Gold as an investment may have lost its shine, but armchair shoppers are pushing up demand for gold jewellery as insomniacs and channel-surfers make the most of new television home-shopping channels.
QVC, the home shopping service launched in 1993, says more than a third of its live 17 hours of transmission in Britain is dedicated to the sale of jewellery. Buying trinkets the television way became so popular that the station developed its own simulated gem stone - Diamonique, set in 14 carat gold and silver.
With prices starting at pounds 12, QVC UK can rack up big sales. Although it does not separate its sales figures, the station took 9,000 orders on one day at the end of last month. You can be sure that more than 40 per cent of these sales will probably have been jewellery and not Hoovers.
In the US, television sales through the two big home shopping services - QVC and the Home Shopping Network - now add up to half a billion dollars of jewellery and watches a year. Television and electronic home shopping accounts for some 28 tonnes of gold per year.
So great is the appeal of all that glitters to the home shopper that US-based Factory Sales Associates has announced its intention to conquer the huge Russian market. It aims to capitalise on the novelty of the convenience of home shopping in ex-Communist states to sell watches and jewellery on television.
Television is proving influential in other ways. In Saudi Arabia, the biggest manufacturing centre for jewellery in the Middle East, the popularity of a children's television cartoon series based on the Ninja Turtle characters has pushed gold sales up by three tonnes in the first three months of this year. While the children decide which solid gold hero turtle to add to their playroom collection, their mother can also buy a few necklaces and rings for herself.
The US, which remains the largest developed consumer market for gold jewellery, showed a steady increase in demand of 8-9 per cent in the first quarter of this year. The well- known US discount chain Wal-Mart is the largest single retailer of jewellery. Although jewellery only accounts for 2 per cent of sales at the moment, Wal-Mart intends to roll out more jewellery to its stores to capitalise on the gold consumer rush.
But before long, China is likely to challenge the dominance of the US market. Accurate figures are hard to come by at the moment and the country is still many years away from being driven by the home-shopping phenomenon, but a halving in the consumption tax on gold jewellery at the start of this year has boosted sales. A survey in 1994 showed that 39 per cent of urban residents now own gold ornaments.