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The sapphire and diamond engagement ring given by Prince William to his fiancée Kate Middleton in 2010 is unarguably one of the most famous rings in the world. But the ring has also proved to be a ringing success for a Chinese entrepreneur in Yiwu, Zhejiang province. Zhou Mingwang, the 31-year-old high-school dropout turned entrepreneur, was not a fan of the British royal family until he watched the engagement of the couple in November 2010.
More than the buzz about the royal couple, what caught Zhou's fancy were the pictures of the engagement ring, which belonged to the late princess Diana, the prince's mother.
The original ring is, of course, priceless and irreplaceable. But Zhou realized that there was a business opportunity if he could replicate the model.
"The moment I saw the pictures (of the ring), I realized it would be a money-spinner," Zhou says.
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But it was not going to be an easy task to translate his idea into reality. Ming Wang, the company set up by Zhou was until then just another of the many jewelry units in Yiwu.
Convinced about his plan Zhou and his team of designers then created a computer-generated image of a replica ring. In his model, Zhou replaced the oval blue sapphire with a zirconium stone and used 14 crystals instead of diamonds.
The clincher of course would be the pricing. Unlike the hugely expensive royal ring, Zhou knew he had to make his ring affordable to make profits. Accordingly he decided to price his ring at about US$3.
Two days after he posted images of the ring replicas on his company website chinamingwang.cn, Zhou received an order for 10,000 pieces from a British importer for immediate delivery. Soon 10 more orders from other importers followed. The first batch of replica rings were then shipped to buyers in the United Kingdom and Australia, where businessmen are making hay by selling royal souvenirs ahead of the wedding day.
The orders kept coming and Zhou was hailed as a star in Yiwu, a town of fast-thinking entrepreneurs. Zhou, however, feels that such undue publicity is unnecessary, as he does not cater to the domestic audience. His worries are not unfounded, as counterfeits have dented many businessmen's fortunes.
"In Yiwu, it is not unusual to make a replica of anything within one day, sometimes based on nothing more than the picture of the original product. This is the game in town," says Zhou, who went to Yiwu five years ago to establish his factory in the world's largest gift and souvenir production base.