10 Things Rocking the Industry: June 2012

1. Watches

The phrase economies of agglomeration is a theoretical way of describing what the organizers of Madison Avenue Watch Week learned in practice: “People like to shop in a place where there’s a large selection,” says Matt Bauer, president of the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District, whose second annual watch shopping week earned heaps of attention (plus a mayoral proclamation) April 28–May 4 in New York City. A mix of locals and out-of-towners attended cocktail receptions, educational seminars, and product launches at 18 participating boutiques—where brand-new merchandise, such as the limited-edition Koppel watch at Georg Jensen, or the Heritage collection at Breguet, made its U.S. debut. More than just a public relations campaign, the promotion reportedly resulted in plenty of sales to collectors, explaining why, according to Bauer, “the more watch brands that are here, the more want to be here.”

2. Nostalgia

Courtesy of Stanley Lewy
Ervin Lewy

As the world honors the 100th anniversary of the Titanic, the descendants of a jeweler who made the fateful trip hope his lost inventory will be found. In the early 1900s, Marks, Jay B., and Ervin Lewy established Lewy Brothers Jewelry Co. in Chicago. In 1912, Ervin, the youngest brother, went to Europe on a diamond-buying trip. He decided to stay a few extra days and take the Titanic back. We all know how that trip ended—but the fate of diamonds he purchased remains a mystery. “The diamonds may reside in the captain’s safe or the bursar’s bag at the bottom of the ocean,” says Stanley Lewy, Ervin’s great-nephew. While Stanley doesn’t think he’ll ever get to see the gems, he hopes his daughter will eventually recover that piece of her family history. “If the diamonds are eventually located, I’m not sure what will happen,” he says. “But it’s a lovely fantasy.”

Courtesy of Stanley Lewy
One family heirloom that did survive: a cameo-carved sapphire Ervin bought at Cartier in Paris and mailed to his mom. “My grandfather set the stone in a ring surrounded by baguette diamonds,” says Stanley.

3. Diamonds

Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012

It has become almost commonplace for diamonds to shatter auction records. But for two to be broken the same week—by the same buyer? On April 17, dealer Brett Stettner submitted a $15.7 million winning bid for the Clark Pink (pictured, left), a ring-set, 9 ct. fancy vivid purplish pink cushion-cut stone at Christie’s New York, a new U.S. auction record for a pink diamond. The next day at Sotheby’s, Stettner paid $2.4 million for a 3.54 ct. fancy blue diamond ring—at $687,712 per carat, a record per-carat price for a fancy blue. Both crushed their pre-sales estimates, but Stettner thinks he got two bargains. (He would’ve paid more.) “There are not many stones like these,” he says. “They are priceless.”

4. Celebrities

It’s been less than two months since the Brangelina engagement announcement, but Angelina’s ring is already a star in its own right. Created by Beverly Hills, Calif., designer Robert Procop—who collaborated with the actress on the for-charity Style of Jolie jewelry collection—along with the groom-to-be, the tablet-cut center stone and baguette-set band has spawned nearly as many knockoffs as Kate Middleton’s royal ­sapphire. (And in record time compared with the original: Pitt and Procop worked for a year on Angie’s.) Imagine what’ll happen when she finally debuts the dress.

5. Auctions

Courtesy of Bonhams
Diamonds, emeralds, and hundreds of years of history

If you have $20 million, you could be the lucky owner of this stunning 17th-century Mughal Mirror Diamond Necklace Bonhams is putting up for private sale. The jewel—believed to have belonged to a Mughal emperor—features five pendant diamonds with emerald drops. To Indian maharajas and Mughal emperors, gem quality and size were of paramount importance, and the necklace includes the largest known matching set of table-cut diamonds from the 17th century: The central stone weighs 28 cts.; the five surrounding stones weigh 96 cts. collectively.

6. 47th Street

“Want to sell your gold?” For decades, 47th Street’s notorious hawkers have irritated passersby with their sales pitches. And while there have been various efforts to remove them from the Diamond District, their numbers have only multiplied with the escalating price of gold. But now, according to the New York Post, the NYPD plans to crack down on the more aggressive pullers who get in the road and harass motorists and block traffic—similar to how cops cracked down on “squeegee men” years ago. Even so, there isn’t much that can be done about the ­run-of-the-mill street pitchmen, as the 47th Street Business Improvement District notes rather ruefully; annoying or no, the hawkers are considered “commercial speech” and thus protected by the First Amendment.

7. Emeralds

It sounds like a dream-come-true story, but so far it doesn’t have a very happy ending. On April 22, CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes devoted a third of its show to diver/real estate ­investor Jay Miscovich, who found a “huge amount” of emeralds, estimated to be worth millions, on the ocean floor. Unfortunately, “it could be years before the court awards full ownership,” the show said. “Until then, Miscovich can’t legally sell a single stone.” Worse, one prospective buyer determined the gems were treated, making it less likely they had come from a sunken ship and leading some to suspect the stones had been planted. Miscovich denied this, but said ongoing legal wrangling has taken its toll; he is now heavily in debt and living in his dive partner’s spare room. He is, the show concluded, “emerald-rich but cash-poor.”

8. Miners

First, BHP put its diamond assets (one mine and a project) up for sale. Then Rio Tinto did the same with its considerably larger collection (three mines and one on the way). And yet, as the CEO of Harry Winston recently said, there aren’t a lot of companies out there in the market for diamond mines. So the solution may be: Combine them. According to a report in London’s Sunday Times, KKR—an investment firm whose Nabisco takeover saga was chronicled in Barbarians at the Gates—is interested in merging the two miners’ assets. This would turn KKR into a major player in the diamond business overnight, and the world’s third largest miner by value. As one analyst told Reuters: “It makes a lot of sense…but I wonder if they can align the stars.”

9. AGS

Mike Gibson/Universalimage.Net
Capt. Mark Kelly commands the Conclave.

Few people’s lives have been as eventful as that of Capt. Mark Kelly, keynote speaker for the American Gem Society’s 2012 Conclave in Miami. A highly decorated astronaut, Kelly commanded the space shuttles Discovery and Endeavor. He was also a naval aviator who was nearly killed flying combat missions during the first Gulf War. But perhaps his scariest moment was when his wife, Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, was shot in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8, 2011. Kelly held Conclave attendees spellbound as he dispensed lessons learned through his trials and adventures. Be wary of groupthink: “None of us are as dumb as all of us,” he said. Avoid yes-men: “If I am making a bad decision, I like to hear about it.” And finally, practice gratitude for what you have, a message that’s reinforced at his home every day. He said when he complains about a joint pain, his still-recovering wife retorts, “Are you kidding me?”

10. Stats

On April 16, the Commerce Department announced that March retail sales rose 0.8 percent over the prior month—a number that was three times more than analysts’ predictions. While most observers didn’t want to declare the recession officially over, they did marvel at the resilience of U.S. consumers, particularly in light of high gas prices. Said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation: “It’s evident that consumers are holding their own.”

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