White Metal Continues To Dazzle At JCK Orlando

White gold and platinum set the tone at the inaugural spring JCK International Jewelry Show, held Feb. 16-18 in Orlando, Fla. Color, while available, was downplayed in favor of these strong, crisp neutrals.

“We wrote a lot of platinum orders,” said Terry Newman of Vartans Manufacturing in Los Angeles, Cal. “People also would see a style in platinum and ask for it in white gold. We’re also selling two-tone.”

So were many others, whether in two-tone gold or yellow gold combined with silver or platinum. “This year is the first time we are marketing our silver jewelry in a big way to more upscale jewelers by adding 18k gold accents and colored stones,” said Elizabeth Plesic Bartlett of Bayanihan in Harrisburg, Pa.

In yellow gold, matte and shiny finishes competed on pretty equal footing. Many designers experimented with bright polish, while others stayed with texture. The difference, however, was that texture took on a brilliance instead of the matte finishes of a few years ago.

Design Trends

In shape, while demand remains strong for diminutive, delicate and feminine proportions, the “Y” necklace that started the trend is finished. Few vendors displayed them, though they’re still available at retail. As at trade shows in New York City and Vicenza, Italy, earlier in the year, neckwires were strong, with primary alternatives being silk or rubber cords, delicate link chains and lariats or bolo styles. Several dealers carried pearl necklaces similar to the Wendy Brigode necklace used in the movies Tin Cup and Ransom: akoya pearls spaced about an inch apart on a thin chain. Going against the delicate trend, bold cuff bracelets also made a comeback.

The huge rugged natural gems seen on the spring fashion runways haven’t hit the jewelry industry with any force yet, but it may be a trend to watch. For example, Sandy Baker, a designer best known for high-fashion affordable gold, launched a line of huge agate necklaces. The pieces attracted attention, but Baker said their appeal at this stage is more among boutiques or galleries than mainstream jewelers.

Retailers shopping the show said delicate proportions are right for the times. Michael Eigen, a New York City jeweler who owns two stores by that name, said his customers are executive women who want stylish jewelry conservative enough to wear to work. His clients also love the white and pavé looks and hinged hoop earrings.

Vincent Polisano and Diane Chrambanis, owners of Diana Vincent in Washington Crossing, Pa., observed buying trends from both sides of the counter. They exhibited in the Design Center and also have a full-line retail store. Polisano said small sells well at retail and wholesale levels. “I think it has to do with lifestyle. It’s easy to throw on jeans and a neckwire,” he said. “There’s not as much heavy partying, not as many people dressing up.”

The final key buying trend was a continued focus on quality and value. Exhibitors in general said retailers were far less concerned with price than they had been and were willing to pay for quality.

Design Trends

Retailers have been paying more attention to diamond quality, particularly diamond make – in pavé and clusters as well as solitaires. “Today, even 1 to 3 pointers for pavé have to be clean, white and good make because people want the look, the sparkle,” said Beny Aviram of Spark Creations of New York City. “Retailers are finding this is what makes jewelry sell.”

The “solitaire look” was big in diamonds. Simple bezel settings were the most popular choice for affordably priced pieces, while more important versions of the look were created with multiple diamonds in invisible settings, such as one offered by William Chalson & Co. of New York City.

The solitaire look is extending to earrings. “We’ve done well with princess cuts, baguettes, the bezel-set diamond solitaire and ear wires,” said Tom Schlotman of Victor Corp., Cincinnati, Ohio.

Solitaire styles were popular in all gemstone categories. Bayanihan created a line of colored stone solitaire necklaces with silver, and American Pearl Co. of Nashville, Tenn., carried a line of cultured American freshwater button pearl pendants with diamonds and colored stones set into the surface of the pearl.

Popular diamond station styles included single bezel-set stones and small pavé hearts, moons, stars and flowers. Charms included the same themes, plus miniature rings on chains. Often, these charms and rings were diamond pavé.

Black pearls and larger sizes of all kinds of pearls were top sellers. Single black pearl drops capped with white gold, platinum or diamond pavé were favorite pendant choices, and many manufacturers offered long chains with stations of pearls in place of diamonds (again, black was a favorite). But whether it was a single black pearl, a single or multiple strand of white pearls, or pearls used as a design element with gold and platinum, pearls are clearly enjoying a huge resurgence in popularity.

“We’re also selling a lot of white akoya stud earrings in larger sizes, from 71/2mm to 9mm,” said Isaac Baum of Baumell Pearls, San Francisco, Cal.

Watches

A wider variety of women’s watches and a move to dressier men’s styles, including more rectangular case shapes, topped the news from the Time Square section of the show.

New women’s lines led the debuts, from Hamilton’s futuristic Ventura to Wittnauer’s Ellesse, aimed primarily at women active in sports. Bracelet models were the focus, particularly two-tone and all-steel. However, brightly colored straps were more common than usual for women’s fashion watches. These were among the newly expanded lines shown by Egana’s Stefanel Tempo and Esprit brands and by Wittnauer’s Adidas.

A number of watch vendors showed new items alongside their winter 1996 debuts. Though many larger Swiss companies historically have kept their debuts under lock and key until the Basel Fair in April, several worked the Orlando show into their strategic plans and reported strong interest in their new designs. Perhaps the largest product introduction was by Raymond Weil, which started to plan its lines last spring so its U.S. division could show them in Orlando, said Larry Lich, the company’s U.S. president.

The lines include the Flamenco, a dressier version of the Tango line, and the Bolero, a rectangular-cased steel and two-tone dress watch with a classic look. Lich also showed the updated W1, a Generation X watch with design emphasis on a hefty steel bracelet rather than straps. Only the Parsifal line will be saved for Basel debut.

