Positive Outlook Pervades JCK Show

Optimism—albeit tempered with caution—was the predominant feeling among buyers and exhibitors at The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas, held May 31 through June 4 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center there. Most, though not all, exhibitors reported a strong show and solid orders.

Although some exhibitors said traffic seemed lighter than last year, the final tally of retail and wholesale buyers was 19,753, a 4.5% increase over last year’s figure. More than 2,700 jewelry and gem suppliers exhibited.

After several tough seasons, last Christmas’s demand for jewelry gave the industry a much-needed boost. Show organizers report major retailer presence was strong. Buyers attended from QVC, Home Shopping Network, Shop NBC, Spiegel Inc., Kay Jewelers, Whitehall Jewelers, Helzberg Diamonds, Sears Roebuck & Co., Piercing Pagoda, Crescent Jewelers, Finlay Fine Jewelers, Reed’s Jewelers, Shop at Home, Friedman’s, JC Penney, Sterling Jewelers, Macy’s East and West, Wal-Mart Stores, Marmaxx, Ultra Stores, People’s Jewellers, Costco Wholesale, BJ’s, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Ben Bridge Jeweler, and Zale Corporation.

Additionally, many independent jewelers had finally sold down excess inventory and were in a buying mood—but without the exuberance of previous years.

“People are buying, but there’s a different sense about them now,” observed Jose Hess, an exhibitor in the Plumb Club pavilion. “They look at a piece, and if it’ll sell they’ll buy it, but their attitudes and enthusiasm are much more subdued [than they were a few years ago].”

“We had a phenomenal show,” reported Jane Morrissey, vice president of Ciem Jewels, a Prestige Promenade exhibitor specializing in classically designed upscale diamond and colored gemstone jewelry. She said her firm’s classic looks were right in tune with what retailers are seeking, particularly in higher-priced goods.

Indeed, designers and manufacturers with high-end, high-fashion looks were among those who were disappointed this year. Paola DeLuca, a Design Center exhibitor noted for bold, avant-garde sterling silver, said this was not a particularly good JCK Show for her, although she had done well at several previous shows this year, such as the Accessorie Circuit. At the mass-market level, exhibitors such as Chicago-based Princess Pride also reported strong demand for classics and less interest in fashion.

Color and romance. Within the emphasis on classic design, and in stark contrast to the neutral white-on-white look of a few years ago, jewelry shown at The JCK Show focused on vibrant palettes of color. The strongest was turquoise, which turned up in virtually every pavilion and every price point, from high-end Galleria exhibitors to craft-oriented designers to mass-market manufacturers.

Orange stones also are popular. Coral, carnelian, mandarin garnet, fire opal, jasper, and citrines fired up showcases like bursts of sunshine. Another hot look was mixing contrasting stones, such as turquoise and coral. The orange and blue color combination is catching on and being executed with other colored gemstones, such as citrine and topaz. Bellarri mixed various colors of tourmalines, Barry Kronen mixed up a spectrum of sapphires, and Robert Lesser’s Color Story line combined various semiprecious stones with diamonds. Oscar Heyman Brothers, a high-end firm renowned for its classic collectible jewels, presented an unset model for a necklace with a palette of stones including colored sapphires, spinels, tsavorites, and small diamond accents.

As consumers demand more “unusual” or personalized pieces, the industry is responding with message jewelry. Lockets and charm bracelets sold well, even in the designer market. Unique pieces were in demand, such as a collection by 24k gold designer Gurhan, who made a few one-of-a-kind designs with unusual gemstones.

Another trend is the use of rough stones and stones with unique inclusions, like quartz or amber. Robert Wander for WINC Creations showcased his new Crystal Candy line, which combines various sherbet-hued colors of semiprecious rough set in 18k gold with diamonds.

Nods to bygone eras are everywhere. Bridal leader Scott Kay released his new Vintage line, which features “antiqued” platinum and designs reminiscent of mid-20th-century jewelry. Elements of Art Deco styles, meanwhile, were incorporated into looks by everyone from new designer Scott Colee to industry stalwart LeVian.

In diamond jewelry design, the newest look is one of the oldest cuts. Rose cuts—with less flash but more romance than brilliant cuts—are the diamonds of choice for new lines by both John Hardy and Mouawad.

In shape, the lariat is gone but not forgotten. Drop-style necklaces—from waterfalls to Y-styles—remain one of the most important looks. Earrings also are dropping low and swingy for a romantic, feminine look.

Versatile styles have moved beyond novelty status and into the must-have category, say jewelers. Products include a half-inch-wide reversible yellow-to-white gold bracelet by Aaura, earrings that convert from day to evening by adding a detachable drop, and a new 18k gold bracelet by Italian manufacturer Nanis that unravels to form a long open-link necklace.

