How to Travel Hong Kong: Gemstone Edition

Though the name literally translates to “Fragrant Harbor,” Hong Kong is a crowded, tropical jewel of a town, with one of the highest square foot rent costs in the world and known for being the business and fashion gateway into China.

Hong Kong’s sovereignty was transferred from the United Kingdom to China in 1997. Hong Kong has maintained its unique personality, making it an exotic locale for Westerners and Chinese alike.

Hong Kong’s skyline at the waterfront at daybreak.

Hong Kong’s skyline at the waterfront at daybreak. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA.

Not a single gem is mined from the hundreds of inlets, islands and mountains that make up the geography of this picturesque harbor portbut many high value gemstones are certainly traded here. The town is a destination for gem traders, jewelry designers, buyers and visitors hoping to take a lovely jewel home with them when they return to their countries. Gem materials that are popular throughout China, particularly jadeite jade, diamonds and pearls…can be easily found here.

Hong Kong offers avant-garde choices for affluent buyers from mainland China and elsewhere. It provides a bridge of cultures for global buyers seeking China’s many offerings.

Green jadeite cabochon ring surrounded with colorless diamonds.

Green jadeite cabochon ring with center stone measuring 8mm x 16mm x 8 mm surrounded with colorless diamonds, 13 carats total weight. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA. Courtesy: On Tung, Hong Kong

Shopping for Jade and High-End Jewelry in Hong Kong

For anyone seeking jadeite, Hong Kong is the place for finished goods. The Kowloon Jade Market, with its bazaar atmosphere is a local attraction. Hundreds of stalls make up this location offering jadeite and nephrite bangles, earrings, necklaces and pendants. Make sure that you are aware of the differences between nephrite and jadeite which can be complex, and the difference in value between them astronomical. And learn about the factors that define jade quality: color, transparency, texture, cut, size and weight.

Most jadeite you’ll find is mined in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and the prices can be extremely high. A note of caution: If you’re purchasing jadeite to bring to the United States, please bear in mind current legislation bans the import into the United States of jade mined in Myanmar, regardless of where it may have been processed, fashioned, or purchased.

Jade market in Hong Kong.

Jade market in Hong Kong. Photo: Y. Liu/GIA.

As you shop for jadeite in Hong Kong, chances are you’ll encounter the trade terms A jade, B jade and C jade. “A” jade refers to jadeite that is natural color and is untreated. “B” jade refers to jadeite that has been bleached with acid and then impregnated with polymer resin. And “C” jade refers to dyed and polymer impregnated material.

If you’re making a significant jadeite purchase, or any other significant gemstone purchase, it’s always a good idea to request a gemological report from a well-known and independent gem laboratory for added assurance.

You can experience Hong Kong’s significance as a gem and jewelry destination by visiting one of its many fashion shopping districts. The IFC Mall down at the waterfront is a major attraction for everyone. The big names in retail are represented in all of the main shopping areas, such the Hong-Kong based mega jewelers, Chow Tai Fook and Chow Sang Sang, but also international labels such as Tag Heuer, Gucci, LVMH, Tiffany and others have found a home in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Jewelry Designers

Several globally renowned designers call Hong Kong their home as well. We mention three of them here, noted for their innovation, use of unusual materials and designnot to mention the sheer beauty of their nature inspired works.

Wallace Chan’s Polaris Light earring featuring rubies, pink sapphires and a pear-shaped diamond drop.

Wallace Chan’s Polaris Light earring. Rubies and pink sapphires provide a colorful counterpoint to the 8.04 ct pear-shaped diamond drop. Set in 18K white gold and titanium. Courtesy: Wallace Chan.

Wallace Chan – Known for using ultra-light titanium metal alloy in which the gemstones are mounted. The light weight of the material, combined with its durability and beauty allows him to expand his designs into stunning, sculptural, wearable objects d’ art. Wallace Chan is also quite famous for his gemstone carvings.

Dickson Yewn Floral Lattice Ring featuring black diamonds and tourmalines.

