Buy & Tell: Retailers Reveal Their Wish Lists for JCK



Wondering what to look for at JCK? Let these Vegas-bound retailers be your guides.

Attendees heading to this year’s JCK Las Vegas are feeling pretty good. With the economy on better footing, gas prices and unemployment rates down, and jewelry sales moving along at a healthy clip, buyers who spoke to JCK prior to the show say they have high hopes for the remainder of the year and beyond.

Official forecasts underscore their mood: Personal consumption expenditure on jewelry and watches is expected to reach $102 billion by 2020, marking 4 percent year-over-year growth from 2013, according to a study by industry consultant Diamond Shades. The growth in sales is already being realized by many, according to JCK’s informal poll of retailers.

“I think we feel way better about the industry than we thought we would five years ago,” says John Henne, president of Henne Jewelers, in Pittsburgh. “We’ve seen a nice, steady growth since that time, and we’re seeing growth potential.”

Hello Yellow (and Rose)

18k yellow gold earrings with 1.52 cts. t.w. round diamonds; $6,900; Jack Kelége, Sherman Oaks, Calif.; 877-6-KELEGE; jackkelege.com

In Las Vegas, Henne plans to meet with existing vendors, place reorders, and walk the aisles on the lookout for new trends. He’s seeing a movement toward thin, light rings and earrings with openwork—all in an effort to keep prices down and still get the big-jewelry look. These days, the average ticket at his store ranges between $500 and $2,000.

Yellow gold and rose gold are gaining traction, according to Henne. “White is still dominant,” he says. “People view it as a classic, and generally diamonds look better in white, but it’s nice to see diversity.”

Henne says foot traffic is down, but shoppers are more focused, echoing a Google/Ipsos/Luxury Shoppers in America study that reports almost 80 percent of fine jewelry consumers conduct their research online before heading to a brick-and-mortar store to complete the transaction. “We may have fewer people, he says, “but those people are really here to buy.”

Necklace in 18k yellow gold with 199.05 cts. t.w. citrine, flourite, and amethyst; $19,000; Vtse, Pasadena, Calif.; 626-577-9288

At Biondi Diamond Jewelers in Aurora, Colo., optimism is equally high. Co-owner Michelle Biondi recently purchased a 6,000-square-foot store that houses two master jewelers. The business specializes in custom one-of-a-kind pieces along with big names like Hearts On Fire, Simon G., and Dora International.

Biondi attends the JCK show not only to nurture relationships with brands but also to scout new ones. “If we pick up one or two vendors, we feel like we’ve accomplished a lot,” she says.

White gold, palladium, and round diamonds are her bread and butter, at price points ranging from $5,000 to $8,000, but Biondi believes rose and yellow gold are gaining traction. Women in their 50s, in particular, she says, gravitate to yellow.

Transcendental Tourmaline ring in 14k yellow and white gold; $648; Lulu Designs, Sausalito, Calif.; 415-729-9570; luludesignsjewelry.com

Karen Basta, co-owner of Los Angeles’ Ricardo Basta Fine Jewelry, is heading to the show with millennial shoppers in mind; she describes them as a group that gravitates toward tradition with a twist. “We bring back a lot of edgy color,” she says, adding that customers are asking for it in the bridal category. “Color isn’t limited to one kind of stone. One customer wanted a real pale lavender with an icy blue cast, and we found him a color-change sapphire. He was so jazzed because it made [the engagement ring] unique.”

Deep blue sapphires, of course, are a perennial best seller, Basta says. As for design, halos still rule but that won’t prevent her from looking for “the unusual, exotic” take on traditional bridal designs.

Ups and Downs

Gemma collection earrings in 18k yellow gold with 52.45 cts. t.w. sapphires and 0.22 ct. t.w. diamonds; $8,470; Lauren K, NYC; 212-719-2067; laurenk.com

Other retailers, however, are more measured. Coming off a robust February that followed a particularly difficult January, Bruce Arnold, owner of Arnold’s Fine Jewelry in Pasadena, Calif., says he will remain conservative with his open-to-buy. Having traveled to the JCK show every year for the last 17 years, he makes appointments with “the regulars,” then wanders and keeps his eyes open.

