Best in Show: Highlights From JCK Las Vegas 2014



What happened in Vegas? We’ve got the ­highlights from JCK, ­LUXURY, and a week’s worth of show business.

To quote the pundits, 2014’s JCK Las Vegas was a platform for all kinds of “disruptive innovation.” From a jewelry-specific take on Shark Tank to a virtual tour of a diamond mine, the show was a mecca for the industry’s most forward-thinking denizens. Even the stylish new Prestige pavilion brought down its walls, emphasizing the ethos of the moment: transparency, modernization, and future-mindedness.

TREND YOU NEED TO HEAR ABOUT

Ear Jewelry

The ears have it. The biggest jewelry statements of the year spotlight the lobes in the form of cuffs, climbers, jackets, front-to-backs, mismatched studs, and ear jackets (pieces that hang behind the ear and below the lobe). A range of firms presented both aspirational and attainable styles—from diamond-heavy looks at Doves by Doron Paloma to sterling and diamond-dusted price-point pieces at World Trade Jewelers—making this an easy trend for jewelers to capitalize on. —Jennifer Heebner

Climber earrings in 18k gold with 1.53 cts. t.w. diamonds; $5,200; Doves by Doron Paloma, Great Neck, N.Y.; 888-663-6837; dovesjewelry.com

SPLASHIEST SHOWCASE

Le Vian’s Store of the Future

Beverly Poppe

Le Vian offered up an eye-catching new opportunity for independent retailers at LUXURY—the Store of the Future. The company built a two-floor booth with a model store tucked inside to demo its new concept: mix-and-match shop-in-shops in the form of swanky showcases branded with Le Vian collections (Chocolate Diamonds, bridal, and Red Carpet, among them). CEO Eddie LeVian said the idea came from the many success stories retailers recounted after installing displays for Chocolate Diamonds: “As retailers integrated larger-size displays, their sales grew proportionally.” Minimum cost per showcase: $25,000. —Emili Vesilind

BEST LUXURY SHOW DEBUT

Retailer of the Year Award

Phoenix fine jeweler Schmitt Jewelers was named JCK’s first-ever LUXURY Retailer of the Year. The elegantly wired store, which owners Ginnie, Tim, Erin, and Tom Schmitt (above, l–r) designed with Stuller ­Interiors, was praised for marrying a tech-­augmented sales setting with old-school craftsmanship (example: full-length glass walls showcase working bench jewelers). The Schmitt brothers’ speech was short and sweet: “Thanks to our kids who run our social media and to our wives,” Tom said. “And thanks to everyone who voted and everyone who supports us on an everyday basis.” —EV

QUICKEST TRIP ABROAD

Rio Tinto Oculus

Beverly Poppe

The sign said it all: “Oculus Rift virtual reality experience may cause dizziness for some.” Using cutting-edge 3-D gaming headsets developed by Irvine, Calif.–based Oculus VR, acquired by Facebook in March for $2 billion, the diamond miner transported showgoers to the remote reaches of Canada’s Northwest Territories for a 2.5-­minute interactive tour of its Diavik diamond mine. Accompanied by a scrappy little guide named Rin Tin, guests parachuted into the open pit before making their way underground to mine the surrounding rock. Two parts goofy, one part serious, the Rio Tinto Oculus experience was a charming harbinger of things to come. —Victoria Gomelsky

MOST UBIQUITOUS GEMSTONE

Morganite

Opal is still trending, as is emerald and sapphire, but the light rose–hued morganite also made a splash at the shows. It’s not news to New York City manufacturer Makur Designs, which has featured the peachy-pink beryl in its line for years. The stone’s popularity, however, appears to be on the rise. Effy unveiled a new morganite and diamond collection at JCK, as did Le Vian; Sutra, Stuller, and iZi Creations debuted several new pieces starring the pastel-colored gem. With all due respect to Pantone, just call it Radiant Rose. —JH

Gemma ring in 14k rose gold with 2.33 ct. morganite, 0.17 ct. t.w. brown diamonds, and 0.14 ct. t.w. colorless diamonds; $1,995; Effy, NYC; 212-944-0020; effyjewelry.com

BEST REALITY TV REENACTMENT

Shark Tank

TracTech Systems won the first-ever JCK Shark Tank competition, wowing the crowd with its revolutionary inventory tracking technology utilizing RFID chips. Senior vice president Meir Strobel (pictured, right) and CEO Keven Peck’s tag-team presentation included a demonstration of the product, which counted and identified a tray of 54 rings in mere seconds and found a misplaced diamond with the swipe of a wand. The duo beat out five other innovations—including an organic jewelry cleaner, a diamond trading platform, and a line of smart jewelry—for the glory and the glass trophy, presented by JCK publisher Mark Smelzer and editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky. “These six products are all vastly different,” Gomelsky said, “but they’re all pushing the industry forward.” —Logan Sachon

TracTech’s award-winning inventory tool, The Wand, which retails for $2,500 (tractechsystems.com)

MOST BUZZED-ABOUT TOPIC

Synthetic Diamonds

Just how concerned are we with synthetic diamonds? They were the subject of a conference from the Accredited Gemologists Association, a panel sponsored by the Natural Color Diamond Association, and an education session from the GIA. They were also discussed at length in at least three other sessions. The general consensus: While synthetics can be detected by grading labs, jewelers must exercise care to ensure they are not inadvertently selling (or buying) the stones. Yet despite all the consternation, several companies, including Kama Schachter and Nurture by Reena, proudly exhibited collections crafted with lab-grown diamonds. If all the attention proved anything, it’s that the industry expects man-made gems to be part of the future. “We have had colored stone synthetics for 100 years,” said GIA senior industry analyst Russell Shor. “The world will adjust.” —Rob Bates

