China's Women to Watch

With Rebecca Ip, Tiffany Is Changing How Chinese Pop the Question

Out With Gold and Jade as Western Jewelry Retailer Opens New Stores at Rapid Clip

By Published on .

Strolling through a Tiffany store in Shanghai or Beijing crystalizes just how quickly some Western trends have taken hold in China.

Western jewelry styles have nearly wiped out a centuries-old preference for yellow gold and jade as symbols of wealth and good fortune. Major marketing from global jewelry retailers such as Tiffany are playing a large role in changing the tastes of Chinese shoppers, with the help of Hollywood movies and TV series. Romantic heroes don't pop the question with a jade bracelet.

Rebecca Ip
Rebecca Ip

Tiffany's focus on wedding jewelry puts the U.S. retailer at the forefront of this trend, which coincides with rising disposable income among young professionals, as well as the end of arranged marriages.

China's wedding market "is growing quickly, with huge potential," said Rebecca Ip, Tiffany's VP-operations for Greater China. A Hong Kong native, Ms. Yip joined Tiffany in 2005 after seven years at Chanel. "Chinese are like a sponge and they now look to the West about how to get engaged," Ms. Ip said. But, they adapt foreign customs rather than copying them.

For instance, proposals seldom come with a diamond ring. Engaged couples shop together for one after extensive research, and the bride usually makes the final choice. Chinese are better informed than U.S. shoppers about jewelry materials, and typically know the daily price of gold when they walk in the store. Sales are climbing fast and Ms. Ip spends most of her time in lower-tier cities, where store openings happen every few weeks. Tiffany opened its first store in China in 2001, and now has 18 in the mainland, plus eight in Hong Kong.

"The more expensive pieces sell better in China, where customers want the best," said Ms. Ip.

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