The jewellery industry has been severely affected by the Covid19 pandemic. World demand dropped sharply in 2020, hitted by shop closures, stop in tourism flows, decrease in purchasing power across global consumers, increase uncertainty and gold prices at maximum levels. The scenario for 2021 remains highly uncertain, depending on the evolution of pandemic, with a rebound in demand that will still leave jewellery market well below 2019 levels.
The Italian jewellery industry in 2021
World demand for gold jewellery continued to grow in the third quarter of 2021 (+33%), with a slowdown expected compared to the growth in the first two quarters, which were the hardest hit by the crisis-related downturn in 2020. During the summer months, the Italian jewellery industry continued the strong performance already seen at the beginning of the year and for the first nine months as a whole it was already above pre-COVID levels both with respect to turnover (+13.1%) and exports in terms of values (+6.9%) and quantity (+8.0%).
Commodities: hit by Omicron and monetary policies
The negative impact of the Omicron variant and the threat of more restrictive monetary policies now represent the worst headwinds for commodity markets and could trigger deeper corrections in market prices in the near term. However, temporarily weaker commodity prices would clearly benefit the global economy, contributing to an acceleration in growth rates, and simplify the task of the main central banks, which could continue supporting the global recovery instead of fighting commodity-driven inflationary pressures.
Precious metals: we favour palladium vs. gold
In 2021, all the main precious metals have fallen in price. We maintain a negative view on both gold and silver, as we think that the headwinds of more restrictive monetary policies will continue to weaken appetite for both metals on financial markets. On the contrary, we now expect that platinum and palladium could recover part of their recent losses, as demand from the automotive sector should pick up thanks to the easing semiconductor shortage. Thus, in a medium-term strategic asset allocation we would favour palladium vs. gold.
The Italian jewellery industry in 2021
The recovery in world demand for gold jewellery continued in the third quarter of 2021 (+33%), although at a slower pace than in the first two quarters (+54% in the first quarter and +62% in the second quarter) and with a lag of -14% compared to the pre-crisis period. The Italian jewellery industry continued its strong performance which brought it above the values of the first nine months of 2019 both with respect to turnover (+13.1%) and exports in terms of values (+6.9%) and quantity (+8.0%).
In the third quarter of 2021, world demand for gold jewellery recovered significantly on 2020 (+33% in quantity), although with a natural slowdown compared to the first two quarters (+54% in the first quarter and +62% in the second quarter), which were hit harder by the crisis in 2020 (Fig. 1). For the first nine months of 2021 as a whole, world demand still lagged behind 2019 by -14%. Thanks to the strong upturn in the first three months (+216%), China was the market with the strongest growth in 2021 (+84%), followed by India (+45%) and the Middle East (+43%), which were among the markets with the highest growth in the third quarter, along with Hong Kong (Fig. 2). Compared to the pre-crisis period, China and the United States were the most important markets, which have already surpassed 2019 levels by +4.1% and 17.1% respectively.
Italian exports of gold jewellery, on the other hand, fully recovered their pre-COVID values in the first nine months of 2021, both in terms of values (+6.9%) and quantity (+8.0%), with a strong upturn in the second quarter (+251% in values; +273% in quantity), which also continued in the third quarter with growth rates of around 60% (Figures 3-4).
In the main export markets, the United States retained its role as the primary market for Italian gold jewellery exports due to values that almost doubled compared to the first nine months of 2020 (+98%) and to the fact that they exceeded pre-COVID figures both in terms of values (+66.3%) and quantities (+44.5%). The significant growth in exports to the Arab Emirates also continued (+141.1% in values; +151.0% in quantities), which recovered the amounts for the first nine months of 2019 (+8.8%), although still lagging behind in terms of quantities (-12.8%). Of particular note was the trade with Ireland, as a result of the policies of foreign operators already present in 2020 that confirmed the use of the Irish market as a tax and logistics base for other markets, probably also including the United Kingdom (where imports from Italy plummeted -35.8% in the period January-September). Despite the significant rebound (+42.1% in values and +48.9% in quantity), exports to Switzerland lagged behind the figures for the first nine months of 2019 by more than -35%, probably also in this case reflecting the distribution policies of the large luxury brands that use Switzerland as a main logistics hub. Particularly noteworthy was the growth in sales to South Africa, which more than doubled on 2020, when they had grown despite the crisis generated by the pandemic (Table 1).
