10 Things Rocking the Industry: May 2012



1. Baselworld

You’ve heard of master jewelers and master watchmakers, but a master of feather arts? The esoteric specialty featured prominently at the Harry Winston booth at the Basel fair, where a one-of-a-kind $1.3 million pendant/brooch belonging to the brand’s Ultimate Adornments collection offered an exquisite example of the lengths to which watch and jewelry firms are now going to entice the world’s wealthiest buyers. Showcasing the work of feather artist Nelly Saunier, the diamond-encrusted jewel was chief among a series of timepieces she created for the company with dials lined by iridescent peacock and pheasant feathers. All that, and jewelry wasn’t even the main attraction. That honor belonged to Harry Winston’s new Opus 12 timepiece, whose ­unconventional display—in which 12 pairs of hands each move in a peripheral rotation to reveal the time—owes its inspiration to Copernican astronomy. The mechanical eccentricity, created by independent watchmaker Emmanuel Bouchet, required 7,500 hours of research and development. But at $270,300, it was a veritable bargain compared to those diamond-studded plumes.

2. Cannes

Courtesy of Chopard
Red Carpet collection ring with 57.20 cts. t.w. tsavorites and brown diamonds; price on request; Chopard, New York City; 212-821-0300; chopard.com

At press time, all we know about the movie lineup at the 65th Festival de Cannes is that Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom will be the opening film. We know much more, however, about the jewels, since once again, Chopard is one of the official partners. The Swiss jeweler is paying homage to the 2012 festival icon, Marilyn Monroe, with a ­dazzling diamond necklace, to be modeled by an as-yet-unnamed celebrity at the opening ceremony. Chopard will also use the May 16–27 event to unveil its new Red Carpet line, a 65-piece haute joaillerie collection that includes such dazzlers as this delicious 57 ct. tsavorite and brown diamond apple ring. Get it—65 pieces for the 65th festival? If the Chopard designers keep this up, they’ll have their work cut out for them when the famed French star-fest turns 100.

3. Entrepreneurs

Calling Gabrielle Jordan Williams a go-getter is like saying Warren Buffett is a pretty good investor. The 12-year-old began making jewelry when she was just 7. After she wore one of her designs to school, a classmate asked to purchase the ring. Encouraged by her mother, Williams started creating more jewelry; in 2009, she turned her line into an online business, Jewelz of Jordan. “I would describe my jewelry as classy and elegant,” says Williams. “I use a lot of pearls and Swarovski crystals.” But jewelry isn’t all that’s on her to-do list. She wants to become a best-selling author (she’s already written The Making of a Young Entrepreneur), make a million bucks by the time she’s 15, study at the GIA, and continue her philanthropic efforts. Oh—and graduate high school.

Jewelz of Jordan 15-inch glass pearl and Swarovski Element necklace

 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 

 

4. Majors

Following a set of blockbuster financial results for fiscal year 2012—where earnings per share jumped an impressive 60.8 percent—Signet CEO Michael Barnes announced the company plans to open 45 stores in the United States this fiscal year, a sizable boost from the 25 stores Signet opened the year before. Barnes added that 11 of those stores will be Jareds, and 34 will be Kay Jewelers, though many of those will be in off-mall locations. The company will also boost its advertising budget and refurbish 90 stores. But what’s also noteworthy is how Signet has wholeheartedly embraced proprietary brands: Some 26 percent of its sales now come from what it calls “differentiated” merchandise.

5. Diamonds

The bigger the diamond, the more sizable the nest egg went the thinking in Basel, where “investment buying was all the buzz.”

Diamonds are valued for their aesthetic appeal, but it is their historical reputation as the ultimate form of portable wealth that has long attracted the serious buyers—especially in light of the huge gains in diamond prices over the past year. (De Beers says its prices rose 29 percent in 2011.) Nowhere was this more evident than at the Baselworld fair, where the gem hall swarmed with buyers on the hunt for AAA gems in 5 ct.-plus sizes, with some viewing the stones as a store of value, much like investors speak of gold. “A year ago, you had Mubarak in Egypt and Gaddafi in Libya,” says Russell Shor, senior industry analyst at the GIA. “If you’re in a privileged position in a country with an unstable economy or government, you’re going to get yourself a nest egg and an exit visa.”

