Lao Feng Xiang is one of the oldest Chinese jewelry brands in existence. It has been in business since 1848, spanning 166 years of continuous operation. The company has a rich tradition in the nation’s jewelry industry and in Chinese culture, where it is considered an important model for building and maintaining a brand name. While some Chinese jewelry retailers are named after a founder, Lao Feng Xiang’s name consists of three Chinese characters representing the beautiful and auspicious phoenix. The phoenix has an important meaning in Chinese culture—the bird rising from the ashes symbolizes rebirth—and all members of the company’s sales staff are trained in its meaning and story.
The brand of Lao Feng Xiang
As a jewelry brand with 166 years’ history, Lao Feng Xiang is considered as the model for brand building in China.
LFX, the company’s initials, can also stand for the lucky and fashionable phoenix. Gold, which represents luck and fortune, holds great meaning in Chinese culture, so Lao Feng Xiang has tied its brand to 24K gold jewelry for many years.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Lao Feng Xiang made strong inroads by marketing their 24K gold jewelry, decorations, and special-occasion gifts to Chinese officials and wealthy customers. Today, many people in Shanghai dream of owning a piece of Lao Feng Xiang jewelry.
A Time-Honored Jeweler
The Brand and the Business
Lao Feng Xiang is listed in “China’s 500 Most Valuable Brands” by the World Brand Lab. In 2012, the company’s ranking rose from 197th to 166th among the major Chinese brands. Its filigree technique has been designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage of China by the government.
Since its debut at the 2008 JCK show, “Eight Gods Calabash” has been one of Lao
Feng Xiang’s treasures. The company’s filigree technique even became designated as
an Intangible Cultural Heritage of China. The Eight Gods were described in ancient
Chinese fairy tales and incorporated into Taoism; portraits of all eight have been a very
popular theme in Chinese art. The calabash represents good luck and fortune. This 24K
gold calabash decoration displays many details of fine gold art and is mounted with
jadeite of different colors. Four animals surround the calabash, protecting it. Top and left
photos by Eric Welch/GIA. Photos courtesy Shanghai Lao Feng Xiang Co., Ltd.
Lao Feng Xiang’s sales are some of the highest among Chinese jewelry retailers, exceeding 25 billion yuan (US$4.21 billion) in 2012. The company has had steady double-digit sales growth over the past 12 years, and its brand value has risen from 7.565 billion yuan (US$1.216 billion) to 11.672 billion yuan (US$1.876 billion). The company’s overall structure includes a diamond manufacture center, jewelry company, jewelry research institute, jadeite company, jadeite carving factory, design center, jewelry manufacture factory, silverware factory, souvenir factory, pawn business, and auction house. It is publicly traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, giving the brand greater exposure and providing access to capital for further expansion.
Lao Feng Xiang’s headquarters are in Shanghai, and there are more than seventy stores in that city alone. The company has over 2,000 retail and boutique stores all over mainland China. Lao Feng Xiang recognizes the growing interest in China and Chinese-inspired designs in the global marketplace. To that end, in 2012 they opened their first overseas store in Sydney, Australia. This September, they are scheduled to open a flagship store in Manhattan. Lao Feng Xiang has also ventured into TV shopping and Internet sales, aimed specifically at the younger generation, as well as very high-end marketing for elite and upwardly mobile customers. At the same time, they pay attention to enhancing their retail stores and the customer experience.
The store on Nanjing Road in Shanghai is decorated in gold and red, colors favored by Chinese culture. 24K gold jewelry is Lao Feng Xiang’s specialty. Photo by Eric Welch/GIA, courtesy Shanghai Lao Feng Xiang Co., Ltd.
Lao Feng Xiang markets to a wide customer base in China, reaching out to the younger generation and to older, more traditional jewelry buyers. Due to the price range of their products, they can market to a variety of consumers. The company’s philosophy is to avoid price wars and focus on building their brand, quality, value, and customer relations. Lao Feng Xiang has found that consumers buy jewelry based on brand name value rather than shopping for the lowest price.
In China, as in the West, jewelry is viewed as a luxury product, especially among younger consumers. The company is expanding internationally.
Products and Designs
Lao Feng Xiang considers design as one of the core values of the brand.
According to marketing manager Ensheng Wang, China’s entire retail jewelry industry has seen a shift in consumer preferences. While Lao Feng Xiang was built primarily on the sale of pure gold jewelry, they have seen solid growth in jewelry based on design rather than the value of raw materials. Although pure gold is still one of its best sellers, the company has greatly expanded its range of jewelry products over the past ten years. Lao Feng Xiang now also carries diamond jewelry, colored stone jewelry, souvenirs, and even gemstone-mounted precious-metal eyeglass frames.
Lao Feng Xiang classifies female customers into three demographic categories: wealthy women, professional women, and younger fashionable women. Younger women tend to be more flexible in the types of jewelry they purchase, which they choose in terms of design and fashion. Besides pure gold, jewelry metals used include karat-gold, white and rose gold (which are very popular in large cities like Beijing and Shanghai), platinum, and silver. Gemstones of choice include jadeite, diamond, colored stones, and pearls.