At local level, the figures already recorded in the first two quarters were confirmed, with stronger performance in the provinces of Vicenza and Arezzo, which posted an overall recovery compared to 2020 of +70% for Vicenza and +92% for Arezzo, while the Valenza district recorded growth of +27%. This performance resulted in a full recovery compared to the pre-crisis period for the Vicenza and Arezzo districts, with an increase of +17% compared to 2019, while Valenza still lagged behind by -36%, probably influenced more than the other two districts by the pricing policies of multinationals (the figure at local level is only available in values and not in quantity) (Figures 5-6).
In the period January-September 2021, exports of the Vicenza jewellery district amounted to EUR 1.2Bn with growth of over EUR 480M compared to the same period of 2020 (+69.9%) and also up compared to 2019 (+16.7%). Exports were driven above all by the strong sales to the United States, which more than doubled on 2020 (+113%) with a substantial increase also compared to the pre-crisis period (+79.9%), and by the significant growth in exports to South Africa (+82.4% compared to 2020 and +74.6% compared to 2019). The growth in exports to Malaysia, which was already significant in 2020 (+94.4%), also strengthened, and in the first nine months of 2021 it ranked as the sixth largest market compared to tenth in 2020. Exports to the United Arab Emirates (+6.2%) exceeded 2019 levels, while exports to Hong Kong were not recovering (-52.1%) (Table 2).
The Arezzo district also recovered the value of pre-COVID exports and at EUR 1.8Bn had increased its value by around EUR 880M compared to the first nine months of 2020 (+92.4%) and by EUR 270M compared to 2019 (+17.3%). Of particular significance was the growth of exports to the United States, which more than doubled compared to 2020 (+129.5%) and significantly exceeded 2019 (+87.8%), as well as to South Africa, which increased on the value in 2019 by more than EUR 80M, coming to represent 5.1% of district exports. Also noteworthy was the complete recovery in exports to the United Arab Emirates (+15.3%), which is the primary market, in addition to the recovery versus France (+15.2%) and Turkey (+30.9%), while exports to Hong Kong continued to fall compared to 2019 (-37.1%) (Table 3).
The Valenza Po jewellery district, on the other hand, still showed a lag compared to 2019 (-36.2%) and, with a value of over EUR 1Bn in exports, recorded growth of EUR 222M compared to 2020 (+27.3%). The analysis of the countries of destination shows that this district was affected by the logistic choices of some major operators, which can be seen in the strong increase in sales to Ireland, which became the primary market from 2020, whereas in 2019 it accounted for just over 4% of exports. In contrast, exports to France were negatively affected, falling both in 2020 (-34.7%) and in 2019 (-73%), as well as exports to Switzerland (-23.4% in 2020 and -83.2% in 2019) (Table 4).
The production and turnover indices confirmed the signs of recovery: in the average for the first nine months of 2021, industrial production and turnover in the sector grew by around 65% compared to 2020, but they also increased by 13.1% in turnover and 8.5% in production when compared to the average for 2019 (Fig. 7). The latest results for October also confirmed this trend with indices increasing 15% over 2019 in terms of turnover and production.
The outlook for the global economy is currently very uncertain, due to the persistent supply bottlenecks, but real growth expectations remain robust in 2022. The Italian jewellery industry has shown itself to be well capable of responding to the crisis, thanks to the strong presence in international markets, with a growing focus on digitalisation, brand policies and sustainability, bolstered by the quality and elegance of Italian-made jewellery.
Graduated in Economics at Cattaneo University in Varese. Sara carries out research in the field of industrial economics, in particular on the fashion system and on the territories of Tuscany and Umbria.