10 Things Rocking the Industry: April 2012

1. Auctions

Now this is a piece of history. The Beau Sancy, a 34.98 ct. pear-shape wonder that has been the property of no fewer than four royal families and appeared in two monarchs’ crowns, will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s Geneva on May 15. First ­discovered in the 1500s, the stone was owned by royals in both England and France; at least two French monarchs pawned it to settle debts. For the past 300 years, the legendary gem has belonged to the House of Prussia, which passed it down through four generations—until its current owner, Prince Georg Friedrich, great-great-grandson of the final German kaiser, decided it was time to sell. The stone, which has been shown publicly only four times in the past 50 years, will be ­showcased in an ­international tour before the auction. It is expected to fetch between $2 million and $4 million. 

2. Gold


Warren Buffett seems to love jewelry, given his trade assets. But he’s not such a big fan of gold—at least as an investment. In a letter to investors of his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, the Oracle of Omaha called gold a “bubble” and an unproductive asset that appeals mostly to the “fearful.” (“Bubbles blown large enough inevitably pop,” he added.) But “gold bugs”—and there are many—remain unconvinced; one analyst told The Wall Street Journal while Buffett never owned gold, he also never owned stock in Apple.

3. Oscars

We were suitably wowed by Gwyneth Paltrow’s million-dollar ­diamond cuff and Angelina Jolie’s lower-back brooches—not to ­mention her right leg. But at the 84th annual Academy Awards, was there any sight more swine-tastic than Miss Piggy draped in nearly 100 cts. of Fred Leighton diamonds? (And let’s not forget the Leighton 70 ct. amethyst cocktail ring perched on her satin-gloved, ahem, hoof.) But Piggy wasn’t the only animal decked out in designer ­jewelry. The ­Artist’s Uggie, the scene-stealing canine star of the Best Picture winner, walked the red carpet in custom Chopard: an 18k ­yellow gold and black satin bow tie, with a bone-shape UGGIE-engraved pendant. Uggie even got a second Chopard collar, in leather and rose gold, for an Oscar pre-party. Talk about putting on the dog.

4. Luxury

18k gold 8-pod ring, $770, 18k gold 8-pod pavé diamond ring, $1,935; Pandora, Columbia, Md.; 410-309-0200; pandora.net

What are affluent consumers’ favorite brands? They aren’t all Armani and Dom Pérignon. In fact, charm maker Pandora is now the second most popular brand among luxury jewelry buyers, according to a study conducted by Unity Marketing. The mid-market Danish brand ranked second only to Tiffany & Co. as a luxury jewelry name, scoring above traditional favorites such as David Yurman and Bulgari. Unity president Pam Danziger isn’t surprised, as many other brands considered “mass”—such as L’Oréal Paris, J.C. Penney, Ann Taylor, and Amazon.com—have made inroads with luxury consumers. “Just because affluents are rich doesn’t mean they want to spend a lot of money,” she says. “They didn’t get rich by spending.”

5. Economy

The industry has been experiencing an unfamiliar ­sensation recently: optimism. Just about every recent trade show has seen strong buying and upbeat sentiment, and many jewelers reported good Christmases and equally fine Valentine’s Days. The economy is looking better as well—measures of small business and consumer confidence in March both hit their highest points in more than four years. In fact, many economists now say the U.S. gross domestic product is growing even faster than they originally predicted. As the chief economist of the National Association of Manufacturers told the AP, this is turning out “to be a better year than some people might have been expecting.”

6. Metals

© Tiffany & Co.
Tiffany 1837 RUBEDO limited-edition cuff; $7,500

If the traditional 25th anniversary gift is silver, the 50th is gold, and the 75th is diamonds, how do you ­celebrate 175 years? If you’re Tiffany & Co., with RUBEDO, “which marries the richness of gold, the ­brilliance of silver, and the warmth of copper” ­(according to the company). The patented pinkish-bronze metal debuted in mid-February; for now, it’s being used in only a handful of the jeweler’s signature 1837 designs such as a padlock, an extra-wide cuff, and an ­interlocking circle necklace. Wonder what the Tiffany metallurgists have brewing for its 200th anniversary.

7. Thefts

Jewelry shows often attract criminals, but a robbery following the GJX Show in Tucson, Ariz., struck many as particularly heartbreaking. After finishing her first gem show on Feb. 5, Tammy Moreau of Oregon miner Sunstone locked up her merchandise in her trailer in the parking lot of a Motel 6. When she returned to the trailer on the morning of Feb. 7, she ­discovered that the locks on the cases had been cut off and all of her ­merchandise was gone. The 2,000 missing sunstone carvings—many ­one-of-a-kind stones—are worth an estimated $800,000–$900,000. The gem ­community has issued multiple bulletins and alerts; any dealer who comes across Oregon sunstone material from an unusual source is advised to call the Tucson police department.

8. Advertising

Courtesy of Cartier

Cartier certainly seems panther-proud about its new three-and-a-half-minute commercial, “L’Odyssée de Cartier.” Following its premiere at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the glossy ad aired on all three networks during prime time on Sunday, March 4, and can now be seen regularly at movie theaters everywhere. The 165-year-old French brand went all out for the ad, which took a 60-person staff two years to create: It features an original score by an 84-piece orchestra; glimpses of the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and the Eiffel Tower; a CGI-generated serpent; and, perhaps most impressively, dozens of jeweled creations coming to life. The ad is so elaborate, one commenter wrote, it makes regular TV shows “pale in comparison.”

9. Watches

It took 14 months, 12 diamond cutters, and five setters to make the $5 Million Watch.

This is one way to target high-end buyers. At Baselworld 2012, Hublot debuted a watch loaded with more than 1,200 diamonds worth $5 million. Called simply the $5 Million Watch, the timepiece was the most expensive at Baselworld, and the priciest Hublot ever produced. “Last year we introduced a $3 million watch,” says brand rep Marine Lemonnier Brennan. “But $5 million is probably the limit.” The 18k gold watch features 1,282 diamonds, including more than 100 cts. of baguettes and six square emerald cuts, each weighing more than 3 cts. However, the one-of-a-kind piece is now off the market; it was sold to the Hour Glass, a watch retailer in Singapore.

10. Stats

As the economy improves, sales seem to be climbing with it, according to the latest figures from the National Retail ­Federation, which projects retail sales will climb 3.4 percent this year. “Our 2012 forecast is a vote of confidence,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. But Shay noted that retailers still faced significant challenges, including consumer concerns about the employment situation and high gas prices.