The festival of love, Valentine’s Day, is critical focus for the diamond jewelry industry, with its traditional date, February 14, rivaling Mother’s Day as one of the most important non-Christmas sales opportunities in any calendar year.
It honors a Third Century Christian martyr, who legend has it ministered to co-religionists being persecuted by the Roman Empire, and was put to death for his troubles. The theme of love, evidently, was an 18th-Century embellishment to the story, and has its roots in the belief that he wrote his jailer’s daughter a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell before his death. Others claim that the saint performed weddings for Christian soldiers who were forbidden to marry.
Accurate or not, the legend of Valentine’s association with love grew in stature, becoming a cornerstone for literally billions of dollars spent each year in romantic dinners, boxes of chocolates, bouquets of flowers, and of course jewelry. But, it’s not the only festival of its type out there, and consequently not the love-associated day on the annual calendar.
Another will take place on August 14 this year, when the Chinese world will celebrate Qixi, a festival that pre-dates Valentine’s Day by about 500 years. Like its younger counterpart, it too has become an opportunity for marketers looking to cash in on its association with love and romance.
CELEBRATING A 2000-YEAR-OLD LEGEND
The Qixi Festival, which is also called the Double Seventh Festival, takes place on the seventh day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar. It is traced back to a romantic legend from the Han dynasty, more than 200 years before the common era
The legend tells the tale of a weaver girl called Zhinhu, who also happened to be the daughter of a powerful goddess. She fell in love with Niulang, a cowherd. They married and gave birth to two children, a boy and a girl. But then Zhinhu’s mother discovered that her daughter had married a mortal, and brought her back to heaven, and to keep them apart creating a massive river in the space separating the the couple, which we refer today as the Milky Way. But a group of magpies formed a bridge across the river allowing Zhinhu to cross and meet with Niulang. Touched by the gesture, Zhinhu’s mother was persuaded to permit the couple to meet once a year – and that just happened to be the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.
An artist’s rendering of the legend on which the Qixi festival is founded, with reunion of the couple of Zhinhu, the weaver girl and Niulang, the cowherd, together with the children on the bridge of magpies. It can be seen in the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace in Beijing.
A great many customs are associated with Qixi. Women dress up in traditional robes and prepare offerings of tea, wine, flowers and fruits. They pray to Zhinu for wisdom and to grant their wishes. Single women are said to pray for a good husband, and newly married women pray for a healthy baby.
But increasingly, the way in which the festival is being celebrated in China matches the way that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in other countries, with couples giving each other gifts and going on dates.
LUXURY BRANDS GO ALL OUT FOR QUIXI
This year, with the Chinese luxury markets booming, the major brands are going all out to cash in on the festival. Qixi marketing campaigns are blanketing brick and mortar stores, as well as e-commerce platforms and the ubiquitous Wechat network of mini programs and social media.
For example, in honor of Qixi, Dior opened what it called “Dioramour Cafés” in Shanghai and Xi’an, and 12 luxury watch brands, including Longines, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC, have released a 500-piece new collection.
The sales potential of the festival is substantial. In August last year, when Qixi festival also was celebrated, Louis Vuitton’s flagship store in Shanghai’s Plaza 66 reportedly took in $22 million, up from a typical monthly total of between $11 million and $13 million.
China’s massive Wechat network, which has more than 1 billion users, is a key medium for marketing jewelry, being sold in as part of Qixi festival campaigns.
It’s important to note that Qixi is not the only love celebration to have caught the attention of China’s luxury product sector. Valentine’s Day on February 14 is also honored, as is September 9, because the number nine represents eternity in traditional Chinese culture.
If the “love festival strategy” is successful, the payoff will be considerable. During first quarter of 2021, total sales of gold, silver, and gem-set jewelry in China was worth more than $15.9 billion, up 81.5 percent year-on-year, albeit it was being compared to a quarter struck badly by the coronavirus pandemic. Consumption of gold equaled 191.1 tons during that period , its highest quarterly level in seven years, and officially reported polished diamond consumption stood at $722 million, higher than the amount reported for the first quarter of 2019, before COVID-19.