In Arnold’s bridal business, he is beginning to see a rise in sales of yellow and rose gold. “White is still the monster, and there’s nothing that has taken its place,” he says. He has also observed more female self-purchases, particularly colored stones with average ticket prices between $350 and $500.

Evangeline classic diamond halo with split shank engagement ring in 14k yellow gold; $2,539; ArtCarved, NYC; 800-221-3232; artcarvedbridal.com

This increased spending is a trend the luxury market is seeing across the board. In the United States, sales of personal luxury goods rose 5 percent in 2014 to $73 billion, according to management consulting firm Bain & Co. 

The industry has been “looking good in the last 12 months,” Arnold says. “We’re okay. We’re not exploding. And we’re not puttering along.”

Many business owners can’t explain the extreme surges or declines they’re seeing. For Aaron Peñaloza, president of C. Aaron Peñaloza Jewelers in San Antonio, 2014 was a roller-coaster year. Sales were ahead 20 percent for about half the year, followed by a few months of stagnation; the year ended on a “very good” note, the retailer says. “We made it, but it was crazy.”

Cocktail rings and earrings with Swarovski crystals in antique silver and 18k gold; $380 each; Minetani at LUXE Intelligence, NYC; 212-398-9700; minetanikorea.com

San Antonio, he adds, is economically sound, riding a wave of investment dollars that have poured into South Texas in recent years. Nevertheless, money is sitting in the bank. Customers who once bought at the $5,000–$10,000 price points are now seeking pieces in the $1,000–$3,000 range. “We’re relatively optimistic if the jobs situation [remains consistent],” he says. “That seems to be, more than anything else, what affects consumer optimism.” 

Merch Madness

An abundance of inventory might be causing some retailers to shop cautiously. “There’s a lot more ­product than customers buy,” says Darryl Kulwin, owner of T-Bird Jewels in Las Vegas. Nevertheless, Kulwin plans to head to the show for new ­product. “Between 20 and 30 percent of the inventory ­represents 70 to 80 percent of business,” he explains. “It’s the same thing with watch companies. We have to find a strategy that works. The traditional ways have changed dramatically.”

18k yellow gold pendant with 1.9 ct. rose-cut blue topaz and 0.08 ct. t.w. diamond pavé; $1,400; Anahita at LUXE Intelligence, NYC, 212-398-9700, anahitajewelry.com

Kulwin will scout “new and exciting things for customers who value style and quality,” alternative metals for the men’s market, and a way to cater to the growing interest in yellow and rose gold. Not on his Vegas wish list: colored stones.

Several retailers are seeing a renewed willingness among consumers to invest in high-quality product, according to Evan deJonghe, manager at deJonghe Jewelry in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The sweet spot in price points over the holidays was $600 on small purchases and between $5,000 and $8,000 on more significant purchases, he says.

Part of deJonghe’s winning strategy has been educating consumers above and beyond their online research. “When it comes to competing with large-­volume diamond sellers, we’ve really made a strong push to try to show the benefits of buying diamonds from us,” he says. “We educate the customer on our point of view, the four Cs, diamond history, and cutting.”

Bill Lyddon, co-owner of Wm. MarKen Jewelers in Bloomington, Ill., is searching for cutting-edge, modern styles at affordable price points. His mission is indicative of yet another phenomenon affecting the industry—the blurring of fine jewelry and fashion jewelry. “We have a lot of fashion-conscious customers, but they’re not trendy,” he says. “They want something that will look good today and tomorrow, nothing that’s going to be dated in a few years.” Bridal, however, is still the focus of the business, driven by diamonds and the occasional blue sapphire or ruby.

Ring in 18k white gold with 6.38 ct. round mint tourmaline and 1.24 cts. t.w. diamonds; $16,750; Carizza Boutique by Shah Luxury, NYC; 800-222-7424; sales@shahluxe.com; miacarizza.com Rocky diamond band in 18k yellow gold with 0.25 ct. t.w. diamonds; $4,650; Audrius Krulis, NYC; 917-971-3736; audriuskrulis.com

Like others, Wm. MarKen Jewelers’ customers appear more willing to invest than in years past. “We’ve got a nice increase over last year,” Lyddon says. “Overall, customers are more at ease and they’re willing to spend a little extra if they see what they like. I still think the brick-and-mortar store is the key to their confidence.”