|A saleswoman displays a gold bar for the Year of the Snake in Yiwu, Zhejiang province. Luxury goods makers incorporate snake motifs into their products to win more Chinese buyers. (China Daily/Zhang Jiancheng)|
The growing importance of the Chinese market is prompting international luxury brands to incorporate Chinese elements into their designs.
Snake motifs are popular this year because 2013 is the Year of the Snake, according to the Chinese zodiac.
Many luxury brands have incorporated snake shapes into their latest collections, including jewelry, watches and vehicles.
Vacheron Constantin, a Swiss manufacturer of prestige watches, launched its Legend of the Chinese Zodiac 12 collection in January. A watch with a snake surrounded by leaves is on the dial, the first watch in the limited-edition collection of 12 timepieces.
Qeelin, the Hong Kong-based jewelry brand owned by PPR Group, has said its latest collection, Lucky 12, is also inspirited by the Chinese zodiac. Special items for the Year of the Snake include rings and necklaces made with gold and diamonds. The snake-year specials are priced at about 10,000 yuan ($1,600).
Mercedes-Benz (China) Ltd, the German luxury automaker, started selling the 2013 New Year Edition of its smart cars marked with a snake-shaped logo, designed by a Chinese jewelry designer Wan Baobao, on Jan 18.
The New Year Edition consists of only 666 smart cars costing 128,888 yuan each.
Chinese consumers are now the largest luxury consumption group in the world.
In 2012, Chinese consumers bought 25 percent of the world's luxury products, with the overseas luxury consumption maintaining a 31 percent rise, according to Bain & Co, a consultancy company based in the United States.
"Chinese consumption supports the world's luxury market, especially the high-end watches, and that is why international brands are paying more attention to Chinese elements," said Zhou Ting, director of the Fortune Character Research Center.
International luxury brands have already seen the benefits of using Chinese elements, she added.
Last year - the Year of the Dragon in China - Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd, the luxury British car producer, launched a dragon edition of the Rolls-Royce Phantom. The limited-edition cars were sold out within two months.
Some brands, which already have collections featuring snake motifs, promoted these collections to Chinese consumers who want mascots for the Lunar New Year.
Italian jewelry brand Bulgari has taken previous collections featuring snakes and displayed them prominently in its Beijing stores, such as its 2010 collection of jewelry and watches named Serpenti, meaning "snake" in Italian. The brand has used snakes in its products since the 1940s and snakes have been a major symbol for the brand ever since its first watch featuring snakes became popular.
The snake is a popular animal to be invoked in jewelry because of its various shapes, some designers said.
"As opposed to previous years, king cobras are popular this year, for their distinctive shape with strong visual impact," said Zhao Shuai, chief designer of Hong Kong Kaifu Jewelry International Group Co Ltd.
Zhao said the push by international brands to appeal to the Chinese market could be of benefit to local luxury houses.
"Led by the international luxury brands, it is possible for Chinese designers to work out better designs," Zhao said, "After all, Chinese designers know more about Chinese culture."