Q. Lawrence Ma, what are your current titles/functions in the diamond industry, both private and organizational?
- Founding President and Chairman, Diamond Federation of Hong Kong
- Chairman, Hong Kong International Jewellery Show and Hong Kong International Diamond, Gem & Pearl Show Fair Organizing Committee, Hong Kong Trade Development Council
- Director, The Chinese General Chamber of Commerce
- Vice-president, Shanghai Diamond Exchange Council
- Counselor, Gems & Jewelry Trade Association of China
- Member of the Board of Governors, Gemological Institute of America
- CEO, Lee Heng Diamond Group
Q. Tell us about your journey in the diamond industry, how you began and where you are now.
I was born into the diamond industry. My late father left China in the 1930’s for Thailand and came to Hong Kong to establish Lee Heng Diamond Group in 1949. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1966 due to a heart attack at the age of fifty and left the various jewellery-related businesses that he had established to be managed by my mother and my eldest brother Michael, who had just finished high school.
At the time, my elder brother Max and I were twelve and eleven respectively. Months later, I had my first encounter with diamonds by learning to sort diamonds in the office every day after school. In 1969, aged 14, I went with my brother Michael on my first visit to Bombay (Mumbai) for two days to assist in selecting parcels of melees. In the summer of 1971, I spent three weeks in Israel making my first purchases and visiting diamond cutting factories.
Our business starting from 1966 was simple and focused for the next twenty years; we concentrated on wholesaling diamonds in Asia. Then in 1985, we established our first retail store, Mabros Jewellery, mainly to serve our many friends. Today, we have four retail brands, as we added Falconer, Mabelle and Madia along the way, not to mention two jewellery manufacturing facilities in Hong Kong and China.
My role in the family business has evolved and changed quite a lot, from “doing and thinking” decades ago to “thinking and talking” today. Nonetheless, I still enjoy very much appreciating various diamonds and jewellery pieces every now and then. However, I find observing and learning how technological, political, economic, and social developments impact and shape the evolution of our industry so intriguing.
Q. What is the current situation in the Hong Kong and Chinese diamond markets?
The situation in Hong Kong is still very challenging. After the civil unrest in 2019 which pushed one of the safest cities in the world to the brink of lawlessness, the local political disturbance has calmed down after the adoption of the National Security Law in 2020. However, the onslaught of COVID has disrupted much of the city’s daily life.
The economic driver of Hong Kong as an international hub, as well as a trading and meeting platform, was seriously impaired. In the past two years, the once annual 40-50 million visitors from mainland China were reduced to less than 100 thousand in the past year. The number of international visitors has also declined significantly, as stringent quarantine restrictions made visiting inconvenient, resulting in a detrimental impact to the retail and trading segments of diamond and jewellery in Hong Kong. The period from February to April this year marked the low point of this COVID-induced downturn. The industry has since recovered but is still far from out of the doldrums. Jewellery retail sales in July was at 40% below that of 2019. Jewellery shows in Hong Kong which used to attract 3000-4000 exhibitors and close to 100,000 buyers, with the majority from abroad and mainland China, have been reduced to B2C events for the local consumers.
The Chinese markets also has its challenges from COVID since the beginning of this year. As the number of cases increased in the past months, strict measures including lockdowns of major cities have dampened demand significantly in the affected areas. However, being a country of over 1.4 billion population, China does have the breadth and depth of consumption to weather the volatility of market forces. On the other hand, the government’s emphasis and commitment towards more sustainable and balanced economic growth over the last few years has resulted in more financial discipline and responsible credit extension. These have slowed demand of diamond and jewellery in general.
Q. How has the war in Ukraine affected the local diamond and jewelry industries?
The war in Ukraine has not had much direct impact in Hong Kong, both at B2C and B2B levels, except for the effects it has on the supply side, namely price and quantity, of the polished diamonds given the sanctions on Russian diamonds.
Q. Looking forward, how will the local industry fare over the next several months? During 2023?
In the coming few months, we are entering the traditional gifting and holiday seasons. The local market will be affected by the development of public health measures in response to COVID in Hong Kong and China, along with the backdrop of rising interest rates and high inflation globally as well as such impact on asset prices.
Q. What are the challenges and opportunities facing the Hong Kong and Chinese diamond markets?
The last three years of hardship has prepared the local industry well for the possible volatility and disappointments in the years ahead. The global economy, after benefitting from decades of globalization and adding value, may be drifting slowly towards localization and a zero-sum game mentality, which may result in lower economic growth. However, I am confident that our beloved industry will once again demonstrate its resilience and its natural tendency towards seeking mutually-beneficial solutions, enhancing consumer confidence, and growing our share of their total expenditure.
Q. Tell us about your interests/family and anything else you would like to add.
Golf is my passion. I can reflect and remind myself that my biggest opponent is me!
Family and friends are my life. I can learn from, be inspired by, and cherish each of them!