Czech Jewellery: Sparkling but spooked
29. 9. 2016 | Source: BusinessInfo.cz
Czech earrings, necklaces and rings enrapture princesses, actresses, fashion designers and regular women with regular-sized bank accounts the world over. But how many people know that? Though successful, the country’s fashion jewellery industry is suffering a lack of branding.
Jewellery-making has taken place in the Czech lands since time immemorial. Even the Celts made glass beads here. The current tradition, however, has roots going back to the 18th century. Since that time, it has become a widely recognised handicraft. Czech fashion jewellery and trinkets – or “bijouterie” – have always represented a symbol of quality, satisfying customers from across the world. The Czech name – and more specifically that of the north Bohemian town of Jablonec nad Nisou – continues to enjoy a good reputation, and the associated industry certainly remains busy.
The Czech Republic continues to rank among the largest producers in the world of glass products such as beads, pearls and jewellery stones. “At the start of the 1930s, we enjoyed a 50-percent world market share,” observes Petr Nový, technical head and chief curator at the Glass and Jewellery Museum in Jablonec nad Nisou. “And for the first few years after the Second World War the number even climbed to 80 percent. Even though that seems like long ago now, Czech bijouterie continues to have many buyers around the world to this day – as well as imitators. After all, no-one is going to want to be copying low-quality and unknown brands – what would be the point?”
According to Věra Všetičková of government agency CzechTrade, our fashion jewellery enjoys a strong reputation not only in Europe, but in locales across the world. Agency heads in all corners of the globe, including China, Iran and South America, report interest in such Czech products. “On the one hand our products have managed to retain a foothold in this globally competitive market of big brands, while on the other they’ve remained affordable in terms of Chinese-based production,” explains Všetičková.
According to an analysis carried out by Czech Trade, in 2015 the Czech Republic exported glass and glass goods in the order of CZK 34.7bn, with jewellery accounting for 10 percent of this sum. However, exports have been declining of late, down 15 percent year-on-year in 2015. And compared with 2010, the fall is a staggering 28 percent.
Despite this, Czech bijouterie continues to adorn many a celebrity – both Czech and international – with iconic fashion brands such as Nina Ricci, Jean- -Paul Gaultier, Prada and Karl Lagerfeld utilising components in their collections. But such facts have failed to gain the attention that they arguably deserve. It is almost as if Czech jewels have somehow lost their sheen. Arguably, the Czech state is partly to blame for this state of affairs, having failed to adequately support and promote this particular trade. The post-communist “wild” 1990s had a major role in harming the Czech outfit jewellery industry – and it continues to try to recover from that era to this day.
“In the past, Czech ‘bijou’ primarily enjoyed a strong name in countries to the east of our border,” Petr Svoboda, head of Ralton, a firm specialising in hand-made pressed stones and pearls and also custom trinkets, tells Strategie magazine. “This was down to the fact that during the era of the RVHP [the Soviet-era Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, or Comecon –Ed.] different countries supplied different products, and Czechoslovakia was known for its quality glass and jewellery.
After 1989, the situation changed considerably, with markets opening up, and more and more products from the Far East began appearing on the market. Large firms started to be more interested in price than the handicraft associated with quality products. As Czechs, we fell asleep at the wheel in terms of building a brand. And when some attempts were made, they ended up as totally inadequate,” he adds. According to Svoboda, the country mainly lacks a systemic approach – the kind, for example, seen at the Austrian firm (with Czech roots) Swarovski.
“This isn’t even a question of adeptness or good ideas, but rather a question chiefly about money,” explains Svoboda. “And Ithink that the large firms pulling the strings in the post-revolution era tended to squander funds to the benefit of individuals rather than seeking to build their companies up for the future. And so we ended up assuming the role of suppliers of either jewellery components or finished jewellery, albeit under a foreign brand name. It isn’t easy to recover from that, particularly since key privatised firms tended to view their chief competition as being around Jablonec as opposed to the rest of the world.” Today, most customers of Svoboda’s firm come from Japan, but Ralton also enjoys relationships with top Western European fashion labels.
Both Svoboda and Kopalová say they would welcome greater participation by the Czech state in promotion and support. “Czech producers could certainly benefit from even greater backing across the globe,” suggests Kopalová. “For example during state visits by our leaders; or during international exhibitions supported by the trade and industry ministry, or the foreign ministry; during celebrations of Czech public holidays abroad, supported by our embassies and so on. The Czech Republic would benefit from such media campaigns. Public service television should also be informing viewers about this industry.”
According to Andrea Kroupová, brand manager at Czech bijouterie giant Preciosa, her firm is certainly not falling short in either marketing or customers. Regular customers seek out their products, for example at clothing chain H&M, with more demanding clientele also catered to at the likes of Prada. However, Kroupová declined to go into further detail with regards to the firm’s clients or strategy. Notably, in 2015 Preciosa owner Ludvík Karel was decorated by president Miloš Zeman with a Medal of Merit. Which perhaps means that Preciosa is hardly a company to complain of a lack of attention from the Czech state.
Nonetheless, Czech state support arguably remains crucial for the further success of the Czech fashion jewellery industry. “Even in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a system of support was in place, not just for those displaying their goods at world fairs, but also at regular trade fairs,” says curator Petr Nový. “That continues to a lesser extent to this day. What is crucial is to support clearly targeted – often quite small-sized – commercial presentations and design-handicraft exhibitions.” Nový also argues that support for technical schooling is also key, in order to preserve fundamental crafts and skills, and also to support science and research. “And by no means I am simply talking about mere financial support,” he emphasised.
The industry has also been working with another branch of the Czech state – namely CzechTourism, part of the regional development ministry – to help lure in more foreign visitors. “Glassware and jewellery is something that strongly resonates with foreign tourists,” explains Martin Šlajchrt, head of product management at CzechTourism. “But each market has its own specific needs and requirements for a vacation in the Czech Republic. Chinese and Russian tourists, for example, come in search of Czech glassware – but these people most often visit Prague or Karlovy Vary, and this is where they purchase typical Czech products of this variety.”
According to Šlajchrt, such travels in search of traditional Czech handicrafts are but one field promoted by CzechTourism with the aid of its overseas offices across the globe. One recent campaign was called Traditional Czechia (Tradiční Česko), which included the creation of a website in five languages called “Tradition Makes Sense” (Tradicemasmysl.cz), offering thematic-based trips around the country. Also part of this multimedia platform was a Traditional Czechia interactive guide mobile application. This creative concept invites tourists to discover Czech traditions during their trips through the country. The concept is based around the idea that both traditional and modern Czech culture (personalities, traits, traditions and handicrafts) can be perceived and experienced by visitors. And that can span anything from tasting a Czech beer to sizing up the best of Czech jewellery and glassware production.
Originally published in the magazine Strategie. Author: Iveta Křížová