10 Things Rocking the Industry, March–April 2016



SHOWS

If you attended the third annual JCK Tucson, held Feb. 3–7 at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a brand-new show. In many ways, it was. The completely redesigned event featured stylish new booths, lounges, and a signature coffee shop. But that’s not all. The show’s small but well-regarded roster of exhibitors—including A-listers such as Todd Reed and Alishan—made it an attractive destination for design-minded retailers. Said Adam Gorman of I. Gorman Jewelers in Washington, D.C.: “The ability to forge new relationships with designers and other retailers was a true benefit.”

Top: Abundance divinity pendant in black and yellow gold with 3 cts. t.w. diamonds and 7.75 cts. t.w. kyanite; $13,550; JS Noor, Long Beach, Calif.; info@thenoor.com; 562-216-8160; jsnoor.com

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LEGACIES

Cindy Edelstein (pictured) once said that jewelry designers “have a special language.” The Brooklyn-born founder of the Jeweler’s Resource Bureau made it her life’s work to translate that language for the larger industry, nurturing scores of designers with a mix of encouragement, tough love, and a carefully cultivated Rolodex. Edelstein died Jan. 24 of heart failure at age 51; for weeks after, industry social media lit up with shocked, heartfelt tributes. Wrote longtime friend and fellow Women’s Jewelry Association board member Andrea Hansen: “If you were a designer in this industry, Cindy was your godmother, shrink, helper, mentor, supporter, and cheerleader,” before adding a potent tribute to the power of her character: “For Cindy, success was measured in the achievements of those she helped.”

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AWARDS

Leonardo DiCaprio, Mad Max: Fury Road, and diamonds were the big winners at the 88th annual Academy Awards on Feb. 28. Among the iced-out actresses: Lady Gaga in massive 90 ct. Lorraine Schwartz emerald-cut drop earrings; Cate Blanchett, continuing her awards-season love affair with Tiffany & Co., in the brand’s drop earrings, starfish cuff, and ring; Naomi Watts in a dazzling leaf-motif collar by her go-to brand, Bulgari; Reese Witherspoon with more than $1 million in Tiffany diamonds on a single wrist alone; Charlize Theron in a 48.8 ct. Harry Winston diamond pendant decorating a lower-than-low-cut Dior gown. Save a few brave souls—Tina Fey in Bulgari sapphires, Saoirse Ronan in Chopard emeralds, for instance—we saw precious little color on the red carpet. #OscarsSoWhite indeed!

Blanchett’s $125,000 Tiffany Blue Book platinum-set marquise and round diamond earrings

GEMS

A 1,404.49 ct. egg-shape blue star sapphire (pictured) has been deemed the largest blue star sapphire in the world. The stone was discovered in Sri Lanka’s central region of Ratnapura. “We can’t put a price on something like this,” Ashan Amarasinghe, a gemologist at the Gemological Institute of Colombo, told Agence France-Presse. “It is so rare, and unlike other, smaller sapphires, this is not a stone that can be replaced. This is something only collectors or museums can afford.” A Sri Lankan gem trader purchased the stone in September 2015 for an undisclosed sum; he says he plans to sell it at auction, presumably to a collector or a museum.

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TRENDS

This issue, in our annual silver spotlight feature, we focus on the Native American jewelry trend that’s captured so many designers’ hearts. But don’t just take our word for it; take Beyoncé’s. In her slay-tastic “Formation” video, Queen Bey piles on five (count ’em, five!) tribal-inspired pieces from New York City brand Dylanlex. Even better: The spiky showstoppers—which include two crystal–studded pendant necklaces, swingy sunray-style chandeliers, and a pair of multipiece textured chain bracelets—aren’t just for halftime-headlining superstars. The jewels’ suggested retail price range? From $310 to $1,080. 

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Ivy oxidized silver-plated earrings with Swarovski crystals; $310; Dylanlex, NYC; info@dylanlex.com; dylanlex.com

LABS

The industry is getting a new lab, albeit one from a very old company. De Beers’ International Institute of Diamond Grading & Research, which in the past graded diamonds mostly for its Forevermark brand, is now opening to the trade at large. The diamond business is not exactly lacking in labs, but De Beers says its organization is distinguished by behind-the-scenes technology: All color is graded by machine, along with most clarities, although humans double-check the results. “Having the machine element ensures the integrity of the process,” says spokesman David Johnson. “You can’t have someone subjectively soft-grading the stone because the machine would grade the stone as well.”

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EXITS

After nearly 25 years with the American Gem Society and more than a decade as its CEO, Ruth Batson is riding off into the sunset—literally. In summer 2017, Batson and her husband, Chuck, plan to retire to a ranch in Montana, where they will “raise horses and play cowboy and cowgirl and do things that we both dreamed of doing while we’re still able to do them,” she says. Still, the former accountant admits it’s -bittersweet to say happy trails to AGS, though she feels that the 85-year-old group remains “very strong, very relevant. It was doing great before I got here, and it will do great for many decades after my time.”

Ruth Batson (with Signet’s David Bouffard) at the 2014 WJA Awards

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WATCHES

Is the Swiss watch industry winding down? That may be overstating things, but even the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry didn’t try to paint a bright picture on its 2015 results, which saw exports fall 3.3 percent, with a significant decline in the second half of the year. Given the slide, some were quick to blame—or in the tech press, credit—the rise of smartwatches, particularly after a report came out indicating that smartwatch shipments had surpassed those of Swiss watches. (In value terms, Swiss watches are still way ahead.) But one of the authors of that report, Cliff Raskind of Strategy Analytics, disagrees, saying the economic problems in Asia, resulting in decreased consumer demand, likely played a far bigger role.

Freelancer in 42.5 mm steel case with black PVD coating; $2,595; Raymond Weil, Geneva; 41-022-884-0055; raymond-weil.com

MAJORS

Signet is the world’s largest buyer of polished diamonds, and now it wants to be the world’s largest buyer of responsible diamonds. The mega-retailer’s new Responsible Sourcing Protocol for Diamonds, unveiled Feb. 16 at a press conference at Jewelers of America headquarters, outlines a series of steps for vendors to vouch for the origin of their gems. Given the diamond industry’s famously convoluted and winding supply chain, this won’t be easy, but vice president of corporate affairs David Bouffard says he views the protocol as “a work in progress” with the goal of “continuous improvement.” He notes that, in the wake of Dodd-Frank, the company conducted a similar exercise with its gold. As a result, not only does Signet know the source of just about all the gold it uses, but it also didn’t lose a single vendor. 

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STATS

The U.S. jewelry business shrank again in 2015, with jewelry business discontinuances jumping 11 percent. If there is some good news here, the number of discontinuances stayed flat in the fourth quarter, with both years recording 238. In addition, the number of businesses entering the industry also jumped by 10 percent, though that’s coming from a far lower base. 

(Edelstein: Photograph by Dario Calmese)