10 Things Rocking the Industry

1. Luxury

LVMH added another jewel to its growing luxury portfolio on March 6 when it acquired the majority interest in famed Italian gem house Bulgari in a stock swap valued at more than $5 billion. The sale of the 127-year-old ­jeweler, which has branched out into hotels and fragrances, was portrayed by a member of its founding family as a sign of the times: “More and more, I think the big groups will be the protagonists of the luxury business,” Bulgari CEO Francesco Trapani told Bloomberg news. “Life will be progressively more difficult for the independents.” Trapani will assume management of LVMH’s entire watch and jewelry ­portfolio, which includes such brands as TAG Heuer, Chaumet, Zenith, Hublot, Fred, and De Beers.

2. Collaborations

Two favorite men’s accessories have merged to form the ultimate guy gear. Shaw Harley-Davidson, a leading U.K. motorcycle dealer and a big fan of Bell & Ross timepieces, approached the company last year about a collaboration. When B&R said yes, Shaw stripped down a Harley FXSTB Softail Night Train to create a new machine “inspired” by Bell & Ross, with the watchmaker’s iconic BR 01 Carbon timepiece nestled snugly in the center console. The result—the Nascafe Racer—could be called the world’s first watch-bike.

The Bell & Ross–inspired Harley FXSTB

3. De Beers

It’s the end of an era at Anglo American, the South African mining colossus that owns a 45 percent stake in De Beers. De Beers chairman Nicholas F. (“Nicky”) Oppenheimer will step down from Anglo’s board April 21, after 37 years serving the ­company founded by his grandfather, Ernest, in 1917. This marks the first time in the company’s ­history that there hasn’t been an Oppenheimer on its board. Market watchers see this as fresh evidence of ­tension between Anglo and the Oppenheimers, whose family trust has been gradually selling off its Anglo shares since 2006. More to the point, however, is how the changing relationship between the two mining giants would impact the ownership of De Beers.

Courtesy of De Beers Group
Outgoing Anglo board member Nicky Oppenheimer

4. Celebrities

Every jeweler likes ­publicity, and Kamofie & Co. hit the jackpot on Jan. 21 when actress Lindsay Lohan allegedly stole a $2,500 necklace from the Venice, Calif., store. In March, the once-obscure boutique raised its profile even higher when it sold the surveillance tape for some $35,000 to ­Entertainment Tonight, ­according to ­Radar­Online.com. (A Kamofie rep defended the action in a statement, saying it was “right” for the public to see the tape.) Now, the store has announced plans to sell the jewel and donate the proceeds to charity. Lohan has pleaded not guilty to felony grand theft; meanwhile, the notorious necklace remains in the custody of the L.A. district attorney.


5. Raw Goods

It’s ironic: While jewelry sales have been rising only sporadically, the price of jewelry materials has ­galloped ahead at full speed. Gold hit a record $1,441 an ounce on March 2 in what analysts called a response to turmoil in the ­Mideast. That same day, silver rose to $34.95 an ounce, its highest in 31 years. Meanwhile, diamond prices have also soared; according to the IDEX Online Polished Diamond Price Index, prices are now just 4 percent short of August 2008’s record level. “A lot of people have been branching out into silver,” says industry ­analyst Ben Janowski. “Now they are having to branch out even beyond that.”


6. Oscars

It wouldn’t be the Academy Awards without some sort of celebrity scandale. After what had to be the dullest telecast in recent memory—even cohost James Franco looked bored out of his britches—media reports accused fashion A-listers Gwyneth Paltrow and Anne Hathaway of getting paid upwards of $500,000 each to wear big-name designer bling, which the actresses’ reps and the jewelers swiftly denied. (If you missed it, cohost-with-the-most Hathaway accessorized her many dazzling custom gowns with an amazing array of Tiffany jewels. For more on Paltrow’s pieces, see “From Red Carpet to Reality.”) But enough about the rumors—can we talk about the rocks? Reese Witherspoon’s emerald Neil Lane earrings and ring…Amy Adams’ Cartier carved emeralds and diamonds (worth $1 million plus)…Annette Bening’s emerald briolette earrings by Lorraine Schwartz. We’ve been saying this ever since Angelina Jolie rocked those 115 ct. Lorraine Schwartz emerald teardrops at the 2009 Oscars: You can’t go wrong with green on a red carpet.


7. Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett has proved himself a ­superstar in the world of finance. But now the affable billionaire faces what could be his toughest challenge yet: selling jewelry. On May 1, the Oracle of Omaha will step behind the counter at Borsheim’s, the Nebraska jeweler owned by Buffett’s famed investment house, Berkshire Hathaway, during its Annual ­Shareholders’ Weekend. Wonder if he’ll be working on commission.


8. Gemstones

Talk about a big blue! On March 1, TanzaniteOne announced it had ­recovered a 12,100 ct. tanzanite, believed to be the third largest such gem ever found. The 4 lb. mega-rock (right), unearthed at its flagship mine in Tanzania, will likely be sliced and diced into smaller—but still pretty darn big!—pieces, and cut and polished at an in-house cutting facility.


9. Kimberley Process

Members of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme have spent early 2011 just as they spent most of 2010: racked by division and unable to decide what to do about Zimbabwe. On Feb. 28, the country’s mining minister publicly rejected the latest attempt at an agreement that would allow diamonds from the Marange fields to be exported—so the stalemate continues after more than a year of negotiations. The Zimbabwean government may prefer life without the KP: Reports persist of gems leaving the country illegally. Meanwhile, the United States’ application to be vice chair was rejected by Zimbabwe and Namibia, leaving the KP without a vice chair for the first time in its seven-year history. As one KP insider put it: “It’s a mess.”


10. Stats

“The trends we started to see last year are continuing,” says JBT president Dione Kenyon. “It doesn’t mean there aren’t problems anymore, but the story is that things are getting a little bit better. I’m not giddy, but I’m positive.” She notes the JBT is seeing more mergers and acquisitions, but she adds that jewelers who have switched to lower-quality metals may face profitability challenges: “You have to sell a lot more silver to make as much money as you did with gold.”