Hauling a staid, tradition-bound industry into the modern world of global marketplaces and technology-led production is only half the mission for Kathy Ng, president of Hang Fung Gold Technology Group, who counsels a more proactive marketing strategy and investment in innovative manufacturing techniques to overhaul a traditional industry.
Ms Ng started out in the jewellery business with Hang Fung shortly after returning from Canada in 1990 and recalls the tough job market for novices of the time.
"When I entered the business, sound product knowledge and experience were the qualities most employers were looking for," she says. "I was lucky to land at Hang Fung, as they have a record of giving young people a break."
Since then, Ms Ng has slowly worked her way through the company, earning a number of professional accreditations along the way, such as a diploma in gemmology from the Gemmological Association and Gem Testing Laboratory of Great Britain.
"The jewellery business doesn't follow legal stipulations on what certifications and qualifications you must study for but, generally speaking, it is a good idea to absorb as much information and knowledge as you can," she explains.
Ms Ng also notes that jewellery is a very hands-on industry and, apart from theoretical knowledge, professionals need to keep abreast of the latest market, technological and style developments.
Setting the standards
For those making their first steps in the jewellery trade, Ms Ng recommends they thoroughly immerse themselves in the industry, absorbing facts, information and viewpoints.
"There is no point in carrying on if your heart is not in it," she says. "Before embarking on any career you should ask yourself if this is really what you want to be doing several years down the line. A career is something that lasts for your entire working life, so you should at least enjoy what you do."
Ms Ng also warns against taking a fair weather attitude to the workplace, and notes that all industries face peaks and troughs.
"Even when that particular market is not doing so well, if you love the work you should stick with it - if you work hard and improve yourself, the market will rebound eventually," she says. "That's why I recommend our junior staff take time out to innovate and improve their knowledge; it benefits them and the company as well in the long term."
Attention to detail, affinity for the product and a flair for trends are also good qualities to nurture in this sector.
"Ultimately, you need to have a sustained interest in your line of work if you want to make a success of your career," says Ms Ng. "In this business, you need to be aware that you are marketing luxury products, but that they also have an artistic element. There is a lot of scope for inventive jewellery professionals to introduce
new designs and innovative techniques."
Meanwhile, as a working mother with a young daughter, Ms Ng feels that there is no reason why women should not balance a successful career with a fulfilling home life.
"You do need to make a concerted effort to allocate time for the family, but it is not necessary to sacrifice either the home or the family," she says. "Luckily my interests are in my work and also in raising my family, so neither is ever a chore for me."
Although the world of jewellery and luxury items may seem exciting and glamorous to the observer, Ms Ng points out that the market leaves no room for sentiment and that the bottom line is ultimately all that matters to directors and shareholders.
"I approached the jewellery business from the sales and marketing route and came to realise that this function is the lifeblood of any organisation," she recalls. "At the end of the day, every company relies on the
market to survive, so it makes sense to study trends closely and provide what consumers demand - rather than producing what you think is a great item which gets a lukewarm response from the market."