Wildflower ring in 18k gold with 0.93 ct. t.w. pink and colorless lab-grown diamonds; $6,550; Nurture by Reena, Toronto; 647-773-7205; nurturebyreena.com

MOST MOVING TRIBUTES

Michael B. & Robin Rotenier

Adourian and Bogosian

Before the shows, the industry lost two beloved designers, Michael Bogosian (aka Michael B.) in April and Robin Rotenier in May. Both made lasting contributions to the trade—Bogosian was lauded for his micro-pavé work while Rotenier carved a niche making whimsical silver cufflinks—inspiring a series of moving tributes at JCK. At the Michael B. memorial, Bogosian’s wife, Aida, presented Adam Adourian of Sareen Jewelry with the Essence of Excellence award, honoring a bridal designer who espouses Michael B.’s values. “He gave us a road map on how to build our bridal business,” said Richard Eiseman of Dallas’ Eiseman Jewels. “His ­jewelry helped connect families and connect lives.” —JH

HOTTEST TARGET MARKET

Millennials

Beverly Poppe

Now that millennials are becoming a major presence in stores, industry leaders wonder if they have the same love of jewelry as past generations. At an educational session, Abe Sherman, CEO of Buyers Intelligence Group, warned retailers that these are “much more educated consumers,” who know about both product and price. “If you don’t have entry-level price points for bridal, you will miss those customers,” he said. Said Brandee Dallow, head of the North American office of Rio Tinto Diamonds: “We have to think the way they think.” —RB

BRAND THAT HAD US CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

Tacori

We know we were in the dry Nevada desert, but for a few minutes, we could have sworn we were in breezy southern California. Tacori’s airy, chic 5,500-square-foot space in the LUXURY show was outfitted with white midcentury modern furniture, sand-colored carpet, and walls papered in seductive lifestyle ads featuring a swimsuit-clad Emily DiDonato. The campaign, dubbed She Is Tacori, was designed to promote the brand’s California DNA. —JH

Ivy Lane rings with pavé diamonds in silver and yellow and rose gold; $790–$1,890; Tacori, Glendale, Calif.; 800-421-9844; tacori.com

Beverly Poppe

SoCal met Las Vegas in the Tacori space.

MOST ATYPICAL EXHIBITOR

The Government of Botswana

Beverly Poppe

Most jewelry trade fair booths tout a designer, company, or perhaps an organization. JCK’s most unusual booth showcased a country: Botswana. And the diamond-rich southern African nation didn’t just have a booth; its minister of minerals, energy, and water resources, Onkokame Kitso Mokaila, spoke at the annual Rapaport breakfast and accepted an award on behalf of Botswana’s president at the Diamond Empowerment Fund dinner. Mokaila said that after decades of selling through De Beers, Botswana wants to have more direct communication with its leading market. And this might just be the beginning, he hinted: “In the future we should have a bigger booth and do bigger things to really sell ourselves.” —RB

MOST POPULAR SPEAKER

Philippe Mellier

It was a historic moment when De Beers Group CEO Philippe Mellier addressed fairgoers in a packed May 30 presentation—the first time one of the company’s execs has spoken to a general U.S. industry audience. Along with Forevermark CEO Stephen Lussier, Mellier laid out his vision for the diamond industry—it “needs to be more like a regular luxury industry,” he said—talked up the need for brands, and took questions. Mellier’s appearance is another example that De Beers is becoming, as he said, more like a regular luxury company. —RB

BEST NEWCOMER

Neha Dani, Shrisha Jewels

Neha Dani’s love of nature comes through in her designs: Leaves, berries, and the changing colors of the seasons are rendered in subtle gold motifs and natural colored diamonds. The JCK 2014 Rising Star is as demure as her aesthetic is dramatic. From her home base in New Delhi, she’s gained a wealth of experience. Dani is a fellow of The Gemmological Association of Great Britain and a GIA graduate gemologist, which may explain why stones are such a focal point of her work. Liberal applications of pavé and other small diamonds make her pieces particularly appealing to Americans, while her pedigree in stone grading and identification gives gem purists plenty to crow about. —JH

Twirling Shimmer earrings with 10.36 cts. t.w. diamonds in 18k gold with brown rhodium; $30,000; Shrisha Jewels, Noida, India; 91-987-166-6228; neha@shrisha.in

BEST ISSUE IN PROGRESS

Fairmined Metals

It will be a while before ethically sourced metal becomes a major part of the American ­jewelry landscape. But a good sign that we’re on our way: the Fairmined booth at JCK Las Vegas. Hoping to educate passersby about the commercial and ethical benefits of Fairmined-certified metals, the team from the Medellín, Colombia–based Fairmined unit of Alliance for Responsible Mining set up shop under the banner “Fairmined, Gold to Be Proud Of.” Said designer Toby Pomeroy: “In years prior, reactions were ‘What’s that?’ This year [people] came back and said, ‘We’re ready to do this.’?” —JH

  Renata semi-mount in 18k TRUE GOLD; $2,100; Toby Pomeroy, Corvallis, Ore.; 800-381-8787; tobypomeroy.com

MOST POWERFUL GATHERING

DEF’s Diamonds in the Sky

Signet’s Mike Barnes with Onkokame Kitso Mokaila, accepting the award for Ian Khama

The U.N. had nothing on the Four Seasons Las Vegas on May 29, when the Diamond Empowerment Fund held its Diamonds in the Sky gala honoring Botswana president Ian Khama. Guests included Bruno Sané, Antwerp, Belgium–based general manager of marketing at Rio Tinto Diamonds; Kent Wong, managing director of Hong Kong’s Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group; and five reps from Moscow-based Alrosa. By the time pop diva Chaka Khan performed her hit parade after the live auction, the gala could justifiably be called epic. —VG