10 Things Rocking the Industry: December 2012–January 2013

1. Pearls

The Cultured Pearl Association of America is chipping away at the dull and dated pearl aesthetic epitomized by Barbara Bush one exceptional design at a time. The organization recently held its 2012–13 International Pearl Design contest in New York City. Judges from jewelry’s A-list ­organizations—including Cartier, Robb Report, and the XO Group (not to ­mention JCK)—came up with 11 winners across eight ­categories. The recipient of the Presidents Award: the Ocean Lullaby ring by ­Evelyn Huang of Los ­Angeles. Set in a gold mounting with diamond accents, the ring is crowned by a gray South Sea pearl surrounded by a hula skirt of blue moonstones. Even a certain former first lady would have to love this Presidents winner.

2. Colored Gems

Oeuf Treillage Coloré Or Jaune in 18k gold with amethysts, rubies, emeralds, tsvorite garnets, and yellow, pink, and blue sapphires; $8,601; Fabergé, NYC; 646-559-8848; faberge.com

Ambitious colored stone miner Gemfields has taken a big step into the retail arena by ­buying Fabergé, the Russian jeweler best known for its ornate eggs. The seller was investment firm Palling­hurst, which had been trying to revamp the 160-year-old brand for the last five years by opening boutiques worldwide. Gemfields will continue on that path, ­hoping to open two stores a year in the next decade and promising a wide range of mine-to-retail synergies. On a conference call after the acquisition, CEO Ian Harebottle sounded ebullient, calling Fabergé the “greatest luxury brand of all time.” He said he hoped the sale would further his dream to make gemstones as popular as diamonds: “I believe this is one of those opportunities where one plus one equals four.”

3. Lawsuits


Is Macy’s selling fool’s gold? In an October lawsuit, plaintiff Natalya Barsukova charges that in 2010 she bought earrings stamped with a 14k mark. Within a year, she claims, they tarnished and turned gray, and testing revealed them to be silver. The suit seeks class-action status and says it could comprise “thousands” of purchases. At press time, Macy’s had not responded to the allegations; its rep says the company does not comment on litigation.

4. Auctions

When Eric Clapton sang about “living on Tulsa time,” who knew he was clocking it with a rarer-than-rare Patek Philippe? The singer-songwriter’s timepiece was the top draw—and, at $3.6 million, one of the biggest sellers—in the Nov. 12 Important Watches sale at ­Christie’s Geneva. The ref. 2499/100—a ­perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon phases—is one of only two in existence that’s cased in platinum. (The other, incidentally, can be found at the Patek Philippe museum in Geneva.) Here’s hoping Slowhand has a good backup.

Courtesy of Christie’s
The Patek Philippe ref. 2499/100 from the collection of Eric Clapton

 5. Outlets

Courtesy of Sterling Jewelers
An Ultra Diamonds two-piece bridal set with near-colorless and natural yellow diamonds in 14k white and yellow gold; $4,299

In November, Signet Jewelers made its most significant purchase in more than a decade. The jewelry giant’s $57 million purchase of Ultra—a 140-store chain that had twice filed for bankruptcy—will add more than 100 outlet locations to ­Signet’s 26-store Kay Outlet chain. On an investor call, CEO Michael Barnes admitted that Signet had been running a “very poor third” in the outlet ­business (after Ultra and 139-store Zale Outlet), but this buy turns it into a “major player.”

6. Metals


“I’ll have a gold necklace, and can you make the gold blue?” That won’t sound so crazy if a group of British scientists’ brainstorm ever comes to market. Researchers at the University of Southampton say that by embedding tiny raised or indented nano-patterns onto the surface of either gold or silver, they can make the metals appear different colors. But will this new technology be coming soon to a counter near you? University program manager Kevin MacDonald says he hopes to eventually license it to the industry. But for now, he admits, there is still “a lot of work” to be done.

7. Miners

BHP Billiton
An overhead view of the primarily Harry Winston–owned Ekati mine

Harry Winston used to be known for its diamonds. Now, it’s becoming known for its diamond mines. The Toronto-based ­company always has been something of an oddity in that it owned both the famed retailer as well as 40 percent of Diavik, the open-pit diamond producer in Canada’s Northwest Territories. And on Nov. 13, Winston announced plans to purchase the controlling ­interest in another big mine, Ekati, from BHP in a deal that marks BHP’s official exit from the gem business. The $500 million sale will turn Harry Winston into a far bigger player in the diamond industry and the world’s third-largest diamond producer by value.

8. Nostalgia

© 2012 RMS Titanic Inc.
An Edwardian-era platinum, 18k gold, and diamond ring that likely belonged to one of the Titanic’s first-class passengers

Rose may have dropped the blue diamond into the ocean at the end of the movie Titanic, but some of the ill-fated ship’s actual passengers really did carry bling. During a recent deep-sea expedition, Premier Exhibitions discovered diamonds, sapphires, pearls, and gold ­jewelry belonging to elite travelers on the Titanic in an unmarked leather bag. The 15 items embarked on a three-city excursion in November that will culminate in May 2013 as part of the Jewels of Titanic tour. The three stops include the Premier Exhibition Center in Atlanta; International Drive in Orlando, Fla.; and the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Now that’s something for Celine Dion to sing about!

9. Retailers

Not every jeweler’s closing spurs a page of melancholy goodbyes on ­JCKonline.com. Then again, not every jeweler is Ellen Lacy—a former president of the American Gem Society, whose El Paso, Texas, store, Lacy and Co., was long considered one of the country’s premier independent jewelers. Lacy tells JCK her 66-year-old store will close this holiday because she and her husband wish to retire. Naturally, her loyal consumers aren’t taking it well. “People are just stunned,” Lacy says. “I said, ‘Did you think we are going to live forever?’?”


Ellen Lacy

10. Stats

The latest Jewelers Board of Trade statistics “show a continued decline in the size of the industry,” says JBT president Dione Kenyon, though most of the decline is “on the supplier side rather than the retail side.” The industry feedback Kenyon is getting is also pretty mixed: “I do hear from some in the trade that they are doing fine,” she says. “But that’s not across-the-board.”

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