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10 Things Rocking the Industry

Jewel Box
By JCK Staff
This story appears in the October 2011 issue of JCK magazine
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10 Things Rocking the Industry
Black rhodium gemstone and diamond bangles; $250–$3,295 (sold separately); Ippolita, New York City; 877-865-5500; ippolita.com

1. Fashion

Mother Nature must be a closet fashionista. After days of downpours, Manhattan got a brief respite on Sept. 8—just in time to strap on some stilettos for Fashion’s Night Out, the annual kickoff to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Swanky shops all over the city cranked up the music, popped champagne, and passed out gift bags—and that included jewelry stores, too: At Swarovski’s Rockefeller Center boutique, celeb stylist George Kotsiopoulos conducted mini-makeovers; Jack Vartanian’s customers enjoyed bubbly and Brazilian chocolates; and Tiffany & Co. celebrated its groovy new ’70s-inspired line with a performance by Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester and the band Check in the Dark (sample song: “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”). Meanwhile, Ippolita created a multimedia art exhibit. Way to raise the bar!

2. Celebrities

Maybe the three Vera Wang gowns and $10,000 crystal-encrusted invites were a wee bit much. But what really put Kim Kardashian’s wedding over the top (seriously, we can’t even see the top!) were her Lorraine Schwartz diamonds: She had nearly 100 cts. on her head alone: a 65 ct. headpiece, worth a reported $2.5 million; 28 ct. diamond drop earrings, valued at $5 million. Plus, of course, her Schwartz-designed 20.5 ct. engagement ring. And her new 15 ct. wedding band, created by—say it with us—Schwartz. We think Schwartz, the go-to red-carpet jeweler for celebs including Beyoncé and Blake Lively, got as much press on the big day as the reality-star bride.

3. Lawsuits

iStockphoto

Two of the trade’s best-known names are locking horns legally over the word sublime. On Aug. 3, Hearts On Fire sued De Beers Diamond Jewelers, alleging that De Beers’ retail chain’s Sublime Symmetry Mark is “nearly identical” to HOF’s Sublime Mark. The suit, which charges trademark infringement and unfair competition, seeks to prevent De Beers from using its Mark, as well as unspecified damages. (Both companies’ reps declined comment.) The timing takes things from the Sublime to the ridiculous: A week before the filing, HOF principal Susan Rothman publicly praised De Beers’ Varda Shine when the Diamond Trading Company head received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Jewelry Association.

4. Auctions

When discussing Christie’s two-day auction of 269 pieces from Elizabeth Taylor’s famed ­jewelry collection, people don’t talk only about the pieces, impressive though they are. They talk about their stories. And there are plenty. Take the Elizabeth Taylor ­Diamond, formerly known as the Krupp; husband Richard Burton bought the 33 ct. flawless gem in 1968, and Taylor wore it almost every day. La Pérégrina, one of the world’s most famous pearls, was once part of the Crown Jewels of Spain. The Mike Todd Diamond Tiara came from Taylor’s third husband in 1957 with the words You are my queen. “There are such great moments behind every purchase,” says Rahul Kadakia, head of jewelry for Christie’s America. Christie’s predicts the ­Dec. 13–14 sales will fetch $30 million, but Kadakia is clearly thinking bigger. “In terms of jewelry,” he says, “this may be the most important event the U.S. has ever seen.”


Christie’s Images Ltd. 2011

The Bulgari emerald and diamond necklace alone is estimated to sell for $1 million–$1.5 million. The detachable pendant? Another $500,000–$700,000. 

5. Astronomy


Swinburne Astronomy Productions
Twinkle, twinkle little…diamond planet?

