China’s ‘silver economy’ fuels a new gold rush

    While China’s younger generations are often spotlighted for their interest in gold jewelry, older consumers are forecast to drive a market surge in 2024.
    Older consumers tend to gravitate towards investment-grade products with more traditional designs. Photo: Getty Images
      Published   in Hard Luxury

    China’s millennial and Gen Z consumers may get most of the press for their growing love affair with gold jewelry, but it’s the country’s middle-aged and elderly populations that could power a new gold rush in 2024.

    According to data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, retail sales among domestic large-scale jewelry enterprises reached 331 billion RMB ($45.7 billion) in 2023, a 13.3% YoY increase. This was the second-highest growth rate among all consumer goods categories, trailing only the food and beverage segment.

    Continued demand for jewelry for personal enjoyment and investment purposes is fueling the registration of new businesses looking to cash in. According to data from Tianyancha, China currently is home to more than 7.83 million jewelry-related companies, more than 2.6 million of which were registered between January and October 2023, an increase of 89.9% YoY.

    More than gold#

    A combination of personalized design and value retention has made gold and silver jewelry appealing to consumers across all age groups, yet older adults have historically been the most consistent customer base. According to the 2023 Jewelry Industry E-commerce Platform Report (珠宝行业电商平台观察报告), nearly 50% of jewelry consumers in China are middle-aged or elderly.

    Looking at gold jewelry, the 2022 National Trend Jewelry Research Report found that around 41% of gold jewelry buyers in China are middle-aged or older. But this consumer group is interested in more than gold, with a China silver jewelry industry white paper noting that older consumers were instrumental in the country’s silver jewelry market, which reached around RMB 6.5 billion ($898 million) in 2022.

    As a jewelry store clerk in Wuhan told business consultancy AgeClub, “During weekdays, we often see retired ladies come in to inquire. They have no special requirements for style, preferring traditional designs in pure gold or pearl jewelry.”

    Despite a trend towards younger consumers in recent years, the older demographic remains a formidable buying force. This is particularly true in the offline space, where older and retired consumers often make purchases during weekdays, while younger customers prefer to shop online for jewelry and generally visit offline stores ahead of holidays or special occasions like Valentine’s Day or wedding anniversaries.

    Compared to younger consumers, who purchase a significant amount of gold and silver jewelry in the run-up to major events like weddings or the births of children, older consumers make purchases for a wider range of reasons. According to the 2022 China Gold Jewelry Market Trend Insight Report, self-wear accounts for 39% of retail revenue in the jewelry market, followed by gifting at 35%.

    Offline to online#

    Hong Kong’s Chow Tai Fook was an early adopter of e-commerce, launching its Tmall flagship store in 2010, followed by in-house e-commerce the following year. These digital efforts have paid off, with company data showing that Chow Tai Fook’s exclusive online collections accounted for 57% of the company’s e-commerce revenue in the first half of 2022, an increase of around 15% YoY.

    In addition to its collections that appeal to younger consumers, Chow Tai Fook and fellow domestic luxury jewelry brand Chow Tai Seng offer products online that feature more traditional designs geared towards older consumers.

    This all fits in with a wider online shift in China hastened by the pandemic. According to data from Euromonitor, e-commerce accounted for more than 10% of jewelry sales in China in 2022, up from around 1.2% in 2012. Last year, China’s jewelry e-commerce sales jumped 40.3% YoY to reach RMB 339.8 billion ($46.9 billion).

    While older consumers continue to purchase at brick-and-mortar stores, they – like their younger counterparts – are making far more purchases than before via e-commerce and even social media platforms. Among the top 10 best-selling products in last year’s 618 shopping festival, gold and silver jewelry accounted for five spots, becoming the single category with the most appearances.

    Last May, the monthly sales of jade seller “Xinjiang Hetian Jade Lao Zheng” on Douyin reached a staggering RMB 647 million ($89.3 million), topping the platform’s sales list and surpassing the second-ranked “Dongfang Selection” by RMB 100 million ($13.8 million). Reportedly, nearly 50% of Xinjiang Hetian Jade Lao Zheng’s buyers are older than the age of 50.

    Unfortunately, it is not all good news in the jewelry sector; while livestreaming and e-commerce have opened up new paths to purchase for older consumers, they have also left these shoppers vulnerable to fraud and overspending.

    Chinese-language articles note a troubling trend on some livestreaming platforms whereby hosts purporting to be legitimate jewelry merchants employ deceitful tactics, such as concocting sob stories about failed businesses or urgent family health crises to elicit sympathy, then dupe viewers into purchasing counterfeit luxury jewelry.

    Other sellers announce supposed clearance sales, only to vanish once they receive payment, leaving buyers with no recourse when the scam comes to light. Industry experts stress that livestreaming has significantly altered the shopping behavior and psychology of older consumers, who often lack the experience and knowledge to navigate the online jewelry market effectively.

    This vulnerability, according to Chinese-language news, highlights the urgent need for enhanced regulatory oversight and stricter enforcement on digital platforms to safeguard older consumers against exploitation.

    • In 2023, retail sales from large-scale jewelry enterprises in China surged to RMB 331 billion ($45.7 billion), up 13.3% YoY, positioning jewelry as one of the country’s fastest-growing consumer goods sectors.
    • The consistent interest of China’s middle-aged and elderly populations in traditional gold and pearl jewelry designs plays a significant role in sustaining the market’s growth.
    • Amid economic uncertainties, young consumers are investing in gold as a hard asset, as evidenced by the popularity of uniquely designed gold jewelry.
    • Brands should consider diversifying their product offerings to cater to the varied purchasing motivations of older consumers, who buy for personal use and gifting and value jewelry for its potential as an investment.
    • As older consumers increasingly transition to online shopping, including via social media platforms, brands should focus on enhancing digital literacy and protection against fraud within this demographic to build trust and encourage safe purchasing practices.
    Discover more
    Daily BriefAnalysis, news, and insights delivered to your inbox.