10 Things Rocking the Industry

1. Beads

Distribution of Trollbeads in North America has devolved into a nasty legal fight between parent company Lise Aagaard Copenhagen and its former U.S. rep, Lund Consulting. On Jan. 27, Aagaard announced it was taking over Trollbeads’ distribution by setting up an office in Princeton, N.J., after it investigated Lund’s involvement with rival bead line NOVO (and even hired a private investigator to go through Lund’s garbage!). Columbia, Md.–based Lund got a restraining order barring the takeover on Jan. 29, but days later, it was overturned by a federal judge. Lund vows to take its case to Danish court and “shift its focus” to other products.

2. Speakers

Tony Robbins—the self-help guru famous for his persuasive blend of motivational, psychological, and business-management techniques (not to mention that jaw!)—paid a visit to Tucson in late January, addressing a crowded room of jewelers at the Centurion show. He told audience members to do their best, no matter the economy: “Sixty-five percent of Fortune 500 companies opened during a recession or depression,” he said, advising jewelers to develop a business plan for the next three to five years. He also shared the story of a close friend who recently went looking for the best possible diamond engagement ring. The lesson Robbins tried to convey was that over-promising and sticking with customers in an advisory role—even if they don’t buy from you—can pay huge dividends. “People aren’t impressed or inspired to take action with a 5 to 10 percent sale,” he said. “But if you present them with an incredible offer or opportunity, you’ll blow them away.”

Courtesy of Centurion Jewelry Show
Tony Robbins at Centurion

 3. Gems

If you missed this year’s Gem Week in Tucson, Ariz., you missed, well, a gem of a week. At the American Gem Trade Association GemFair—the biggest of the city’s 40-plus shows—attendance was up 5 percent over 2010, building on a 7 percent increase from the previous year. That is to say nothing of sales—which, based on anecdotal reports, were robust (opals, in particular, were a hot buy). Albuquerque, N.M.–based designer Paula Crevoshay sold pieces in the $15,000–$25,000 range. “Gold is up; real estate is down,” explained her business partner, Martin Bell. “The ­auction houses are selling at record prices. People want tangible assets.” Like ­colored stones—if exhibitors’ upbeat moods were any indication.


 4. Pearls

The rare conch pearl, a natural product of the Queen Conch shell found off the coast of the Bahamas, is about to go mainstream. At an Accredited Gemologists Association symposium during Tucson’s Gem Week, Dr. Megan Davis and Dr. Hector Acosta-Salmón spoke of their advances in tissue and bead nucleation with Queen Conch mollusks. In 2006, the researchers began perfecting the climate, water conditions, water temperature, and feed required to achieve a 60 percent to 80 percent success rate for conch cultured pearl production. Since then, they have produced pearls from 7 mm to 10 mm in round, near-round, and baroque shapes. Colors harvested include light and dark pink, orange, white, off-white, and brown, with most demonstrating the conch’s signature flame pattern.

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University

 5. Lawsuits

The trade has long debated whether ­consumers really care if their stones display a hearts-and-arrows pattern. As Helzberg Diamonds learned recently, one certainly does. On Jan. 3, California resident Sara Khaliki brought a class action suit against the 234-store jeweler, claiming her Helz­berg Masterpiece diamond was represented as having a “hearts and arrows” pattern, but turned out to be a non–“H and A” princess cut. Helzberg fired back with a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff “does not allege that she actually read, heard, or saw any alleged misrepresentation,” and therefore her legal claim “fails.”


 6. Red Carpet

We’ll admit that the only thing we were really excited to see at the ­Academy Awards was how Black Swan star Natalie ­Portman ­accessorized her baby bump. After all, jewelry trends at ­January’s Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards proved fairly ­conservative: stud earrings (Mila Kunis, Eva Longoria, and Julianna Margulies at the Globes), yellow and brown diamonds (Portman and Annette Bening at the SAGs; Julie Bowen and Amy Adams at the Globes). At least a few ­daring celebs have been breaking out the bangles. At the Globes, Kyra ­Sedgwick stacked up gold and diamond Ofira bracelets; Heidi Klum piled on two armloads of Lorraine Schwartz diamond, wood, and platinum pieces; and Halle Berry wrapped $2.5 million worth of Harry Winston diamonds around both her wrists. Now that’s what we call award-winning jewelry.


 7. Chains

When Spence Diamonds purchased three Houston-area jewelry stores in 2009, the CEO of the brass-and-glass ­pioneer told JCK: “We look forward to changing the way North America buys diamonds.” But in the end, it was Spence that changed course. The Canadian company shuttered its U.S. operations in December 2010. ­(Representatives did not return phone calls.) However, original owner Robbins Bros. was able to buy back two of the three stores. “We are grateful for a second chance” in Houston, declared Andy Heyneman, president and CEO of Robbins Bros.


 8. Auctions

The recovery is apparently in full bloom at Christie’s jewelry and watch departments. The auction house’s global gem and jewelry sales hit $426.4 million in 2010—a new record, and a 56 percent leap over 2009. Among the big earners: the Perfect Pink, a 14.23 ct. rectangular-cut fancy intense pink diamond ring that sold in November for $23.1 million, or $1.6 million per carat, ­making it the priciest jewel ever sold in Asia. Last year was also one for the books for Christie’s watch sales; revenues hit a never-before-achieved $91.2 million. The top watch, a Patek Philippe Reference 1527 manufactured in 1943, fetched a record-shattering $5.7 million in May at Christie’s Geneva.

The Patek Philippe Reference 1527, made in 1943

 9. Crime

Retirement clearly doesn’t suit notorious “grandmother ­jewel thief” Doris Payne. On Jan. 12, the 80-year-old was convicted of stealing an $8,900 ring from a San Diego Macy’s; a month later, she received the maximum sentence—five years in prison. The ­perpetually well-mannered Payne, whose criminal career goes back decades, is also being investigated in conjunction with the August 2010 theft of a $13,000 ring from a department store in Santa Barbara, Calif., according to the Jewelers’ Security Alliance. Though Hollywood has apparently commissioned a Payne biopic (starring Oscar winner Halle Berry), JSA executive director John Kennedy is still stunned by her staying power: “There’s only one criminal who is still out there that [former director] James B. White told me about when I took over 19 years ago. And that is her.”


 10. Stats

“The January statistics continue the trend we have been seeing,” says ­Jewelers Board of Trade president Dione Kenyon. “They just underline the slow ­improvement in the industry. Certainly, things are better than 2010, and 2010 was much better than 2009.” There has also been a big jump in market sentiment. “I am not hearing from bankers and others that they are tremendously worried right now,” she says. “We also see membership trends improving, more activity. People are willing to go a little bit more out on a limb.” But high unemployment and consumer frugality remain concerns: “I still think this will be a choppy year.”


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