Titanium watches continue to make inroads into the sport lines of many watch companies. Among manufacturers where the metal is well-

established, style selections expanded greatly. Titanium is used also in several prominent non-traditional-quartz lines, including Citizen’s light-powered Solar Tech 180 and Revue Thommen’s automatic Airspeed.

In other watch news announced at the show:

  • Sportime Watches, Beverly Hills, Cal., now distributes the Andre le Marquand line, as well as the full array of Piquot Meridien Swiss-made nautical watches and a larger selection of Laura Ashley watches.

  • The full line of Egana’s Cerruti 1881 Swiss-made dress watches is now available in the U.S.

  • Luger Swiss, Long Island City, N.Y., added La Chaux-de-Fonds, a women’s line featuring stainless steel or two-tone styles with rhinestone bezels.

  • Jean Marcel of Pforzheim, Germany, debuted its patented Mystery watch with no hands. It’s fitted with an automatic movement that powers a revolving face on which the hour is seen through a round opening. The hour moves along the edge of the face to the appropriate minute; seconds are seen as a black dot revolving around the circumference of the face.

Estate

Estate sales were strong, said Stuart Singer of Stephen Singer Inc. of New York City, and Andrea Remonko of GMC International, Westfield, N.J., estate jewelry dealers. Singer combines trade shows with trunk shows and on-the-road sales, while Remonko said trade shows are her company’s primary source of sales.

More independent and major retailers are adding estate jewelry departments to their stores, said Singer. One attraction, he said, is that most estate pieces can be acquired for a relatively low price and marked up for a substantial profit. At the same time, he added, consumers are discovering estate jewelry as emotional treasures that offer good value for the price.

Education

A full day of seminars preceded the show with two tracks, one geared to independent jewelers, the other to high-volume jewelers. Keynote presentations included marketing expert Liz Conover, who spoke on brand awareness, and “Management, Disney Style,” a look at the Disney approach to corporate culture and selection, training and care of employees.

“Touch the Future” gave participants hands-on experience with the very latest in gemology, jewelry design/production and retailing. The gemology section covered treatments, the impact of color communication systems, diamond certificates, PC-based tools and developments in synthetics.

The jewelry design/production covered precious metal clay, jewelry-making techniques, profiting from repairs and a workshop of the future.

Topics in the retailing section included window displays, store infrastructure, computers, store design and sensory selling.  

SPRING TRADE SHOWS SUGGEST RETAILERS ARE IN BUYING MOOD

Trade shows often are cited as a measure of jewelers’ confidence, so JCK checked on the retail industry’s temperature at the recent spate of spring shows. While not every exhibitor can have a good show, the consensus at the spring shows suggests that when the product was right and the stress was on quality in design and craftsmanship, jewelers were buying.

All spring shows suffer somewhat from the longstanding buying patterns of independent jewelers: in other words, the later the better. But exhibitors generally seemed pleased with the sales and contacts they made this spring, including some who cited new contacts with mass-market suppliers.

FOREIGN UPDATE

The Osaka International Jewelry Fair will be held May 14-16 in the Asia and Pacific Trade Center in Osaka, Japan. The show will feature more than 150 exhibitors, including national pavilions for Italy and Thailand and companies from Hong Kong, the U.S., Taiwan, Germany and India. The show is bonded, so gems, jewelry, watches and other products can be brought to Japan and displayed without paying customs duty. Miller Freeman Japan Co. Ltd., No. 23 Chuo Building, 4-2 Nihonbashi-Kodenmacho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103, Japan; (81-3) 3669-5811, fax (81-3) 3669-5830.

Organizers of Vicenzaoro 1, held in January in Vicenza, Italy, noted a decrease in attendance by buyers from Europe and a significant increase in those from Central and South America, Australia and the Middle East.

Japanese singer Sachiko Kobayashi (center) tours the International Jewellery Tokyo Fair with her aide (center right). Kobayashi was one of five celebrities who received the Best Jewellery Wearer Award at the fair. The award is presented yearly to celebrities in five age groups who are considered to be trendsetters in jewelry fashion. The IJT Fair in January drew 780 exhibitors at the Tokyo Big Sight in the International Trade and Convention Center.

‘I DO’ HOW-TO

Jewelers have an excellent opportunity to cash in on the bridal market, but they must be prepared to go after and then serve the market, said Diane Edwards of Modern Bride magazine during JA Las Vegas! “Weddings and engagements are year-round events, meaning year-round selling, and this can take the pressure off the jeweler for the fourth quarter.”

From 2.3 million to 2.4 million marriages are performed annually, and two-thirds of them are first-time marriages, she said. The average groom is 27 or 28, the average bride is 26. “That means they’ve been in the work force and have a higher income (an average $50,000 annual household income),” she said. “ They’re also more sophisticated and have a sense of style, so jewelers can approach them with designer pieces, not just a solitaire.”

Statistics from a Modern Bride study also showed 98% of all brides surveyed received an engagement ring, the average cost was nearly $3,000 and 47% have a ring with a diamond of a carat or more. Nearly 60% of the brides were key decision-makers in choosing the ring.

Edwards emphasized, however, that most of bridal customers are first-time jewelry buyers, so they need education. “The more they know, the more they’ll spend,” she said. “They want value for their investment. They want better quality.

”The retailer must be prepared. Have a bridal expert on the premises. Have special products and services, such as financing, and then promote those services. Promote yourself as a bridal source. Look like you’re welcoming them into the store.”

Many jewelers miss a selling opportunity when they sell an engagement ring, she said. “Twenty-eight percent of the buyers did not buy a wedding ring at the same time. In addition, they can buy gifts for the wedding party and for each other.