10 Things Rocking the Industry: July–August 2012

1. Las Vegas

As hordes of retailers descended on the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for the start of JCK Las Vegas June 1, a gloomy jobs report sent the Dow Jones industrial average on a 275-point nosedive. But business at jewelry market week didn’t go down the tubes with it. Indeed, with European debt woes and talk of a Far East slowdown ­clouding the global economic outlook, America has emerged as a beacon of stability—a conclusion borne out among high-profile exhibitors with recognizable names and luxury clients. Smaller firms, meanwhile, reported mixed results in Vegas, as did those who failed to book advance appointments (but that’s an old story). The upshot of JCK’s second year at its new digs? “Demand at the upper end is okay, and that’s what you saw at the show,” says Russell Shor, senior industry analyst at the Gemological Institute of America. “But the middle class is still feeling pinched.”

2. Billionaires

Dave Weaver/Borsheims
Buffett charms a Borsheims buyer.

Sure, he had some advantages; not every jewelry salesman is an internationally famous billionaire. Yet Borsheims execs have only praise for Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett’s second stint behind the counter on May 6 at the annual Berkshire shareholders’ meeting. “One woman was so excited to be standing next to him, she burst into tears,” says Adrienne Fay, director of marketing for the Berkshire-owned Omaha, Neb.–based ­Borsheims. Another attendee told his girlfriend he would propose to her if Buffett would sell her an engagement ring. (The two are now engaged.) Fay attributes Buffett’s success to two factors: “He is full of integrity—he is a very credible man. He is also very down-to-earth.… He is one of the richest men in the world, yet he will sit and talk to anyone.”

3. Beads

Pandora oxidized sterling silver bracelet with silver and Blue Python Murano glass charms

Pandora and Chamilia are widely considered the two leading charm brands, but you can’t really call them beads of a feather; in fact, they fought a legal war for more than a decade. Now, after a three-year respite, the bitter bead battle may be back on: In a May 5 suit, Pandora alleged that Chamilia violated the terms of a 2009 settlement agreement. According to legal papers, Chamilia assented to make certain items solely under its name; however, in 2011, the company introduced those products co-branded with Swarovski. In response, Chamilia claimed the agreement doesn’t cover co-brands. Yet the most intriguing aspect of the lawsuit might be this revelation: Swarovski purchased a minority interest in Chamilia in July 2011.

4. Royals

De Beers Diamond Jewellers
A 73 ct. rough diamond sits atop De Beers’ Talisman Crown.

With England in official Diamond Jubilee mode to honor the 60-year reign of Elizabeth II, everyone is dusting off their diamonds in celebration. U.K. jeweler Astley Clarke designed 18k gold Diamond Jubilee rings; Britain’s crown jewels—including the 530 ct. First Star of Africa—received a new exhibit at the Tower of London; and De Beers debuted its Talisman Crown, composed of 974 diamonds. To say nothing of the Queen herself: In an official Jubilee portrait, she donned a Liz Taylor–worthy selection of diamonds, including the State Diadem and her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria’s Collet Necklace. And at the Thames pageant, Elizabeth gave prominent placement to the late-Victorian diamond Jardine Star brooch. Then there were the jewels Kate Middleton wore to a church service: $75 faux diamond and pearl earrings. Well, the Duchess wouldn’t want to out-dazzle the Queen!

5. Partnerships

Josh Haskin/© Tiffany & Co.
Diamonds by the Yard necklace in rose gold by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co.

After 38 years, the alliance between Tiffany & Co. and Elsa Peretti may be headed for the big blue box in the sky. In a May 23 filing with the Securities and Exchange ­Commission, the luxury giant said Peretti, 72, wants to end Tiffany’s license for her iconic jewelry, including the Diamonds by the Yard collection and teardrop necklaces. While the Italian designer has expressed interest in selling her intellectual property to Tiffany, the company said its “firm offer” hasn’t yet been approved. That means Tiffany could potentially lose the license, which constitutes 10 percent of its annual sales. And the retailer may not be the only one shedding a silver teardrop: Styleite.com, citing the ubiquity of Peretti’s ­Jewish star necklaces, wrote that a breakup would be a “sad blow to bat mitzvah girls everywhere.”

6. Auctions

This JAR-designed platinum-set emerald, pearl, and diamond ring sold for $521,200.

It’s one thing for a celebrity/philanthropist to donate a portion of a sale’s proceeds to a charity. It’s entirely another to donate 100 percent to 32 different charities. And in the case of Brazilian-born billionaire heiress Lily Safra, we’re talking about $37.9 million—the total from her Jewels for Hope auction at Christie’s Geneva on May 14. The top lot in her 70-piece collection? A Chaumet 32.08 ct. Burmese ruby ring, aka the Hope Ruby, which sold for $6.7 million. Perhaps the most noteworthy gems in her treasure trove were the 18 designs by elusive artist Joel Arthur Rosenthal, which earned a total of $11.5 million. (For more, see “JAR’s Ruby Brooch Raises a Stunning $4.3 Million for Charity.”) The list of beneficiary charities is as varied as it is lengthy: the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Hope and Homes for Children in Romania, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and UNICEF, to name only a few. “Like the jewels sold tonight,” Safra told the crowd of buyers and bidders, “these extraordinary organizations make the world a more beautiful place.”

7. Retailers

Hearts On Fire bets on the retail concept in Las Vegas.

One of the most talked-about jewelry sellers at Las Vegas this year wasn’t at Mandalay Bay. On May 17, Hearts On Fire opened its first concept store at the Forum Shops at Caesars, part of an envisioned worldwide chain of 75—some of which will be co-owned by local retailers. The cash-register–free store, designed by the architectural firm behind the Apple stores, features a “knowledge wall” and virtual jewelry trays. But not all HOF consumers are excited about the prospect of another wholesaler going retail. “I am wracking my brain to find the upside to this,” one wrote on JCKonline.com. CEO Glenn Rothman says the initiative stems from his desire to “blow up the brand”—but stressed that the company isn’t blowing up its relations with retailers. “I have spent 35 years of my life committed to the independent retail jeweler,” he says. “That has been my entire career, and it’s still my career.”

8. Synthetics

Synthetic diamonds have been called the industry’s biggest fear, but the real worry is that they will be sold without disclosure. In May, it looked like the nightmare might have come true. Antwerp’s International Gemological Institute revealed it received 600 colorless stones, all of which turned out to be lab-grown and from a dealer who paid prices more suited to naturals. “In the past we received two synthetic stones here, three stones there,” says IGI Worldwide co-CEO Roland Lorie. “When you get so many, it’s an entirely different story.” Some say the episode proved leading labs have the ability to detect the stones, even if most jewelers don’t. But it also showed that retailers and dealers need to be vigilant. Says Lorie: “I believe there are other undisclosed colorless synthetic diamonds out there.”

9. Races

During the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby in May, members of the jewelry industry found themselves enthusiastically rooting for a horse named Gemologist and his Helzberg Diamonds–sponsored jockey, Javier Castellano. Let’s just hope no one put serious money on him. Gemologist went in undefeated in five starts with 8–1 odds, yet finished in 16th place. And to add injury to insult, Gemologist was diagnosed with a bruised foot after the race, causing him to miss the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Racing enthusiasts can rest easy, however; the tough-as-a-diamond horse began training again in June.

10. Stats

In what economists called another sign that the recovery remains fragile, the Conference Board’s widely watched Consumer Confidence Index dipped again in May 2012—the third month in a row it has fallen. The Index now stands at 64.9, after showing welcome improvement in November, ­December, and February. Lamented the Board’s chief economist Bart van Ark: “Winter optimism faded this spring.”


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