The Best of Las Vegas 2013: Part 1

About 10 days ago, on the Friday night of JCK Las Vegas, I attended a dinner hosted by the Swiss watch brand JeanRichard in honor of its newest partner, Nik Wallenda, the 34-year-old high wire performer who on June 23 plans to walk across the Grand Canyon.

The brand invited a small group of journalists to StripSteak at Mandalay Bay to meet Wallenda and his wife, Erendira, and though I didn’t chat long with either of them, meeting a seventh-generation member of The Flying Wallendas and learning that his beautiful wife was also a high-wire artist—she was born to two circus performers, a Mexican father and Australian mother, and grew up on the wire herself—was more thrilling than I expected.

It was just the kind of wacky run-in I’ve come to expect during my time in Vegas. In fact, this year had more wacky moments than most. Not that, mind you, I neglected to get serious. As you’ll see by my photo diary below, products and parties dominated my Vegas schedule… just the way I like it! (Stay tuned for part 2, next week).

My first appointment at LUXURY was with Supreme Jewelry, whose big showpiece was an 18k yellow and white gold cuff set with a carved ruby totaling 165 cts. I know this year is all about emerald—not to mention blue-hued stones like Paraiba tourmaline, as you’ll see below—but I have a good feeling about ruby for 2014. Expect to see more supplies enter the market as the mining firm Gemfields ramps up its Mozambique ruby production. And expect more firms to integrate gorgeously carved specimens like this into their designs.

It was Wednesday night and I hadn’t even been in town 12 hours, but already I was flying high—literally. The team behind the 2(X)IST watch brand put together a clever outing on the Wednesday night of Vegas: They invited a group of journalists to go ziplining above Fremont Street. The joy ride lasted seconds, but the laughs we all shared went on and on. Thanks for breaking me out of my Vegas comfort zone!

I’ve already blogged about this year’s JCK TV effort. The scene we shot at miX, the lounge atop THEhotel, was a particularly fun one.

These Mozambican Paraiba tourmaline earrings from Sutra, another LUXURY exhibitor, go a long way toward explaining why the beguiling blue-green gem is poised for a big year. We saw lots of it in Vegas—from melee to sizable center stones—and I, for one, am thrilled. Paraiba is one of my all-time favorite stones. (Brazilian or African, I’m an equal opportunity lover.)

I confess: After a single day spent walking the show, slice fatigue began to set in. The look of a thin sliver of gem material framed by diamonds and set into a piece of jewelry was fresh when it made its debut a few years ago, but today, it’s ubiquitous—and therefore not fresh. That’s why I was pleased to see Yael Designs’ new Serendipity collection featuring slices of a different sort. Owner Yehouda Saketkhou scoured the gem market for emeralds with flat, sliced bottoms and rose-cut tops. “We sold over 50 percent of it in two days of LUXURY,” he says.

My favorite part of walking the show is making discoveries. Sometimes, I find things. Other times, they find me. In this instance, Robert Van Wagoner and his lovely wife, Patricia, of Beija Flor Wholesale, a gem importer based in Haiku, Maui, reached out to me before the show to tell me about their newest venture: distributing a line of German-made, mostly Swiss quartz watches from Conlight that feature Pallasite meteorite dials, referring to a type of meteorite that is embedded with crystalized gem peridot (olivine). I loved the look of the dials—but knowing that they were made from silvery shards of 200-million-year-old cosmic matter made them all the more intriguing!

You’ll be hearing a lot more about the latest installment of Rio Tinto’s visionary “Diamonds With a Story” campaign in our upcoming July-August issue, so for now, I’ll just say this: Kara Ross’ jewelry contribution to the effort was very cool. The necklace and the ring in this shot are made of—wait for it—concrete. Cured and hammered and cracked to evoke the broken sidewalks of New York City, the surprisingly light material is lined with white Rio Tinto diamonds. “What’s higher than diamonds? What’s lower than concrete?” asked the designer. The contrast, in my opinion, works perfectly.

Zoltan David’s “Diamonds With a Story” collection was even more thoughtfully constructed. Inspired by the Aboriginal creation myth known as Dreamtime, the Dreamcatcher earring shown here is made with blackened stainless steel set with Argyle diamonds and backed with rose gold (to symbolize the red earth of the Australian Outback).

I slipped away on Friday afternoon to hit up the Couture show at the Wynn. The thrill of the day was trying on Shinola’s newest ladies model, The Gomelsky, which I blogged about last week. (Let’s hope the anonymous commenter known as Null cuts me a break this time.)

I blazed through Couture’s ballrooms much too quickly this year. The crew at Fragments had some especially memorable new pieces, as did the opal pioneer Katey Brunini and the gemstone queen Erica Courtney. Before I left the Wynn, I popped by the villa hosted by Coomi Bhasin, whose new collection of 200-year-old arrowheads and coins found in the Indus Valley was out of this world. So was her first full-on effort at haute joaillerie, an over-the-top assortment of diamonds set in lapis, emeralds set in opal, and lots of sumptuous designs in white gold.

Mark Smelzer, my JCK partner in crime: Thanks for the memories. We let off some steam late on Friday night at a condo party hosted by Manos Phoundoulakis in honor of Colorado retailer Beau Staley’s 40th birthday. Good times!