6. Personalities

Sally Morrison

Diamond publicists are not forever. Longtime De Beers spokesperson Sally Morrison has joined the World Gold Council as the newly appointed director of jewelry, public ­relations. Morrison, who will be based in New York City and report directly to David Lamb, WGC’s London-based ­managing director of jewelry, will drive the ­council’s vision and ­priorities for public relations activity within the U.S. jewelry market, ­including showcasing gold as a highly desirable and inspirational metal through bridal, fashion, and lifestyle campaigns. “I have always been interested in gold—in its heritage, its symbolic ­associations, and the historic idea of it as the focus of a heroic quest,” Morrison tells JCK. “In today’s world, its value has never been stronger, and so I jumped at the chance.”

7. Metals

iStockphoto

When the price of gold first topped platinum’s in August, industry members registered shock. But when the trend continued for another six months, it became clear we were witnessing history. Then in March, the tables turned again—briefly. For two straight days, platinum once again cost more than gold. However, gold soon regained the top spot, and at press time was trading at $1,674 an ounce to platinum’s $1,647. How long will this seesaw last? Perhaps indefinitely. James Steel, metals analyst at HSBC, notes that while industry members habitually compare them, the two metals respond to different forces: The price of platinum responds to concerns about the metal’s ­supply; but the gold price, meanwhile, is largely driven by investors who see it as a “safe haven.” The days when gold and platinum moved somewhat in tandem appear to be over.

8. Miners

Hot on the heels of BHP Billiton’s November decision to bid farewell to the diamond business, the other big miner that dabbled in diamonds, Rio Tinto, said in March that it too was considering disposing of its gem assets. But the latter’s decision is a far bigger deal, given its stake in three productions (Argyle in Australia, Diavik in Canada, and Murowa in Zimbabwe) and one promising diamonds project (Bunder in India). Rio Tinto also participates actively in the trade. Case in point: It has introduced proprietary brands like Silvermist. In a statement, Rio execs went out of their way to call the diamond market “very positive.” But company higher-ups seemed to conclude they could make far more money with commodities such as iron ore and copper. As one analyst told Bloomberg ­Businessweek: The gem business had become a “distraction” for Rio.

9. Movies

When a film grosses nearly $400 million at the box office in its first two weeks of release, as The Hunger Games had at press time, the publicity juggernaut it generates is something to behold—even for Tinseltown veterans. Dana Schneider has been designing ­jewelry for movies since the 1990s; her work appears in more than 40 films, including Green Lantern, The Matrix, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But the mockingjay pin she created for Jennifer Lawrence, who stars as The Hunger Games’ survivalist heroine, Katniss Everdeen, has surely been noticed by more ­moviegoers than all her previous pieces combined. “My job was to replicate the design on the book cover, but make it look realistic,” Schneider says. After three months and many meetings with costume designers and various models, Schneider wound up with four identical mockingjay pins cast in sterling silver, plated in 22k gold, and aged with patina. “The pin had to be strong, but look genuine, antique, and delicate,” she says. “Since The Hunger Games is an action-packed movie, it had to survive a lot of stunt work.” And, presumably, at least one sequel.

10. Stats

The recent survey of engaged couples by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com ­contained both good and bad news for the industry. The good: U.S. couples increased their ­wedding ­budgets in 2011 for the first time since 2008, in what the researchers called a sign the ­economy was ­continuing to improve. The bad: spending in the engagement ring category ­actually decreased. But TheKnot.com site editor Anja Winikka warns that jewelers shouldn’t jump to conclusions, noting the study “surveys brides married in 2011—which means that for many of them, their engagement rings were likely purchased in 2010 (or earlier). So the engagement ring data we see will likely take a bit longer to start showing improvement.”