There’s No Business Like (JCK Las Vegas) Show Business



Belts may have tightened but retailers and exhibitors are heading to Vegas ready to buy, sell, and schmooze

As retailers and exhibitors pack up their wares and head to Las Vegas for jewelry market week, the excitement that comes with the annual journey is tempered by caution. With economic troubles abroad, inflation in China, and the rising cost of fuel here at home, retailers and manufacturers alike are hedging bets.

After all, the Great Recession still looms large in the collective memory. And many store owners are contending with businesses that have changed irrevocably. Some have been pushed into lower price points or have turned to lower-cost materials. Those on stable ground are sticking to classics and tried-and-true sellers. The reckless abandon of the early 2000s feels like a distant dream; few retailers JCK spoke with say they’ll be willing to take risks. Still, a palpable sense of optimism is in the air.

“I think we’ve gone past the economic crisis,” says Douglas Sills, vice president of New York City–based A. Link, which will promote its core collection of hoops and diamond pieces at a moderate $6,000–$8,000 retail range in Las Vegas. The manufacturer also inked a deal with Forevermark to produce an 85-piece line; 60 new styles will be seen in Vegas. “I’m looking forward to it. All the stars are aligning.”

Embrace earrings in 18k gold with diamonds; $7,250; A. Link for Forevermark, New York City; 212-838-5355; alinkandco.com

By Sills’ reckoning, the main difference this go-around is that retailers have a better sense of what the consumer is willing to buy. A. Link is very much aware of the popular price points and has adjusted its business accordingly. “We’re not going to go out on a limb to create a dramatic amount of pink [diamonds],” Sills says. “We have taken some of our basics and reduced the size and mountings of the diamonds to make it a popular price point.”

One carryover from the recession is not expected to go away anytime soon: Average consumers are looking for value when it comes to their jewelry purchases. They will eschew wildly extravagant pieces or looks that venture too far from the norm in favor of gems that can be worn frequently. When it comes to fine jewelry, classic is still the motto.

A. Link for Forevermark Infinity pendant in 18k gold with diamonds; $8,600

As such, there may be few surprises at the show. Many retailers have already set up strict buying plans and may be unwilling to venture outside of budgets or take on a new vendor or untried design.

“I don’t drink, I don’t gamble, but I’ve been going to Vegas shows for 20 years. Every year I go with optimism tinted by fear,” says Bruce Arnold, owner of Arnold’s Fine Jewelry in Pasadena, Calif. “I was feeling more optimistic until gas prices went nuts. People would rather drive to work than buy jewelry. We set a budget, we make appointments, we see our vendors, and then we’ll cruise. Sometimes we’ll see something that catches our eye. Nothing oddball.”

18k Linky faceted bracelet with 33.75 cts. t.w. mint peridot, 8.78 ct. royal blue moonstone, and 2.53 cts. t.w. diamond; $37,000; Temple St. Clair, New York City; 800-590-7985; templestclair.com

Manufacturers are hearing the call for timeless classics loud and clear. Andrea Hansen, CEO of Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, plans to use the show much differently than in prior seasons. For the first time, the brand is showing at Elite Enclave, a curated salon-like extension of the LUXURY show featuring exhibitors such as Temple St. Clair and India Hicks. (This year, look for an African-themed backdrop and a photo exhibition of fashionable women and jewelry by Tommy Ton called “Urban Wilds.”)

Instead of luring accounts—Hansen hopes to add 20 at most—the New York City–based company will focus on pushing extensions to its core collections as well as unveiling a couture collection built upon a feminine bow motif. “There’s more newness than in previous years,” she says. “And one of the reasons is that we’ve gone from launch mode to mature mode.”

Temple St. Clair 18k large pear drop earrings with 5.40 cts. t.w. mint peridot, 3.68 cts. t.w. blue moonstone, and 0.18 ct. t.w. diamond; $4,750

Expect plenty of rose gold, a top performer for Ivanka right now, with retail prices from $1,000 to $6,000. “I think one of the reasons this collection has performed well is because we’re not trendy,” Hansen says. “People have the right to be cautiously optimistic. I don’t want to see anyone overspending, thinking the worst is over. But you won’t make money if you don’t have the right goods to sell.”

