Spring Show Report: It’s Back to Business

According to reports from the spring jewelry shows, it seems the industry is ready to get back down to business. Most of the major chains and mass-market retailers sent buyers—with order pads—to The JCK Show ~ Orlando, while reports from the Jewelers of America winter show in New York showed upbeat exhibitors and unexpected sales. The one exhibition where business still seemed a bit sluggish was the Tucson gem and mineral shows. However, Centurion, a new by-invitation-only jewelry show held in Tucson at the same time, received praise from attendees for its well-organized format.

At The JCK Show ~ Orlando, which ran simultaneously with the JA Show, most diamond firms came away with an unfamiliar feeling—optimism. After a decent Christmas and January, most took the healthy interest from the majors at the show as a good indicator for the year ahead. Indian dealers also felt they had turned a corner, with many hoping that the oversupply problems of the last year were now under control. There were still concerns over the employment picture, and whether the recession truly was over.

The big trend was “three-stone” everything, thanks in part to the promotion by De Beers’ Diamond Trading Company of the “past, present, and future” concept in its advertising. Engagement ring sales also have been healthy due to the upsurge in engagements after Sept. 11, and princess cuts continued to be strong sellers, dealers said.

Branding, another trend the DTC smiles upon, also was hot. Sightholder W. B. David touted its “Leading Jeweler of the World” program, and sightholder Leo Schachter touted its “Leo” brand stone, sold exclusively in Sterling stores.

Dealers said that despite the sagging economy, consumers still want higher-quality stones but were trading down a bit in carat weight. Higher-color stones are still more popular than higher-clarity ones.

Overall, foot traffic in Orlando was light, and there were complaints from exhibitors who were counting on browse traffic and didn’t make appointments in advance. Show officials reported 3,048 qualified retail and wholesale buyers and 763 exhibitors attending, and vendors who made appointments and those who do business with the majors reported satisfactory sales. A disappointment was the sudden decision by some Zale Corp. divisions (including the flagship Zale brand) to sit out the spring show circuit—but other Zale divisions, like Piercing Pagoda, sent buyers. Other majors attending included QVC, Speigel, Kay Jewelers, Whitehall Jewelers, Helzberg Diamonds, Sears, Roebuck & Co., Crescent Jewelers, Finlay Fine Jewelers, Reed’s Jewelers, Shop at Home, Friedman’s, Home Shopping Network, J.C. Penney, Sterling Jewelers, Macy’s East and Macy’s West, Wal-Mart, Marmaxx, Ultra Stores, People’s Jewellers, and Costco.

Show highlights included keynote speaker Kenneth Gassman, a noted jewelry industry analyst. Gassman told a Feb. 3 breakfast audience that the current slowdown is but a bump in the road for jewelry sales, and he forecast good times for the next decade and beyond. For one thing, he said, the current recession was at the point (11 months old) where historically it should begin to turn around, and the stock market—the best indicator of prosperity—was heading back up. More people own stocks now than ever before, he noted, and in keeping with that theme he discussed the demographic group most likely to own stock: Baby Boomers.

“The Baby Boomers—a generation of serious consumers—are now entering the age when, traditionally, jewelry purchases peak,” he said. Boomers are turning 50 at the rate of 11,000 a day, and overall this is a generation of spenders, not savers. They’ve accumulated plenty of goods but relatively little jewelry, and Gassman predicts that’s about to change. Also, Boomer offspring—known as Generation Y—are savvy and willing consumers who have a slightly more traditional outlook than their parents. This demographic, now in its teens and early 20s, is poised to be another big jewelry-consuming group.

Another highlight was JCK‘s welcome party, held the evening of Feb. 2. Sponsors were the Jewel Trends division of Christian Bernard Paris, Breuning, Bellari International, Adrienne Designs, Rocket Jewelry Box, and Idaho Opal & Gem Corp. Following a Mardi Gras theme, partygoers were showered with colorful beads and complimentary hors d’oeuvres and drinks and entertained by strolling magicians, tarot card readers, a psychic, and a jazz band.