Diamond news. Reports from diamond dealers at the show were mixed. In terms of product, rectangular cuts (princess, emerald) are still strong. There was also strong demand—and low availability—for 1-ct. goods, SI and up, and 2-ct. goods, G VS and up. There is still a trend toward Ideal cuts and fine makes, and there were many sightholder marketing initiatives. But conflicting opinions reigned. For example, New York-based dealer Ian Sossen of Eliazarov said, “High-end certified diamonds are still selling well. It seems the worse the American economy gets, the better diamonds people want. Last September, we thought the business was finished. But our first quarter was just as good, if not better, than last year’s.” But David Abraham, a New York dealer, said, “Customers are interested in some of the new brands, but they all have premium prices, and it turns [the] customer off.”

Dealers agreed that retailers are more cautious. Alan Rehs, Rehs and Co., a New York diamond manufacturer, said, “Retailers are buying what they need for specific calls.” Nicky Mehta of Diamond Days in New York observed, “Retailers are buying less for inventory. It’s mostly fill-in.” Consumers are buying more practical things, he added. “Jewelry has become a one- or two-season type of business.”

Separately, the cut-grading debate continued at the show, with GIA researcher Dr. Ilene Reinitz speaking to a full house of dealers and retailers about GIA’s progress on cut research.

In colored gemstone news, tanzanite was slowly making a comeback. The Tucson Tanzanite Protocols Steering Committee reported its discovery mission to Tanzania was successful and that many of the protocols already are being implemented. Weights on recorded inventory of exported rough seem to coincide with what is being mined, which implies that little or no smuggling is taking place. The committee reiterated that the U.S. State Department has officially declared there is no connection between tanzanite and funding for terrorist groups, including al Qaeda.

The American Gem Trade Association’s Gem Testing Center and GIA’s Gem Trade Laboratory formally announced at the show that the new corundum heat treatment from Thailand not only creates color by “bulk diffusion” but also causes “overgrowth of synthetic material.” (See “Storm Over Sapphire,” p. 90.)

Time to buy. Most watch vendors said they did good business at the show. Though several said traffic was lighter than last year, others were surprised by the number of visitors from South America, the Middle East, and Africa. A number of brands, such as Maurice Lacroix, Citizen, Cyma, Locman, and Daniel Mink, said this year’s show was “excellent,” “extraordinary,” and even “the best ever.”

Watch vendors were unhappy, though, at the number of non-watch vendors—including software companies; liquidators; and jewelry, giftware, and loose gem dealers—housed in the watch section. Some filled spaces left by upscale watch brands that have decamped to suites at luxury hotels.

Many watch vendors noted that jewelers still seemed concerned about the effect of the sluggish stock market and terrorism threats to the economy and their local sales and businesses. “Cautious” was an oft-repeated term.

“Our biggest enemy is uncertainty,” noted one watch vendor. Indeed, industry experts and analysts such as Mark Boston of London-based H. Goldie & Co., Russell Shor of GIA, and Carl Pearson of UK-based Econunit Publications, expressed concern about world politics, particularly the tense situations in Israel and India.

Glitches. A few buyers and a number of vendors were unhappy about some operational problems, including long, chaotic delays (up to two hours) at both buyer and exhibitor registration points, a lack of lower-cost hotel options on the list of official “show hotels,” not enough workers at the storage vaults, and not enough transportation to and from major hotels—especially at the end of each show day.

The show’s advisory board, in a meeting with show management on Monday, “gave them an earful,” said one committee member. Show management promised to address these concerns before next year’s show, for which a number of changes and improvements already are scheduled. A letter from show management outlining some of the planned resolutions to these problems was booth-dropped to vendors later that day.

Special events. As always, there were plenty of after-hours and even during-hours attractions for visitors. The show’s annual Silent Auction raised more than $10,000 for the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, the Jewelers’ Security Alliance, the Jewelers Education Foundation, and the Jewelry Information Center. The JCK Designers’ Live Auction raised over $25,000 to benefit the Future of Design Education and the American Jewelry Design Council. Other hot events were the LeVian Deco Fashion Show and a fashion show in the Plumb Club Pavilion, in conjunction with Vogue magazine.

Jewelers may have bought with caution, but they gave generously to the Jewelers’ Charity Fund for Children, which raised more than $2.6 million. (See sidebar on p. 28.).

The Women’s Jewelry Association presented its sixth annual DIVA awards. The theme, “Diva: Expressions of America,” encouraged designers to create pieces inspired by American culture or history that were a “symbol of what it means to be an American.”

The first-prize winner, Shinka Kimura, was awarded $2,500 for her “Bracelet Inspired by the Constitution.” Keiko Mita won the second-place award of $1,000 for her “Light of the World Trade Center” brooch, and Naoyo Terada took the $250 third prize for her “Stars in Melting Pot” necklace.

Other industry associations, such as the Contemporary Design Group, held annual awards ceremonies and parties. Look for a recap of these events in an upcoming issue of JCK.

Show dates for 2003 will be May 30-June 3 at the Sands Expo & Convention Center, Las Vegas. For more information, call (800) 257-3626 or (203) 840-5684 or visit the Web site at www.jckgroup.com.