10 Things Rocking the Industry



1. Gold

Gold prices reached an all-time high of $1,234 in mid-May, edging past the previous record of $1,227 from December 2009. Confidence in the 750 billion-euro (U.S. $1 trillion) bailout for Greece quickly faded. Eurozone countries will have trouble reducing their budget deficits based on the size of the aid package, strengthening the confidence in gold as a safe haven for investments for these countries, especially Germany, where physical traders reported a surge in buying small bars and coins as well as market bars (400 ounces). “The last time we saw this level of grassroots activity was in October 2008, when the economy was on the brink and the retail gold-buying community effectively drained gold from the market to make it practically impossible to source in retail volumes,” says Ross Norman, director of TheBullionDesk.com. ­Norman’s forecasts for 2010 gold prices range from $1,080 to $1,236 and $1,425.

Diamond

Image Credit: De Beers

2. Big Sale

A 5.16 ct. fancy vivid pear-shaped blue diamond, originally part of De Beers’ famed Millennium Jewels Collection, sold for $6.4 million (49.4 million HKD) to London’s Moussaieff Jewellers at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on April 7, making it one of many natural-colored diamonds to win high prices at auction this year. (See also Brilliant.) The price beat the top house estimate of $5.9 million and marks the first sale of a ­Millennium stone since they were placed with private collectors in 2000.

iPhone

3. Technology

Haggling with local jewelers just got easier. Blue Nile has released an iPhone app designed to save consumers time—and toner. Shoppers have long printed pricing lists from the website to match at brick-and-mortar retailers. Users can now easily comparison-shop and check the cost of more than 50,000 diamonds right from their phones.

Watch

Image Credit: Courtesy of Louis Moinet
Louis Moinet’s Jurassic Tourbillon, made from authentic fossilized dinosaur bone; $274,000; louismoinet.com

4. Watches

Swiss watch exports, an important weather vane in the watch business, rose almost 17 percent in value (about $3.5 billion) in 2010’s first quarter, back to pre­recession 2007 levels.

5. Mining

The industry’s social evolution continues with the introduction of fair trade gold. The Fairtrade Labelling Organizations ­International (FLO) announced on March 17 it will endorse the precious metal mined by artisanal diggers in Latin America in ­conjunction with the Association for ­Responsible Mining. The FLO-certified gold will debut this year in the United Kingdom.

Sapphires

Image Credit: iStockphoto

6. Media

The colored-stone sector may soon receive the same scrutiny as gold and diamonds. In a new reality show, England’s BBC-3 TV takes six bling-loving kids and brings them to an African sapphire mine so they can better understand where the beloved gems come from. Blood, Sweat and Luxuries, which first aired in April, sends the teens to work in over-100-degree heat for mere dollars a day.

7. Legal Matters

The Supreme Court announced it will hear the case of Costco v. Omega in the fall. At issue is the “gray market”—genuine brands bought overseas by American retailers and resold in the States at lower prices. In this case, Costco bought Omega watches abroad and resold them at home. But Omega items have a small icon that is copyrighted in the United States; therefore, says the watch brand, the warehouse giant violated the law. Costco argues that such restrictions do not apply after the first sale of goods repurchased legitimately overseas. Whatever the court rules, the decision will have wide-reaching effects on U.S. watch retailing, Internet sales, and national discount chains. (See also News Gems.)

Fringe-motif jewelry

8. Trends

Move over, Bezet diamond engagement rings. And take a back seat, silver heart toggles. Tiffany & Co. has introduced a line of fringe-motif jewelry featuring textured weaves and tassels in 18k rose, yellow, and white gold. Prices for the latest trend range from $475 to $4,900.

9. Retail

Zale Corp., which earlier this year warned in an SEC filing it “may not have sufficient liquidity to meet operating needs,” was thrown a much-needed lifeline in May when Golden Gate Capital agreed to loan the company $150 million. GGC, a private equity firm with extensive retail experience, in return gets interest and fees, two seats on Zale’s board, and the right to buy enough stock to give it a 25 percent equity stake. The Dallas-based retailer also announced a new bank facility, which gives it access to $650 million and a credit card provider for its Canadian division. (Zale is still talking with Citibank about its U.S. cards.) The deal should recapitalize the troubled chain through this year—and that’s important to vendors whose fiscal health could be tied to Zale’s.

Chart

10. Stats

While the numbers seem grim, JBT president Dione Kenyon assured JCK, “The amount of closings has stopped increasing.”