The B2B show is a gold lover’s delight
Last night, I returned home from the briefest of visits to Dubai (it’s a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles, and I stayed three days, four nights). The global jaunt was worth it, though. I flew all that way to attend the second annual VicenzaOro Dubai (VOD) show, a joint venture between the Fiera di Vicenza and the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC). It wasn’t my first time in the United Arab Emirates—I’d been to Dubai, the best known of the seven emirates, twice before, in 2004 and 2006—but it was by far my coolest experience.
The fair, held April 14–17 at the DWTC, a short walk across Sheikh Zayed Road from our elegant hotel, the Conrad Dubai, hosted 400 exhibitors, including 150 Italian brands and a slew of Indian jewelers showing some of the most lavish and ornate gold jewelry I’ve ever seen.
Over the past decade, Dubai has been through a boom-and-bust cycle, and it’s clear that things are back to booming again. They call Dubai the City of Gold, but they could just as easily call it the City of Cranes. Construction is afoot everywhere you look. You can feel the energy in the malls, which are heaving with shoppers at midnight, or the nightclubs, packed with expats who’ve moved here to take advantage of the buzz. Little wonder that VicenzaOro’s organizers chose to extend their brand to this global hub of a city, wedged between the Arabian Desert and the Persian Gulf. If you’ve never been to Dubai, mark your calendars for April 22–25, 2017, the next edition of VOD. Until then, here’s what you need to know about the show and its glamorous host city:
1. Fiera di Vicenza considers Dubai its new home away from home.
The Vicenza fair, which once had three editions in Italy, now has two Italian fairs—one in January and another in September—plus the VOD event in the spring, replacing the former June show in Vicenza.
“After almost two years working together, we are at home base here,” said Matteo Marzotto, president of Fiera di Vicenza, during his welcome remarks on day one of the show. “I am talking about an alliance. Dubai is the belly button of luxury in the world, and it’s easy to understand why Italian craftsmanship and know-how are so desired here.”
Day one press conference: Fiera di Vicenza president Matteo Marzotto is seated in the middle (photo courtesy VicenzaOro Dubai).
2. The India Pavilion is home to some of the most magnificent gold jewelry in the world.
The dozens of companies at VOD showing under the auspices of India’s Gem and Jewelry Export Promotion Council were unequivocally focused on the elaborate Indian-style jewelry that is coveted by the Middle Eastern and Indian markets. Intricate gold necklaces studded with rose- or portrait-cut diamonds, oversize bell-style jhumka earrings, cuff bracelets strung with rubies and seed pearls—statement jewels does not begin to describe their awesomeness. While it’s not the kind of jewelry that typically appeals to American consumers, it is the kind of jewelry that literally stops people in their tracks.
A showcase of gold jewels in the Indian Pavilion
Gold, diamonds, and emeralds in a bib necklace from Malabar Gold, one of the more prominent exhibitors at the show (they also displayed a replica of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which, at 2,716.5 feet, is the tallest building in the world; the impressive facsimile was rendered in 22.65 grams of 18k gold).
While most of the companies in the pavilion limit their sales to the Indian and Middle Eastern markets, a few are big players in the United States and will show at JCK Las Vegas 2016. Chief among them: Mumbai-based Bapalal Keshavlal and Jaipur-based Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas. In Dubai, the latter showed larger-than-life kundan jewelry that would probably be a tough sell in the United States (too big, too elaborate, too ethnic), but, oh wow, I was mesmerized. I couldn’t stop snapping photos of the collar necklaces, some so large and elaborate they could have doubled as armor.
Get a load of this necklace in the showcases at Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas.
3. Lab-grown diamonds were the talk of the show.
VOD devoted two seminars on its short and sweet education schedule to the topic of lab-grown diamonds. At the first one—titled “Setting Nature’s Wonders Apart: Natural Diamonds Versus Synthetics”—Alex Popov, chairman and CEO of World Diamond Mark, didn’t mince words:
“There’s a lot of hype today around synthetic diamonds being clean, being responsibly sourced, not tainted with blood—but this is an industrial product,” Popov said. “They don’t have soul; they don’t have individuality.”