Dickson Yewn’s Floral Lattice Ring, features black diamonds and tourmalines set in 18K white gold and 18k yellow gold. Courtesy: Dickson Yewn

Dickson Yewn – Appreciated for his use of rich yellow gold as an architectural framework for his multitudes of carefully mounted gems in natural floral and animal motifs. His intricate gold latticework rings draw inspiration from Chinese architecture.

Wendy Yue Elephant Utopia bangle from the African Safari Collection.

Wendy Yue’s Elephant Utopia bangle from the African Safari Collection. 18K white gold set with tsavorite garnets, white and grey diamonds, blue, pink, and yellow sapphires, and wood. Courtesy: Wendy Yue Ltd.

Wendy Yue – It is hard to know in which direction to gaze at Yue’s exquisite three-dimensional designs. These jewels draw inspiration from nature, but often have an international flair.

Hong Kong viewed from the water.

Hong Kong from the water. Photo: Valerie Power/GIA.

What to see in Hong Kong

  • Victoria Peak This vantage point provides visitors with the outlay of the sea and the city, a skyline panorama destined to inspire. Travel veterans insist the best time to get there is around sundown while there is still light, but city lights are also slowly turning on. You can reach the peak by tramthe Peak Tram to be exact, departs from Garden Road Terminus.
  • The Temple Street Night Market will deliver a sensory overloadfrom the sizzling exotic foods that bridge Western and Eastern palates, to the colorful and cultural vignettes of local life in the town.
  • The Star Ferry is a great way to see the town from the water, and as it departs in the evening you will be able to witness a show called the Symphony of Lights. You can also negotiate to see the harbor from a junk, a traditional Chinese fishing boat.
  • Day trip to Guangzhou is an easy way to go to Mainland China – even if your business or pleasure takes you there for longer than a day.

Platter of roasted duck a Hong Kong delicacy.

Photo: Kheng Guan Toh

What to eat in Hong Kong

“Culinary extravaganza” would be a way to describe Hong Kong’s dinner table offerings because there is a wide range of cuisine for everyone, regardless of custom, culture or gustatory preference. Mix a fraction of British history with a dash of Hong Kong’s gateway status for so many cultures in Asia, and you get…ample choices. What to try:

  • A hearty worker’s breakfast at one of the local fish market is affordable or notch things up a bit with a lavish eggs benedict at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Both choices are guaranteed to make you swoon.
  • “Peking Duck” because Hong Kong has pretty much defined the way it should be prepared. There are lots of choices where you can take it all in: The glistening, crunchy birds and savory plum sauces can be found at the legendary Peking Garden, The Mira, and a host of others. Make reservations.
  • High Tea: – And if you would like a throwback to the old days, consider checking into the lobby at the Peninsula for high tea. Cucumber finger sandwiches never looked, nor tasted so good. And because Asia is a net producer and consumer of the world’s finest teas, the tea choices are incredible!

Retail shopping in Hong Kong.

Retail shopping in Hong Kong. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA

More Hong Kong Travel Tips

One of the best times to travel to Hong Kong is October through December, when the temperatures have cooled and typhoon rains have passed. Another exciting time to visit the city is during the Chinese New Year, usually taking place in late January. Chinese tourists from the mainland flock to Hong Kong to celebrate the holiday, but despite the crowds, the hustle, bustle and festivities are definitely worth experiencing.

Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world. However, caution is always advised wherever in the world you might travel: be careful about touting extravagance, money, or technological equipment, such as phones and cameras. Discretion and awareness will go a long way towards keeping you safe.

For more things to see and do in and around Hong Kong, and to access a calendar of the city’s upcoming events, be sure to visit the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

GIA Guest Blogger: Robert Weldon, GG
Robert travels the world documenting the story of gems and minerals. His work appears regularly in the scientific journal Gems & Gemology, GIA’s website and course materials, as well as magazines and other publications. He is the manager of photography and visual communications at GIA in Carlsbad, California.