This jewelry suite, part of a flower-inspired series called “Remix,” was introduced in 2013. Aiming to attract younger consumers, the series features small diamonds and rose gold. The designer used small diamonds to make fashion diamond jewelry more affordable for consumers with limited budgets. This suite features the orchid, which traditionally symbolizes the dignity of Chinese scholars. Photos courtesy Shanghai Lao Feng Xiang Co., Ltd.
“The Glamour of Chinese Characters” is one of Lao Feng Xiang’s award-winning designs. Chinese characters make up a written language with profound cultural meaning, and the jewelry suite reflects their origin, development, and evolution.
This jewelry suite won first place in the fourth national gold jewelry design competition. The designer and manufacturer creatively combined wood and gold in these pieces. The carved Chinese characters reflect the earliest versions of written Chinese, when the characters were more like pictures than words. Every word depicts a scene. Photo courtesy Shanghai Lao Feng Xiang Co., Ltd.
One of Lao Feng Xiang’s jewelry designs, “Elegant,” won an international prize in the 1980s. The design was inspired by flowing silk scarves fluttering in the wind. Made of karat gold and diamonds by Zhang Xinyi, one of the nation’s youngest arts and crafts masters, it was the first Chinese piece to win an international prize.
This necklace is from the “Elegant” jewelry suite. Its design was considered very bold and modern in the 1980s. Photo by Eric Welch, courtesy Shanghai Lao Feng Xiang Co., Ltd. Design sketch courtesy Shanghai Lao Feng Xiang Co., Ltd.
Another interesting piece is “Hua Kai Fu Gui,” meaning rich and honored. It won a gold prize at the 2010 “Tiangong Yiyuan” Boutique jewelry design competition. Its inspiration came from the peony, loved by the Chinese people and representing prosperity and wealth. Lao Feng Xiang mounted a large emerald in it to make a fashionable high-end jewelry piece with traditional Chinese meaning.
The blossoming peony, symbolizing prosperity, is regarded by many as the symbol of China. Designed by Wen Huang, this masterpiece was highly praised at the 2008 JCK jewelry show. Photo courtesy Shanghai Lao Feng Xiang Co., Ltd.
Lao Feng Xiang designers strive to keep traditional elements in many of their designs. They often incorporate the color red, a color that is beloved in Chinese culture. This is accomplished by using ruby, rubellite tourmaline, red coral, or even non-gem materials. For example, designers created “China Red” during the 2008 Olympic Games to emphasize classic Chinese culture and seize the moment of global exposure. Another masterpiece is “Harmonic Couple: Luan and Phoenix,” inspired by an old Chinese fairy tale. Luan and the phoenix are birds of ancient Chinese tradition, and they make a good pair.
Lao Feng Xiang’s jewelry design and manufacturing facility is also located in Shanghai. The first thing the GIA team noticed was that the designers there were highly focused on their work. The shop was full of creative energy and passion. They were studying themes including nature, architecture, popular culture, and Chinese traditions. They worked with hand drawings and paintings as well as computer-aided design. There were numerous sketches of high-end pieces laden with gemstones as well as simpler pieces aimed at different price points and a wider market.
In the manufacturing division, jewelers were producing the company’s designs through hand fabrication as well as wax carving and casting. They often worked directly from the sketches provided by the designers. Some work stations focused on wax modeling, while others used hand fabrication. There were also stations for stone setting.
One thing that struck us right away was the abundance of highly talented young adults designing and manufacturing the jewelry. The whole shop radiated focus and passion. Working alongside these younger artists were masters who guided them. It was a classic example of experience and talent being passed down over generations.
Old master craftspeople in the factory are dedicated to passing their skills to the next generation. Photo by Eric Welch/GIA, courtesy Shanghai Lao Feng Xiang Co., Ltd.
Our trip to the Lao Feng Xiang retail store, headquarters, and factory afforded a view of a company with rich traditions and history that has moved successfully into the modern market and now looks to expand globally. It mimics much of what our 2013 expedition to China revealed about the country’s jewelry industry. We witnessed a skillful blend of traditional jewelry styles and practices coupled with rapid growth into new products to meet modern consumer preferences. Lao Feng Xiang is deeply rooted in Chinese culture while successfully navigating the changing market in China and the rest of the world.
Chinese Jewelry Market
Lao Feng Xiang’s product manager and spokesperson Ensheng Wang shares with you about the current Chinese gem and jewelry market.
Dr. Tao Hsu is a technical editor of Gems & Gemology. Mr. Andrew Lucas is manager of field gemology for education at GIA in Carlsbad, California.
GIA staff often visit mines, manufacturers, retailers and others in the gem and jewelry industry for research purposes and to gain insight into the marketplace. GIA appreciates the access and information provided during these visits. These visits and any resulting articles or publications should not be taken or used as an endorsement.
The authors would like to thank the management and staff of Lao Feng Xiang and their Nanjing Road store in Shanghai for allowing us to interview them and film in their store and jewelry manufacturing facility. We would also like to thank Mr. Shuyun Zhang, the colored stone manager of Lao Feng Xiang, for providing us with many photos. Special thanks go to Prof. Shouguo Guo and Mr. Xiaobo Lang for arranging the trip and acting as our interpreters.