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Lebanon - Jewelry shows target Gulf tourists

The unofficial theme of the holiday weekend in Beirut was jewelry, where the infamous Lebanese penchant for glitz and gold was in full force with two separate trade fairs taking place simultaneously at the Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel in Beirut and the Habtoor Grand Hotel in Hazmieh.

Regional and local wholesalers and retailers erected individual booths displaying their merchandise, with many vendors participating in both shows.

Most of the pieces at both shows are extravagant, with some merchandise costing upward of $100,000, but not all items are unaffordable. At Nsouli, the company that has provided the Habtoor exhibition's showpiece for the past few years, mobile phone charms made of diamonds and semi-precious stones were sold from $50 to $500.

About 40 booths crowded the Phoenicia, its convention room resembling bustling Hamra Street, where baubles glitter seductively from countless store windows.

Though the Habtoor "Jawaher" show had only 22 exhibitors, their kick-off event boasted a live performance by renowned Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe, and many participants said they considered the smaller size to be advantageous.

"We come here to be seen and advertise, you can't make money. We sell 10-15 pieces if we are lucky. The Phoenicia is too crowded, and you get lost since people don't see you when they walk by," Hamid Wazni of Wazni Jewelers told The Daily Star at the Habtoor.

Nicole Kamel, the co-owner of Top Expo, the company that organized "Jawaher" dismissed the notion of competition between the two shows, insisting that Top Expo's goal is to project an optimistic image of Lebanon to counter the prevailing economic gloom.

"We have been doing this for more than 10 years, and this is only the third year for the Phoenicia. And we were the first company to do a jewelry exhibit in Lebanon, when we started in 1995 so we are not competing with them," Kamel said.

That the two most important events for Lebanon's jewelry industry are occurring on the same weekend is not coincidental. Lebanon's jewelry industry, like its other luxury goods and services, is geared toward attracting Gulf tourists.

"Because of Eid all of the tourists from the Gulf are in Lebanon, so they put both shows this weekend because they really like jewelry," Arpi Yalmanian said while presiding over the booth of her family owned company, Yalmanian Jewelers.

But many exhibitors and their collections were spread thin since they felt compelled to attend both. A representative from one of Lebanon's most well-known companies who preferred to remain anonymous, explained why their more extravagant pieces were not on display in Hazmieh.

"We have to be present at all shows, which is a problem when they are at the same time. We divide all of our jewelry into two, and we have to choose where to put the best pieces. One year we choose the Habtoor, one year the Phoenicia. This year we had our hand in the Phoenecia more."

Beirut,01 16 2006
Lysandra Ohrstrom
The Daily Star
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