Vegas Blogging: Mandalay Hey!

Some thoughts from the JCK Las Vegas Show: 

– First off, despite everyone having to adjust to a new
venue—and yes, those “ask me” people were lifesavers—the consensus was this was a
very good, even really good, show. I heard from one person that he did his best
business in three years, which, given all we’ve been through, isn’t that big a
deal. Then someone else told me it was his best show in five years, which is a
little more impressive. And then finally, somebody said this was his best show ever—which is a wow.

That wasn’t that
common, but overall, business was strong and people were upbeat by show’s end.
Still, all this shouldn’t necessarily be considered an indicator of the health
of the U.S. market, which is far better than it’s been but still has a ways to
go. As the show kicked off, the government issued a downbeat jobs report, which
got some nervous about Christmas. And many of the buyers in Vegas were from
overseas; one diamond dealer told me his sales were only 40 percent to Americans. Still,
a sale is a sale, and most exhibitors were happy.

The busiest booths I saw: Pandora, and close-out companies.

– Is the Forevermark becoming a hit? Interest in it was
heavy, according to just about everyone I spoke to, and the number of retailers in the program grew substantially by the show’s end.

Why? First off, the supporting materials and ads are elegantly designed
and pretty top-notch: one marketing person told me it was “a thin concept,
brilliantly executed.” The table inscriptions, which are the stones’ other
selling point, were also well-received. But there was also the feeling that
jewelers needed something to differentiate themselves, and the Forevermark is
the only diamond brand likely to do heavy promotion this year.

Which is something of an irony: Eleven years after Supplier
of Choice, with so many brands having come and gone, De Beers may still be the biggest advertiser in the U.S. diamond industry.

– How important are social issues to the industry now? Well,
there were at least five sessions covering those topics (conflict
gold
, Kimberley
Process
, sustainability,
coral, RJC session on chain of custody), plus the RJC luncheon and the Rap Fair
Trade conference. Now, it’s true, not
all those events were heavily attended (though the RJC drew a nice crowd; that organization has really turned a corner). Yet, these concerns were barely even
discussed a decade ago, and they are on the industry’s radar like never before.

One message that came through loud and clear: With the government
increasingly getting involved, these issues are no longer optional. In fact, some
NGOs seem to consider it more effective to just work with legislators than to
mount these big campaigns targeting businesses. Brad Brooks-Rubin, special advisor on conflict diamonds at the State Dept., even gave a surprising answer on the Kimberley Process panel when asked if there could ever be a Dodd-Frank provision for diamonds—or whether Dodd-Frank itself could be expanded into diamonds (which, given some interpretations of the law, is possible.) That, he said, is up to the industry. Which basically means the trade has to clean itself up, or the government will do it for us. 

JCK News Director