed monetary policy, which fuels fears of inflation, has boosted the investment appeal of gold.

Faced with the tough challenges of the domestic market, Italian gold manufacturers are turning their attention increasingly to the fastest growing export markets.

According to the latest figures from VicenzaORO, the main destinations for Italian exports in the first quarter were Switzerland (363 million euros, or 22 percent of the total), the United Arab Emirates (237 million euros, or 14.3 percent), and the United States (142 million euros, or 8.6 percent).

exports about 70 percent of its manufactured gold jewellery, with the remainder sold domestically.

"We are seeing demand from the United States pick up," Mattioli said, referring to the fragile recovery of the world's biggest economy, which had been for years the biggest importer of Italian gold

"But the big problem for Italian gold exports are the import duties in BRIC countries," she added, referring to emerging economies Brazil, Russia, and China.

The Italian industry is lobbying the European Union to overcome the challenge of import duties but VicenzaORO officials have said the high quality of Italian exports would ensure that they increasingly penetrate fast-growing Asian markets, including China.

"China operates big import duties - a major brake on business for Italian companies," Mattioli said.

"We need to discuss at an level the problem of the import duties," she added, referring to ongoing contacts between the Italian industry and the EU.

According to VicenzaORO, the Vicenza gold manufacturing district's exports to China in the first quarter of 2012 jumped by 52.7 percent to 38.2 million euros, propelling the country to second place among export destinations.

Increased design innovation and skilful marketing to growth export destinations will be vital for the future success of the Italian industry.

At the retail level, Italian luxury jeweller Damiani has seen strong growth in the Chinese and Russian markets where it expects to expand its presence.

The rapid increase of wealth in these countries has boosted demand for branded luxury goods including gold

"The foreign markets which are growing fast and where our group sees great possibilities are: Greater China, where Damiani is already present with eight boutiques and will soon open another five, and the former Soviet republics where a new boutique will open soon in Moscow," said Guido Damiani, president and CEO of Damiani.

He said a store in St. Petersburg would follow.

Mumbai-based Gitanjali, one of the world's largest diamond and manufacturer-retailers, acquired a handful of Italian luxury brands during the economic downturn, and now sells their pieces in strategic growth markets.

Gitanjali has opened a store showcasing two of its upscale Italian brands, Stefan Hafner and Nouvelle Bague, in Dalian, China.

First Published: Fri, November 02 2012. 19:41 IST