Las Vegas 2004: The boom is back

If there was any doubt that the economy is in recovery and that the jewelry industry is back, all one had to do was attend The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas. The event, held June 4-8 at the Sands Expo & Convention Center, was mobbed with people eager to buy. In nearly all cases, exhibitors reported strong to extremely strong sales. This also held true for the Luxury by JCK Show, held May 31-June 3 at the Venetian.

JCK Show officials said that this year’s attendance figures were good and would probably top those of 2003. However, the JCK Show does not release preliminary attendance figures, a practice it started about two years ago.

Second year of change. This year, The JCK Show was organized into 13 core pavilions—Antique & Estate, AGTA’s GEMFAIR Cultured Pearl & Jewelry, Design Center, Diamond Plaza, Hall of Time, LUXURY Collection, Equipment/Technology/Service/Supplies, Galleria, Platinum Pavilion, The Plumb Club, Prestige Promenade, StyleMakers, and World’s Fair—plus the LUXURY Swiss Watch Suites. The idea was to make it easier for buyers to find what they needed at the show. Some of the changes implemented last year resulted in a bit of confusion. However, with a year for buyers to get used to the new arrangement of space, along with some improvements, it appears that exhibitors were overwhelmingly happy with the new arrangement.

“Traffic is much improved over last year,” said Manos Phoundoulakis of Kubik, a German-based creator of platinum and 18k gold jewelry, whose booth was located inside the Design Center.

Another Design Center tenant, Francesca Bertelli of Me & Ro, agreed. “Up to now we have had a few new people and a couple down the road,” she said. “We have some big new accounts. It’s one of the main reasons we come to the show.”

Tim Lawrence, president of the U.S. division of Hot Diamonds, a British jewelry firm, was delighted with his company’s results. “Phenomenal,” he said. “Saturday [the second day of the show] was our record sales day—ever!” The brand’s new “Hot Diamonds Squared” line, available late this year, drew especially strong interest, and the stand was often so crowded that the throng overflowed into the adjoining corner booth.

Not everyone was satisfied with the show. Some European exhibitors in the World’s Fair section said at its end that their business had been—as one German put it—“just so-so.” The culprit, they said, was the strong euro, which made products of European vendors more expensive for Americans than those of competitors from other countries.

New kids on the block. Several companies and associations introduced new products, services, and marketing initiatives at the show. Among them:

* Jewelry manufacturer Super Bell, Los Angeles, held a presentation at Caesar’s Palace for its retailer-customers to hear a presentation on the company’s Jewelry Club House. The company is trying to compile a network of retailers to invest in and provide consumer support for a Web site that will sell to consumers around the country.

* The Italian Trade Commission unveiled a new marketing campaign that featured a full-page ad in the JCK Show Daily with the words “Feel the passion” followed by “Italian Jewelry, the tradition of beauty.” The ad was officially unveiled at a breakfast sponsored by the ITC on Saturday, June 5.

* Gemworld International, Northbrook, Ill., publishers of the gem pricing book The Guide, announced the opening of a new diamond grading laboratory in New York that will focus on all “four Cs,” using new ray tracing computer technology to help grade light return and cut quality. The new lab was scheduled to open in late June.

The European influence. Exhibitors at The JCK Show reinforced trends established earlier this year by European designers and manufacturers. There is little doubt that the strongest trends for fall and winter remain the linear earrings and a focus on bracelets—especially those of significant size that feature open links, lattice-work designs, or other cut-outs to lend a light and airy feeling.

One of the strongest growing categories is that of versatile styles. From interchangeable stones to adjustable necklaces to detachable pendants, anything that features several different options is definitely hot as jewelers continue to pursue practical self-purchasing females.

Yellow gold continues to be the “hot” color for fashion-forward designers and the consumers who love them.

Color, however, is the strongest trend, with everything from the least expensive semiprecious stone to the rarest colored diamond enjoying the spotlight. With the rainbows of color on display, discerning a trend was difficult, but purples and greens seem to be the strongest colors for fall and winter fashions. Fancy colored diamonds, meanwhile, are being seen in more fashionable—rather than classic—designs by manufacturers ranging from Siera to Suna Brothers.

AGTA Show: Gemstones and pearls. While pink sapphire still highlights lines from colored-stone jewelry manufacturers, loose stones appear to be in rather short supply. Madagascar, the leading supplier of sapphire rough, reportedly has no current production of pinks. And in the past few years, much of the Madagascan pink sapphire has been used for creating beryllium-treated padparadschas, reducing even further the total amount of available pink rough. Still, a good number of AGTA colored-stone suppliers had a nice—albeit small—selection for special one-of-a-kind orders.

Blue sapphires, on the other hand, were in plentiful supply, with trays of all sizes and saturated even-colored unheated Madagascan, Sri Lankan, and Burmese stones. Even with blue, beryllium is always a possibility, so it’s important to always ask for enhancement disclosure.

