Tiffany sends top bling to China as consumers kept at home

October 04, 2019 09:20
Tiffany is among a group of luxury brands grappling with the US-China trade war. Photo: Bloomberg

Tiffany & Co. is sending more of its priciest jewelry to mainland China to reach consumers kept at home by a weak currency, chief executive Alessandro Bogliolo said.

“We follow our customers where they shop,” Bogliolo told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.

A lower domestic sales tax has also contributed to double-digit decreases in sales to Chinese tourists in the United States and in other destinations, he said, reflecting an effort by China’s government to “repatriate consumption” by its citizens.

Bogliolo spoke after a luncheon put on by Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. Among the inventory moved abroad, he said, has been high-end jewelry like diamond necklaces valued at US$1 million and up.

In the past, more of these types of pieces were purchased by wealthy Chinese travelers in New York or Paris, he said.

Tiffany shares were trading around US$89 each on Thursday, well below the closing high of US$139.50 they reached in July 2018.

New York-based Tiffany is among a group of luxury brands grappling with the US-China trade war, along with lost business due to the protests that have rocked Hong Kong since summer, forcing malls to shut.

The protests have led to a rising number of store closings in the Chinese-controlled territory, Bogliolo said, without giving a precise figure. “We hope for a positive resolution of the protests, but it’s not improving at all,” he said.

Hong Kong accounts for up to 10 percent of the estimated US$285 billion annual global market for luxury goods, Reuters said. Other brands under pressure include Swatch Group, Cartier-owner Richemont and France’s Hermes.

In their ongoing trade war, Washington and Beijing have levied punitive duties on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s goods, roiling financial markets and threatening global growth.

Bogliolo said he could not forecast how long tensions might continue but said he aimed to “act on what is in our control”.

The company last month opened an exhibit of its jewelry at Shanghai’s Fosun Foundation, for instance, and Bogliolo said he wants to avoid charging Chinese consumers extra to cover the costs of tariffs on jewelry it imports into the country.

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