Following the toy industry, Hong Kong's jewelry sector now says it sees evidence of a recovery in key overseas markets, of which the United States and Japan are the most important.

At this year's International Jewelry Show, exhibitors notched up spot sales of US$19 million (HK$148 million). That was up a third from last year's HK$111 million, though below the HK$150 million recorded at the 1990 show.Deals under negotiation this year amount to HK$137 million, a 50 percent jump from the HK$90 million of a year ago. In 1990, the figure was HK$170 million.

The four-day event, which closed March 20, attracted more than 10,000 buyers, according to the Trade Development Council, which organizes it. That compares with 9,000 a year earlier, but was fewer than the 11,500 of 1990.

More than 270 companies took part, down from 314 last year and 289 in 1990. They represented eight countries aside from Hong Kong.

Those displaying wares contend that demand for jewelry will pick up by the third quarter as the U.S. economy revives. More orders were recorded from Europe, indicating an upturn in progress there, and Southeast Asia, which remains generally robust.

Precious and semiprecious stones sold well, with Colombian emeralds attracting what vendors said was unexpectedly good business.

Some U.S. exhibitors said the atmosphere was surprisingly good, especially with new contacts from Asia.

"We've received many orders, and I believe business will still be good for the next few years," said Motilal Chaurdia, president of Chaurdia Pearl Co. of Japan.

Hong Kong is among the world's top three exporters of precious jewelry, along with Italy and Switzerland. Japan now appears to have overtaken the United States as the primary market.

Overall exports in the first 10 months of last year slipped 8 percent from the 1990 period to HK$3.6 billion, according to trade council statistics.

The local Jewelers' and Goldsmiths' Association said sales to the United States in the 10-month period slumped 20 percent to HK$1.3 billion, and those to Japan off 6 percent to HK$1.2 billion.