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China cashes in on royal wedding

Apr 25 2011 09:14 AFP

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Yiwu, China - Chinese jewellery factory owner Zhou Mingwang sums up the global appeal of this week's British royal wedding with one line: "It's a love story."

But, he adds with a sly smile, the much-ballyhooed April 29 union of Prince William and girlfriend Kate Middleton is also a great business opportunity for Zhou and his fellow entrepreneurs in this eastern China factory town.

Zhou, 32, has sold more than 100 000 replicas of the blue 18-carat sapphire and diamond engagement ring that once belonged to Princess Diana and which William offered to Kate when he proposed.

The wedding may not be a closely watched event in China, which is largely free of the hype generated elsewhere by the British royal family, but its potential has not escaped the country's nimble and web-savvy entrepreneurs.

Others in Yiwu - home of the world's largest wholesale market for consumer goods, many of which are exported -- also are cashing in on the royal union by churning out mugs, flags, and other Wills and Kate bric-a-brac.

Last-minute orders continue to flow in. Zhou just shipped 100 rings to an Australian customer, while a French fashion magazine bought 35 000 for a newsstand give-away promotion.

"Ten years ago, China was not experiencing globalisation like now," Zhou said. "The internet was not as popular as it is now. But as it becomes more popular, we can know what happens in foreign countries right away."

Ever watchful for a business opportunity, Chinese manufacturers have shown particular skill in capitalising on global events.

Vuvuzelas

During last year's soccer World Cup in South Africa, Chinese factories churned out hundreds of thousands of the vuvuzela horns whose bee-swarm buzz provided the soundtrack for the globally televised competition.

Chinese state media reports said up to 90% of South Africa's vuvuzelas were made in China.

A day after the royal engagement was announced on November 16, Zhou posted a photo of the ring on Alibaba.com, which links Chinese suppliers with customers around the world. Inquiries from buyers in England came in almost immediately.

Zhou sells the rings for about 22 yuan each ($3.40) mostly to Europe, Canada and the United States, though they are not a major part of his annual sales of around $1 million, earned mostly from black onyx rings and necklaces.

Another Yiwu entrepreneur, Fu Xuxian, assembled an entire royal souvenir line including rings, mugs, key chains and even blue dresses like the one Middleton wore during the engagement announcement.

Fu said he aimed to sell 50 000 of his rings but had already moved twice that.

"It looks like we underestimated the demand," he said outside the small flat from which he runs his online trading company, Unnar Jewelry.

The dresses sold less well, perhaps due to their $120 price tag, he said, while plush toys resembling the BBC children's show characters Teletubbies - and which had Wills and Kate's faces - also flopped.

The success of Zhou's ring business further stirred his personal interest in the wedding and a desire to see it up close. But after mulling a trip to Britain, he decided a visa would be too difficult to obtain.

Instead, he will bring a video projector to his workshop and watch the broadcast with his 40 factory employees.

"We will prepare some Chinese food and have a party," he said.

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