On the product front, Eddie LeVian is making sure his bases are covered. At the Le Vian booth at LUXURY, he’ll debut more than 10,000 designs, including 1,000 collections earmarked as exclusives for independent ­jewelers. “It’s so they will have an edge on design that the majors will not,” says the CEO of the Long Island, N.Y., family-run business. “Independents are left with choosing major companies with lesser product lines or lesser companies with poor-quality product. We are trying to bring vast, exciting product to strengthen their brands.”

Ring and matching band with 0.75 ct. t.w. cushion-cut Sea Blue Aquamarine and 0.76 ct. t.w. Vanilla Diamonds and Chocolate Diamonds in 14k white gold; $4,648; Le Vian, Great Neck, N.Y.; 516-466-7200; levian.com

LeVian’s motives aren’t altogether altruistic; he is mounting a full-scale attack on the generic side of the jewelry business, using his significant branding and advertising efforts as weapons. “We are not the company who will sell you $50 worth of silver for $500,” he says. “We are the brand name that will give you $1,500 worth of gold for $1,800.”

Whether they’re located in New York or Kansas, retailers say gold and colored gems rank at the top of their shopping lists.

Randy Cooper, owner of Randy Cooper’s Fine Jewelry in Wichita, Kan., is among those targeting color this year—not to mention yellow gold, which she says is making a comeback with brands such as Marco Bicego and Roberto Coin. Neckwear is also one of her store’s bright spots.

Le Vian pendant with 8.38 cts. t.w. Ocean Blue Topaz, Green Apple Peridot, and Hard Candy Amethyst, and 0.16 ct. t.w. Chocolate Diamonds in 14k white gold; $2,148

“Long necklaces, long beads with slices of stones, long pearls, and long gold chains,” she says, adding that her average sale ranges from $1,000 to $3,000. “I’m a little more cautious than last year. It’s an election year, and election years are sometimes tougher. We finished very, very strong last year. So far this year has been up and down, but I think we’ll be fine.”

Gold and color are also top priorities for London Jewelers in Manhasset, N.Y., according to owner Candy Udell, whom JCK caught up with at the Baselworld fair in Switzerland.

“JCK is a great show for us,” Udell says. “It works so well to get product in for the holiday season. We’re looking for depth and breadth—merchandise that is accessible, easy to wear, and fashionable. We’re looking for everyday fun jewelry that women can buy themselves.” Classic and basic, yes, but there is one extravagance beginning to surface that Udell speculates was inspired by the Oscars: “Diamond necklaces are back, and we’re excited about that.”

Animalier Dragon ring and bangle in 18k gold with diamonds and enamel, $19,000–$45,000; Roberto Coin, New York City; 800-853-5958; robertocoin.com

JB Star—which will present its heirloom ­jewelry collection ranging in price from $2,500 to $2.5 million at JCK—hopes to ­benefit from the hoopla over color. JB Star is one of the few manufacturers that handcrafts pieces at its workshop in New York City. “I’m optimistic in a humbling way,” says vice president David Abuloff. “The company will show fine-quality rubies, non-heated sapphires, yellow diamonds, and emeralds.”

Abuloff says JB Star works closely with retailers that cherry-pick the line. “We have to work very hard, and have to work together,” he says. “It’s always a challenge, but that’s the motivation, I guess. That’s the positive side. Moving forward.”

Platinum and diamond rings with 8.43 ct. sapphire, 5.38 ct. ruby, and 7.76 ct. emerald with diamonds; prices on request; JB Star, New York City; 800-223-2277; jbstar.com

“Forward” is also the rallying cry at Bernie ­Robbins Fine Jewelry, with locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Armed with a brand-new ­interactive website, the retailer is sending a buying team to Vegas that plans to hit the floor running on the hunt for fashion-forward jewelry, specifically: ­diamond slices, slices of precious stones, black ­diamonds, and anything opaque.

“Our buyers started to attend fashion week in London and because jewelry follows fashion design, we believe the big color is coral,” says president Harvey Rovinsky, a 21-year veteran of the JCK show. “It’s our 50th year in the business and we’re trending very well. We’ve done a lot of investing this year and we do that in anticipation of what we believe will be a special year.”