10 Things Rocking the Industry

1. Luxury

While the high-end market in the United States remains mixed, there is evidence of a worldwide comeback, as shown by the Swiss luxury group Richemont’s half-year results, announced Nov. 20. The luxury juggernaut’s sales for the six-month period ending Sept. 30 increased 37 percent, while profits jumped a whopping 87 percent. ­Jewelry sales climbed an equally impressive 32 percent, and the company’s Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels brands logged double-digit growth. These nice numbers came from all regions, particularly Asia. Even the ­Americas, said the group, did well, “albeit compared to very weak comparative figures.”

2. Chains

Shane Co. finally emerged from 21 months in ­Chapter 11 protection on Nov. 10, after the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado approved its reorganization. The new plan allows the 20-store Denver-based ­jeweler to remain open and for Tom Shane to continue as president and CEO. Shane tells JCK that he is “extremely relieved” that he “can now concentrate on the operational side of the business.” But the company still has a substantial debt, estimated at about $48 million, to repay trade vendors. “As we generate surplus cash, we will turn it over to the creditors,” Shane says. “The sooner we can get this paid off, the happier we will be.”

3. Branding

Ben Bridge Jeweler was definitely thinking outside the jewelry box when it introduced its own perfume, Flawless. Director of education Lisa Bridge says the “fresh”-smelling fragrance—sold in a diamond-shaped bottle—represents a “logical next step” for the 93-store Seattle-based chain. “We have candy and coffee in our stores, but smell was never part of the experience.” Perfume, she adds, is similar to jewelry: “It’s tied to emotion. We want to associate the joy of jewelry with this special scent.” So far sales are strong. Guess this clever cross-­promotion is really on the nose.

4. Gemstones

The third week of November was one to remember in the bridal-jewelry world. Both actress-singer Jessica Simpson and Britain’s princess-in-waiting Kate Middleton received gemstone engagement rings—ruby and diamond, and sapphire and diamond, respectively. Simpson’s is a classically styled Neil Lane 18k yellow gold ring featuring a cushion-cut ruby flanked by two pear-shaped ­colorless diamonds, while Middleton received Princess Diana’s oval-cut blue sapphire set amidst a halo of colorless ­diamonds in platinum, a piece from Garrard. To state the ­obvious: Consumers will aim to replicate these looks, so retail jewelers should be armed with possibilities. The publicity ­surrounding the royal engagement, in particular, has already inspired a flood of knockoffs. Something borrowed, indeed.

Jessica Simpson’s 18k yellow gold ring featuring a cushion-cut ruby flanked by two pear-shaped colorless diamonds; Neil Lane, Los Angeles; 310-275-5015; neillanejewelry.com

5. Kimberley Process

How do you solve a problem like Marange? After a year of fractious debate, the Kimberley Process is still groping for a way to handle diamonds from that troubled region of Zimbabwe. The KP Plenary in Jerusalem broke up Nov. 3 with the gems still blocked, as governments were unable to reach an agreement. Three weeks later, the KP’s Working Group of Monitoring met again in Brussels to hammer out a deal, but at press time nothing had been announced. Most countries agree the two mines in the
area, said to meet KP ­standards, will be allowed to sell. However, issues—military control, ­smuggling, and, reportedly, forced labor—still plague the region. And KP dictates demand absolute consensus. In Jerusalem, Canada blocked a U.S.-brokered agreement because it wanted stricter controls on the Robert Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. The stalemate has made the KP appear dysfunctional, spurring talk of lawsuits and even defections from African countries allied with Zimbabwe.

6. Man-Made Diamonds

Diamond manufacturer Gemesis has traditionally grown fancy colored stones, particularly yellows. But now the Sarasota, Fla.–based company is manufacturing “thousands of carats” of synthetic white stones a month in a Malaysian factory using the chemical vapor deposition method, says CEO and president Stephen Lux. Weighing mostly a half carat and up, the stones will be sold to the public loose and mounted via an e-commerce site. The gems will “be a good value compared to the mined, but not a giveaway price,” Lux says. They will bear Gemesis inscriptions and generally will be accompanied by reports from the International Gemological Institute. And while Gemological Institute of America scientists have said that all lab-grown diamonds remain distinguishable from naturals with the proper equipment, that hasn’t eased trade concerns that the gems will seep into the market undisclosed.

7. E-Commerce

Hearts On Fire is venturing into ­e-commerce, though its plan aims to include the retailer. The strategy, announced at its Hearts On Fire University in Las Vegas in October, is three-pronged: It lets ­e-commerce–enabled retailers sell HOF products from their sites. A third-party provider, ESDN, will help retailers develop online sales platforms. But the prong that raised the most eyebrows was HOF’s plan to sell certain (nondiscounted) pieces online to consumers. The Boston-based brand explains that customers will be asked to choose a local jeweler and given the option to pick up the piece there. Even if they don’t opt for in-store pickup, the selected retailer will still receive 15 percent of the retail price and will also service the piece.

18k white gold silk pavé oval pendant with 1.15 cts. t.w. diamonds on adjustable wheat chain; $4,950; Hearts On Fire, Boston; 617-912-5300; heartsonfire.com

8. Collaborations

Judith Ripka has launched her first-ever bridal line exclusively with Helzberg Diamonds, the chain headquartered in Kansas City, Mo. The Judith Ripka Bridal Collection will comprise engagement rings, wedding bands, and diamond fashion items featuring Ripka’s iconic heart motifs and beaded detailing. Helzberg CEO Beryl Raff told the press that Ripka’s pieces “demonstrate luxury, romance, and fine detail,” while the New York City–based designer—quid pro quo—said she partnered with Helzberg “because of their respected position in the bridal business and strong commitment to customer service.” Retail prices start at $599.

Judith Ripka beaded milgrain anniversary band with 0.375 ct. t.w. diamonds in 14k white gold; $899.99; Helzberg Diamonds, Kansas City, Mo.; 800-HELZBERG; helzberg.com

9. Social Media

Facebook generally ­provides news about friends and family. Now it also offers deals. Stealing a page from location-based networks like Foursquare, the Palo Alto, Calif.–based site’s Facebook Deals service lets merchants offer special discounts to anyone who publicly “checks in” to their stores through the Facebook Places application. For example, on the service’s opening day, Nov. 8, the Gap gave away free jeans to the first 10,000 Facebook customers. Stores can also provide “loyalty deals” to frequent patrons or pledge to donate to a specified charity when someone visits electronically. To participate, businesses must first claim their store on Facebook Places. A primer can be found at allfacebook.com/tag/deals.

10. Stats

“The statistics still show improvement in terms of the level of ­contraction,” explains Jewelers Board of Trade president Dione Kenyon. “But while there are fewer bankruptcies and fewer consolidations, there is still a lot of weeding out going on.” Declaring herself “cautiously optimistic,” she notes that “the business is coming up the curve. It’s happening ever so slowly, but we’re still traveling up. There is a jewelry business out there.”