10 Things Rocking the Industry: December 2014–January 2015



1. Auctions

November was a ­blockbuster month for auctions, with four significant sales benchmarks set in 10 days. On Nov. 11, the Blue Belle of Asia sold for $17.3 million at Christie’s Geneva. That day at Sotheby’s Geneva, the Henry Graves Super­complication, created in the 1930s by 175-year-old Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe, sold for $24 million—more than doubling its 14-year-old record of $11 million. The next night at Sotheby’s Geneva, the 8.62 ct. Graff Ruby sold for a record $8.6 million. And don’t ­forget diamonds! On Nov. 20, Sotheby’s New York sold a 9.75 ct. fancy vivid blue pear-shape for $32.6 million, a record price per carat ($3.3 million) for any diamond.

2. Celebrities

Anyone who’s ever worn lace gloves or a pile of rubber bracelets can attest to the power of Desperately Seeking Susan, the 1985 mistaken-identities caper that spawned a Madonna fashion craze and her No. 1 dance single “Into the Groove.” So it’s no wonder an Egyptian-themed earring the now–Queen of Pop wore in the movie fetched $34,375 at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Her much-copied pyramid-emblazoned tuxedo jacket went for $257,000!) Again, this is a single earring. We knew Madonna was a trendsetter, but who knew she was 30 years ahead of the solo ear-adornment statement?


Everett Collection
Left: Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan; right: the $34,000+ pharaoh earring, rendered in hand-painted plastic with imitation turquoise and stone beads

3. Art

Portofino Midsize Automatic in 18k red gold case with diamonds on leather strap; $20,200; IWC, NYC; 800-432-9330; iwc.com

Every December, the world’s top gallerists and tastemakers descend on Miami Beach to attend a spinoff of the Swiss mega-fair Art Basel. IWC, Hublot, and Audemars Piguet all hosted star-studded shindigs to tout new boutiques, lines, and collaborations. For IWC CEO Georges Kern—who promoted the new Portofino Midsize collection—the nexus of art and commerce that defines Art Basel was hard to resist: “We did the launch here considering the artistic environment.” Between the fair’s $50 million Francis Bacon paintings and Champagne-soaked South Beach parties, it’s clear: The decadent art scene is ripe for the luxury watch industry’s taking.

4. Majors

Courtesy of Kagin’s Inc.
Light

There has been a changing of the guard at Signet, though many say it’s not much of a change. Michael Barnes, who headed America’s largest jeweler for nearly four years and oversaw its Zale and Ultra acquisitions, stepped down in September. He was replaced by 30-year company veteran Mark Light, longtime CEO of Sterling, Signet’s U.S. division. Neither analysts nor vendors expect big shifts; Light has been steering the ship operationally for some time.

Courtesy of Kagin’s Inc.

5. Gold

A part-time prospector scoping public lands with a metal detector in Butte County, Calif., must have gotten quite a rush when he dug up a 6-pound chunk that turned out to be pure California gold. The finder, who wishes to remain anonymous, brought it to coin experts at Kagin’s Inc., who declared the Butte “Nugget” the second-largest piece of California gold still in existence. (The yellow rock may fetch as much as $450,000 when it’s sold.) The moral of the story, according to Digger Bob, a hobbyist acting as the finder’s spokesman: Buried treasure is “still out there.… Keep the dream alive.”

6. Trends

Earrings with seed pearls, garnets, and cloissoné in vermeil; €1,080 ($1,335); Percossi Papi, Rome; 39-067-806-406; percossipapi.com

Pantone has decided to head in to the new year on a decidedly muted note, naming the russet red Marsala its 2015 Color of the Year. (It’s certainly a departure from previous hot-hued COY selections: Remember last year’s vivid Radiant Orchid, 2013’s optimistic Emerald, and 2012’s sunny Tangerine Tango?) Major media outlets are less than enamored of the earthy Marsala—The Atlantic likened it to “grimy, gag-­inducing” rust—but we’re too busy looking for jewelry matches to make snide remarks. We’re envisioning deep ­tourmaline, darker shades of sunstone, and garnets…lots and lots of garnets.

7. Robberies

NY Post/Corbis


New York City’s diamond district was blockaded, armed, and dangerous for a few hours on Nov. 11 in the aftermath of a brazen ­midday robbery. After two thieves—one reportedly disguised as a deliveryman—robbed an eighth-floor jeweler at 23 W. 47th St., police cordoned off the entire street as a SWAT team hunted for the perpetrators, snipers mounted the rooftops, and rumors of a hostage situation swirled. Neither crook was nabbed that afternoon, but the two suspects were later arrested, one a week later, one three weeks later.

8. E-Tailers

Following in the footsteps of fellow couturier Monique Lhuillier, Zac Posen has gone from the red carpet to Blue Nile. The New York City–based women’s wear designer recently debuted his first-ever fine jewelry collections for the online retailer: Truly Zac Posen, platinum and 18k yellow gold diamond engagement and wedding rings (above; priced $980 to $4,560); and ZAC Zac Posen, pendants, earrings, and more incorporating diamonds and such colored stones as amethyst and garnet in 14k yellow and white gold ($680–$18,500). Conveniently, the styles were unveiled just prior to two prime ­question-popping occasions: Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

9. Discounters

Groupon: where you can buy $50 custom bobbleheads and $1 million gems

Is Groupon getting its posh on? In November, the group deal site offered a 9,377 ct. topaz for $1 million—the most expensive item it has ever listed. Still, it remains to be seen if people will buy a high-end gem from the same site that gives them 50 percent off at the dry cleaners. The stone was listed as sold several times, with the sales later canceled. It’s now shown as “unavailable”; spokespeople did not respond as to whether it found a buyer.

10. Stats

According to The Conference Board, U.S. consumer confidence in October advanced to 94.5—the measure’s highest point since October 2007, and a substantial jump from September’s reading. Bloomberg commented that the reading outstripped economists’ most upbeat projections, crediting lower gas prices and an improving labor market for the jump.