Finally, the show’s management implemented daily focus groups with exhibitors and buyers to learn how to provide better service at future shows and has announced that its dates for 2003 (Feb. 2-4, at the Orange County Convention Center) do not overlap with any other industry events.

JA Show. At the JA Show in New York, exhibitors were pleasantly surprised. “I expected it to be slow, but actually it’s been very busy,” said designer Akiyo Matsuoka. The observation was heard over and over at the show, held Feb. 3-5 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Many exhibitors began the show with low expectations, only to be pleasantly surprised by busy days and consistent buyer traffic.

Jewelry designs were varied, with no single favored style and a variety of looks to suit all tastes. The renewed appreciation for the comfort zone afforded by classic looks continued, as pearls of all varieties—Tahitians, akoyas, freshwaters—sold well, and sentimental favorites, particularly hearts, turned up in many designs.

Pavé designs in both diamonds and colored stones continued to draw buyers. Monte Carlo Designs saw success with heart designs in pavé pink sapphire, as did Mastoloni with 10-mm to 11-mm black Tahitian pearls in diamond pavé settings.

Bright colored stones continued to light up the booths of designers, with all shades of blue doing well. A salesperson for Spark Creations noted that blue sapphire “came on strong at Christmastime” and was still selling. Akiyo Matsuoka showcased wide-link 18k yellow gold bracelets and necklaces with stations of small bright turquoise beads, while both Kalan and Talisman also used turquoise in chunky necklace designs. Monte Carlo Designs showed new pieces featuring sea blue chalcedony alongside its traditional chalcedony designs. The new stone has a bright and lively greenish-blue cast and drew a lot of interest from buyers, as did the company’s classic blue chalcedony designs. “We’ve been doing well with chalcedony for three years now, so we continue with it,” said a Monte Carlo salesperson.

It was a good show for gold. Economic downturns often cause people to turn toward quality goods when looking to spend their money, and this show proved no different. “People are not scrimping on quality,” said a salesperson for Elite Gold, noting that the company’s high-end line of 14k Italian yellow and white gold jewelry was selling extremely well—even better than its regular line.

Two-tone gold designs remain popular. Frédéric Duclos debuted a new jewelry line at the show, with modern designs that combined both white and yellow gold with colored stones. Company president Karen Duclos said that the new line was a natural extension of the company’s popular contemporary sterling silver look and was proving successful at the show.

Others found the heralded return of yellow gold mystifying. “Everyone is saying that yellow is back, but we’re not seeing it,” said Laura Klems, president of Artistry Ltd. Indeed, white designs held their own. Friedrich Stahl Design’s line of stainless steel jewelry with sterling silver inlay was popular and offered a new, interesting take on the white-on-white look.

However, Magdalena Hess of Jose Hess Inc. said that although it does offer white gold designs, the company has always had a strong following for yellow gold and never felt the need to decrease its yellow designs as a result of the trend toward white. The company had a successful show, said Hess. “People are buying for themselves and what they need,” she said, noting that while some buyers still may be tentative about purchasing, their customers were not. The company’s delicate diamond and gold designs—in both white and yellow—were popular, particularly the three- and five-stone drop necklaces introduced at the show.

Finally, the Y-necklace look—seen in long drop-pendant and lariat designs—continues to draw buyers. The three-stone drop pendant was seen numerous times in various combinations of stones and metals, with Imperial-Deltah offering a popular version that combined three white freshwater pearls and 14k yellow gold.

Tucson. At Tucson’s gem and mineral shows, traffic was light, but buyers were generally active. Emerald, ruby, sapphire, and opal were the most popular gems, and orangey-pink sapphires—”padparadschas”—were abundant, thanks to a new treatment.

Tanzanite was still suffering from the terrorist-link rap alleged by the Wall Street Journal, but a meeting of top tanzanite players resulted in the Tucson Tanzanite Protocols. For a complete Tucson report, see p. 75.