When people complain that the halls are too crowded, you know you’re at a good show.
As JCK Las Vegas held its fourth edition at Mandalay Bay, even the most upbeat buyers seemed surprised by how many fellow industry members shared their optimism. Whether the economy has truly recovered, people’s moods have—at least judging from the heady vibe on the floor on opening day. After a frustrating five years when true prosperity always seemed to lie outside the trade’s grasp, this show’s big crowds and high spirits seemed to indicate that—just maybe—a corner really has been turned.
Speaking to a wide variety of retailers and buyers, JCK could not find one person with anything negative—or even mixed—to say.
“We are doing excellent,” said Christopher Slowinski, founder of Christopher Designs. “I am happy with everything.”
Ronnie VanderLinden of diamond wholesaler Diamex said the first morning saw a lot of action. “It’s been really upbeat,” he said.
Retailer Cathy Calhoun, owner of Calhoun Jewelers in Royersford, Pa., said she was buying up a storm: “I bought some Italian stuff, Simon G., fashion jewelry,” she said. “I have appointments like crazy.”
Terry Chandler, president and CEO of the Diamond Council of America, said he saw “a lot of energy, a lot of action on the floor.”
Examining product at the elaborate Pandora exhibit
Yet if the current state of affairs proved stronger than expected, other trade members debated whether the industry was ready to face what was ahead.
In the May 31 panel “Five Market Forces That Are Changing Our Industry,” moderator Ben Janowski said the industry was facing numerous “paradigm shifts,” including man-made diamonds. Panelist Abe Sherman, CEO of the Buyers Intelligence Group, said that retailers were concerned about the new category, particularly the prospect of receiving undisclosed gems as take-ins.
Russell Shor, senior industry analyst for the Gemological Institute of America, said that if natural diamond prices keep rising, synthetics could fill a void in better-quality smaller goods. “The world will adjust,” he said. “We have had colored-stone synthetics for 100 years.”
On the evolution of retail channels, Janowski said “the boom years of mall expansion are gone,” and we are seeing a decline in the number of independents and the collapse of once-powerful channels, like catalog showrooms.
Sherman predicted the industry will continue to shrink. “We are still a very fragmented industry that is decades behind where it needs to be in terms of technology,” he said. “The ones that survive will be the smarter, better stores.”
Janowski said retailers that aren’t online, won’t survive: “When you hear about a store, what is the first thing you do? You check them online. It is about the image you project.”
The panel also talked about the millennial generation, which Brandee Dallow, head of the North American office of Rio Tinto Diamonds, called a “huge opportunity” for the industry.
“We have to get to think the way they think,” she said. “They want to get to know you, they want to hear the story behind the mine.”
Shor commented that a lot of millennials grew up with the movie Blood Diamond, and the industry hasn’t gotten out the message the diamonds can be ethically mined.
“When I talk to the students at GIA, almost all the questions are about green issues, ethical issues,” he said. He added: “I talk to a lot of reporters, and there is this mentality out there, aren’t all diamonds a big rip-off, isn’t it all mark-up. My fear for the industry is that people don’t see the value in our product.”
Lita Asscher, president of Royal Asscher of America, commented that the industry has to do more than just talk about ethical responsibility, it has to act. For example, after Blood Diamond was released, she visited Sierra Leone and sponsored children.
Sherman said the millennial is a “much more educated consumer,” not only about the product, but also about its price. “Retailers have to be very competitive,” he said. “If you guys don’t have entry-level price points for bridal, you will miss those customers.”
Dallow said new consumers “mix up the way they are dressing,” shopping at both bargain and high-end stores. She added that the industry needs to be more creative and design-oriented.
Janowski closed with some research from pollster Ipsos, which showed that consumers want luxury that is “practical and innovative” and “not showy and over the top.”