10 Things Rocking the Industry: February 2015

1. Shows

Are you ready to get your color game on? The Tucson, Ariz., gem shows open this month, to the delight of gemstone lovers the world over. Find out about Greenland’s new ruby and pink sapphire source from True North Gems at the American Gem Trade ­Association ­GemFair (at the Tucson Convention Center Feb. 3–8). Stock up on ­trending stones like Csarite and ­Zambian emerald at the nearby GJX show. And check out finished jewelry at the second annual JCK Tucson at the JW ­Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa Feb. 2–7. With some 40 shows in the Arizona desert (visit ­tucsonshowguide.com for the full list), allow plenty of time to explore, and be ­prepared to blow your budget.

2. Watches

At an Antiquorum auction in December, an anonymous collector purchased an Omega Constellation Calendar wristwatch owned by Elvis Presley and later gifted to his friend, the musician Charlie Hodge. The watch, which features a black dial and pink gold hands, sold for $37,500, nearly twice its high estimate of $20,000. Evan Zimmerman, president and CEO of Antiquorum, said the outcome “confirms that collectors continue to look for timepieces with exceptional provenance”—not to mention the King’s watch can still fetch a king’s ransom.

© Epa/Corbis

Courtesy of Antiquorum Auctioneers
Left: Elvis circa 1958–60 in Army fatigues; right: his Omega timepiece

3. Retail

Gold Oval Mirror cuff in gold-plated brass; $595; Robert Lee Morris, NYC; 212-764-3332; robertleemorris.com

On New Year’s Eve, designer Robert Lee Morris shocked fans and followers by abruptly closing his 37-year-old shop at 400 W. Broadway in New York City. Miriam Haskell has owned the company and store since 2011, but is shuttering the location to find a new one. Reps told JCK they felt “a newly designed store in our updated brand image would delight the loyal Robert Lee Morris customers and bring forth many new fans.” Morris, meanwhile, has bittersweet feelings: “It’s all part of the great cycles of our industry, coping with the market changes and drastic swings while maintaining a distinct and visionary brand.”

4. Diamonds

Jane Harrison
Rosie (c.) with Allan and Pat Bell

In August, London retailer 77 Diamonds sent a 1.15 ct. diamond to space via helium balloon as part of a promotional stunt. Once the package made its 10,000-foot descent, it was finders, keepers. The company, which tracked the package using GPS until the signal went out, announced that the diamond had landed within five miles of Lea in Lincolnshire. Searchers found nothing—until two days before Christmas, when Rosie the springer spaniel spotted something shiny in a hedge. “I knew it must be the diamond,” Allan Bell told the Daily Mail. He and his wife, Pat, plan to sell the $20,000 stone to pay for a cruise for their 25th anniversary. Rosie, they said, will get a rib-eye steak.

5. Awards

Oh, the Golden Globes. So many (relatively) well-dressed celebrities, so many missed jewelry opportunities! If we’d taken a shot of George ­Clooney’s Casamigos tequila for every bare clavicle, we’d have been under the table before Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s first Bill Cosby joke. And despite the abundance of diamond earrings—­diamond danglers (Sienna Miller and Amy Adams in Tiffany & Co.), ­diamond shoulder-dusters (Amal Clooney in Harry Winston), and diamond studs (too many to count…yawn!)—we were more impressed by the all-too-rare colored stone ­sightings: Emily Blunt’s electric-blue Paraiba pieces by Lorraine Schwartz; Lupita Nyong’o’s amethyst and peridot Chopard drops, perfect with her impressionist-inspired Giambattista Valli couture gown. Here’s hoping the Oscars are a more colorful affair.

Courtesy of Chopard
Left: Nyong’o; right: Chopard’s Precious Temptations earrings with amethyst, peridot, and diamonds

6. Majors

Jared hits the mall in Bloomington, Minn.

“He went to Jared” used to mean he went to a standalone big box to find an engagement ring. Now, he also could have gone to a mall. Chain owner Sterling has converted eight regional nameplates to a new brand, Jared Jewelry Boutique, that offers a smaller mall-based format. Execs say the new setting is only a test, but if the pilot program is expanded, analysts predict competition for traditional high-end mall jewelers like Ben Bridge.

7. Careers

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty
Michael Kowalski

Heading Tiffany & Co. isn’t a typical résumé builder for a job as an environmental activist. But that is exactly how Michael Kowalski plans to spend his post–Blue Box career. The three-decade Tiffany veteran told The New York Times he plans to “push the green agenda to the forefront of the luxury industry discussion” upon his March 30 retirement. Kowalski dabbled in environmental issues as head of the famed retailer, in particular by opposing the proposed Pebble mine in Alaska. He even told the paper that the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to halt the project’s construction (since overruled by a federal judge) was one of the “most satisfying” moments of his tenure.

8. Wearables

Momento collection necklace in 14k gold with 18-inch chain and hand-carved 11 mm Tahitian Pearl; $1,225; Galatea, San Dimas, Calif; 800-609-6888; galateausa.com

Smart jewelry is one thing; leave it to Galatea to introduce the first smart pearl. The company has invented a technique that implants a computer chip inside a pearl, so that it can store pictures, audio, and video, which can be accessed by tapping it against a near-field communication–enabled phone. The result is a jewel that blends technology and emotion, says founder Chi Huynh: “If you have to find a picture on a computer, it is not meaningful. This personalizes it. It is the most meaningful part of someone’s life, and it is right there next to you.”

9. Lab-Grown Gems

Jonathan Bachman/AP Images for Pure Grown Diamonds

At halftime of the Nov. 29 game pitting Southern University against Grambling State at New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Louisiana local Calvin Mills got down on one knee to propose to his girlfriend, Brittany Ramsey (pictured), with a diamond ring. Not so unusual—unless you’re talking about the diamond. The rock was a 2.62 ct. pear-shape man-made stone produced by Pure Grown ­Diamonds. It was a nice publicity coup for the lab-grown sector; even the head of the Diamond Dealers Club of Australia was impressed, calling it a “shot fired across the [natural industry’s] bow.”

10. Stats

While the rate of new business openings held steady in the third quarter, the number of business closings has shot up—though a majority of those were consolidations, mergers, or owners choosing to cease operations. Only seven were bankruptcies—among the lowest numbers Jewelers Board of Trade has ever recorded. “People are choosing not to go through the bankruptcy process,” says JBT president Dione Kenyon. “It’s expensive, and why do that if you don’t think you are going to come out the other side?” Still, she says, not all the closings are the result of bad business; some owners simply couldn’t find successors.