The song lyric “like a diamond in the sky” may have new resonance now that astronomers have discovered the first diamond planet. On Aug. 25, a team of researchers from the University of Manchester introduced the world to PSR J1719-1438, a faraway pulsar (neutron star) five times the size of Earth, whose high pressure has caused the carbon within it to crystallize into diamond. One of the scientists, Matthew Bailes, tells JCK that the distance to the planet is so enormous—it’s in the constellation Serpens, 4,000 light years away—that it poses no threat to the ­gemstone biz. But it has inspired plenty of jokes. One tweet: “So I guess now it’s ‘men are from Mars, women are from PSR J1719-1438?’ ”

6. Weather

Hurricane Irene ravaged the East Coast on Aug. 27 weekend, and jewelers didn’t escape its fury. ­Jewelry by Gail in Nags Head, N.C., had its sign toppled, its power turned off, and its exterior coated with a salty film. But owner Gail E. ­Kowalski feels she was spared the worst because of precautions. (She checked the alarm’s battery backup, unplugged appliances, and covered windows with corrugated aluminum.) Caitlyn Wilkinson, owner of Renaissance Fine ­­Jewelry in Brattleboro, Vt., also planned ahead, ensuring her chimneys and pipes were sealed. Her store escaped largely unscathed, though many in her town weren’t so lucky. Joseph Marino, managing partner of B&A Jewelers in Staten Island, N.Y., didn’t sustain any damage, but the storm wasn’t good for business; with televisions blaring nonstop Irene coverage, locals did “very little jewelry and watch shopping,” he says.

7. Prices

 iStockphoto

What goes up ­eventually comes down—as we are seeing in the diamond market. After more than a year of increases, prices are on the decline. According to the RapNet Diamond Index, the price of 1 ct. polished fell 4 percent in August. Half-carat stones dropped by 2.2 ­percent, and 3-caraters tumbled a ­whopping 5.4 percent. Even more ­ominous, at BHP’s August tender, ­considered an influential market indicator, rough prices sank an average of 18 percent. New York City manufacturer Jeff Fischer thinks we are ­witnessing a “minor correction,” which is ultimately a good thing. “This is a manic-depressive industry,” he says. “And we’ve been manic.”

8. Ethics

Martin Rapaport made his name issuing ­verdicts on diamond prices. Now, he wants to judge ­ethics. ­Rapaport’s proposed “ethical certification” ­system—which he says is purely voluntary—will grade ­diamonds based on where (and how) they were mined. To make it work, Rapaport will enlist a team of auditors to examine manufacturers’ tracking systems. “If a factory comes to us with polished, they would have to be able to prove which mining company that rough came from,” he explains. Once a stone’s origin has been established, it will get an ethics grade—with fair-trade diamonds getting the highest ranking, and recycled stones coming after that.

9. Majors

Nicole by Nicole Miller pendant in sterling silver with 0.25 ct. t.w. diamonds; $509.99

The stars have aligned for jewelry’s biggest ­merchants, if the latest wave of new celebrity-styled jewelry lines is any indication. Runway designer Nicole Miller’s silver and diamond collection for J.C. Penney went on sale in September, while Jessica Simpson’s diamond fashion jewelry for Zales is available in stores this month. Meanwhile, Vera Wang’s bridal jewelry line, also for Zales, arrives in early 2012, just as June brides are readying for ceremonies. All hit a wallet-friendly price point (Simpson’s starts at just $79) and feature familiar motifs like Celtic knots and butterflies. Based on their all-star branding power, chances are good that all three will strike a chord (and sales) with consumers.

10. Stats

Consumer confidence dropped for the third straight month in August to reach its lowest level since March 2009, according to Discover Financial U.S. Spending Monitor. The survey found that 64 percent of Americans rated the economy as poor—a two-point jump from July. “Generally, people aren’t feeling that great about the economy right now,” says spokesman Matt Towson, who thinks the confidence drop corresponded with the debt-ceiling crisis and wild stock-market swings. Even so, consumers haven’t shut their wallets entirely: “Spending pretty much remains flat,” Towson says. “Despite how they are feeling about the economy, people’s spending intentions haven’t taken a dive.” And no matter how bad the numbers may seem, Towson notes they are far higher than in 2008, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers: “We are definitely not at the bottom.”

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