Round pearls were still on a roll, as Chinese freshwaters and inexpensive Tahitians continue to dominate the category. After a two-year drought of fine-quality large, round Chinese freshwater cultured pearls, a small number of pearl merchants—like Freeman Pearl Co., Los Angeles—finally had acquired some splendid stock. Some of the finest rounds measured 10 mm to 13 mm, showing few blemishes, nice even colors, and high natural luster.

Diamonds. Most diamond dealers shared in the general good feelings, with many reporting better sales than they’ve had in years, particularly to independents. “After three years, the independents have finally run out of inventory,” one banker said wryly.

Overall, many thought the mood had improved.

Colored diamonds were in abundance at the show, particularly yellows, but that made buyers nervous as they wondered whether the stones were treated or even synthetic.

Three-stone diamond jewelry remained hot, with some expressing amazement that the trend still had considerable life in it. Most were optimistic about the plan by De Beers’ Diamond Trading Company to tie the style into anniversaries.

But reviews for the right-hand ring, De Beers’ newest product, weren’t so good. Both retailers and manufacturers hated the current designs, and while quite a few said they had faith in the concept, they noted it was not a right-off-the-bat hit as the three-stone ring had been.

Equipment, Technology, and Supplies (ETS). In 2003, show organizers decided to move most of the 100-plus exhibitors (including interior design and architectural firms, equipment manufacturers, lighting companies, fixture and display manufacturers, and display and packaging manufacturers) into several first-floor conference rooms.

George Halvatzis, vice president of Econo-Lite Products, a Jersey City, N.J., lighting manufacturer, was moved there for the first time this year, and at first wasn’t at all happy about the location. However, he changed his opinion quickly.

Halvatzis was promoting the company’s new 70-watt metal halide track fixture, which provides 16,000 hours of white light and the capability of lighting a five-foot span when situated six feet above the case. On Sunday, he said the new light was attracting a lot of interest, and what he first thought was a bad location turned out to be a good place to showcase the new light. “There’s a lot of interest in the product,” he said. “It’s been a good show for us.”

Mervyn Rudgley, senior director product manager of 3D Systems, Valencia, Calif., was attending his first JCK Show ~ Las Vegas, introducing a new product. An engineer by trade, he goes to conferences largely attended by engineers, and had an unusual perspective on The JCK Show. “This is a very interesting show for us because people buy things here,” he said. “We’ve sold some [product] off the show floor.” He explained that at most of the conferences he attends, people don’t buy product: They return to their offices and consult with associates before placing an order.

Rudgley was at the show to promote 3D’s new product, the InVision HR 3-D Printer that produces high-quality production casting patterns or presentation models directly from jewelry design or 3-D CAD software. It uses technology based on ink-jet printing, but instead of using ink, the InVision machine deposits an acrylic photopolymer to create a solid model. The plastic-like material is deposited layer-by-layer until a three-dimensional object is formed.

Watches. Business at The JCK Show’s revamped watch section, the Hall of Time, lived up to its acronym—H.O.T.

Many reported significant gains over the 2003 show. Speidel, for one, “doubled our sales from last year,” said president Jeffrey R. Massotti. Philippe Charrioll had “our busiest show ever,” noted Ori Zemer director of marketing. “Great show,” said both Francie Abrahams, Bulova’s vice president of marketing, and Stuart Kerzner, president of Lancaster USA, particularly for Lancaster’s new Quadretto oval watches. Croton had “fantastic response” to its new, affordable Croton Reserve watches (including those with enameled-bracelet links), said vice president Eli Mermelstein. Jewelry makers with watch lines, like Oro Diamante, Rialto, and LeVian, also had strong sales. “A truly great show,” said David Zar, president of LeVian watches, adding that sales were “unbelievable” and “we sold out.”

Despite some complaints about the reorganized watch section—i.e., non-watch vendors and overhead aisle signs promoting a diamond jewelry maker—watch exhibitors were generally pleased with results. “A very strong show,” especially for gold watches, observed Hugh Glenn, Cyma USA president.

Prestige brands in the fair’s by-appointment-only Swiss Luxury Watch gallery (in the adjoining Venetian Hotel) also did well. “The show was phenomenal,’ said Stacie Orloff, Corum USA president, especially for its spaghetti-thin Debutante gem bracelet watch with petite clip-on case. “Last year, people were more solemn, ordering less, selling down inventory and reviewing stock. Now, they’re jazzing up assortments and ordering.”

Strong sales and buyer confidence also were cited by representatives of upscale brands like Breitling, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Carl F. Bucherer who were meeting clients at Las Vegas hotels outside the show.

“Oval” and “sideways” was the prevalent design of new watches at The JCK Show, and in all sizes, from petite (LeVian’s Delano, Elissa’s Bali) to mid-size (Lorzeno Possan, Trebor’s black-on-black L’Ovale, Effy) to big (Tiret, Festina, Robert Lighton). Many were “east/west,” though there were striking vertical designs as well.

A complete report from the 2004 JCK Show ~ Las Vegas will be in the July issue of JCK magazine.