Yet steps away from the conference room where Popov made his presentation, a Dubai-based lab-grown diamond company called Eco Diamonds made clear that the products are generating a lot of interest among buyers. Their cases were packed with showgoers eager to understand what distinguishes synthetic stones from mined diamonds. Managing director Suraj Mehta showed a number of lab-grown round pink diamonds, weighing about 1.3 cts. each, describing them as “sustainable, affordable, identical” to mined diamonds—at a cost of 30–40 percent less.
Lab-grown pink diamonds at the Eco Diamonds Jewellery & Trading booth
4. A coterie of global brands are here to capitalize on the Middle East’s legions of consumers.
The global brands on the show floor included Italy’s Roberto Coin and Garavelli, Istanbul’s Zen Diamond, Australia’s Autore, and London-based Gemfields.
Drago collar necklace from Garavelli
Roberto Coin’s one-of-a-kind display featured this lovely dragonfly brooch.
But it was Isaac Levy of Yvel who offered the most compelling explanation about why being in Dubai is part of an overarching strategy to transcend the stagnant global economy:
“In the past, you always had a country that was leading—the U.S. or Japan,” he said. “Things are tough now: Russia’s ruble is down. Chinese investments stopped. Europe, I don’t need to tell you what happened there. America—an election year is never good. There is no region or country that can save the world right now. It’s hurry up and wait.
“After Dubai, we’re flying to Kuwait,” Levy continued. “Then Baku, Azerbaijan; China, Vegas, London, Aspen [Colo.], Monaco. It’s go big or go home, and we decided it’s too early to go home.”
Yvel showed this spectacular baroque pearl pendant on a rose gold chain.
5. Dubai is a retail fantasyland.
A visit to Dubai should be part of the retail curriculum. As a store owner, you’ll be stunned by the mob scene at the mega-size Dubai Mall. On Friday night at midnight (the equivalent of a Sunday in Western culture due to the fact that Friday is considered the day of rest in Dubai), the crowds at the mall were not to be believed. The ice rink was filled, the escalators packed, and the booths at Shake Shack, Five Guys, and P.F. Chang’s positively overflowing (Dubai, like its Gulf Cooperation Council neighbors, is a franchise heaven).
The amount of people at Dubai Mall near midnight on Friday night (their version of a Sunday) was insane.
Dubai is a dream. You’ve probably heard that it’s a lot like Las Vegas, and it is, but I would add a dash of Miami and Arabia to truly capture its hedonistic, growth-obsessed, and ersatz yet still very Muslim spirit. On Saturday night, my last night in town, I’d received an invitation to Satine, a restaurant and lounge that had opened the night before at Nikki Beach Dubai, the latest outpost in the Nikki Beach empire. I had no other plans, so I decided to put on my club-appropriate duds and check out the scene.
The restaurant featured over-the-top burlesque dancers (who am I kidding? Everything in Dubai is over the top) and a boisterous crowd of local expats. I was seated at the communal table and soon befriended the pretty British girls next to me. They worked for Burberry’s communications department and had been in town for a couple weeks to help stage a party at the brand’s boutique in the Mall of the Emirates. Like me, they were heading back home (they to London and me to LA) first thing Sunday morning. One drink led to another until I found myself on the rooftop of a hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, at a lounge called 40 Kong, ordering drinks from the South African bartender, chatting away with the French and American barflies, and snapping selfies with the Londoners and Michael, the Satine manager from Sydney, who’d accompanied us. The lights of Dubai twinkled below us like a vast diamond-studded carpet, right up to the edge of the desert. It was 2:30 a.m. by the time I retreated to my room, ordered a cheeseburger, sent some emails, and waited patiently for my 6 a.m. airport pickup. VicenzaOro Dubai, you did not disappoint!
Top: the entrance to the show (photo courtesy VicenzaOro Dubai)
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