10 Things Rocking the Industry: March 2014

1. Watches

The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, which concluded its 24th edition Jan. 24 in Geneva, works hard to maintain a vibe of exclusivity. Guests dine on foie gras and truffles while perusing timepieces from 16 of the world’s most distinguished makers. This year, however, some brands opted to show their democratic sides with a focus on entry-priced pieces. “The overall strategy we are following is that we would like to share our passion for fine watchmaking,” Jens Henning Koch, executive vice president of marketing for Montblanc International, told JCK as he showed off the new Meisterstück Heritage perpetual calendar in steel for the unbeatable price of $12,800. At the other end of the spectrum, watchmakers made their cosmic obsession clear with a slew of spectacular astronomical models: Chief among them is Van Cleef & Arpels’ new Astronomie Poétique collection, whose showpiece features a working planetarium with six planets revolving around an 18k gold sun—in real time.

2. Awards

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Miranda Lambert

From Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” duet to Stevie Wonder sitting in on “Get Lucky,” the 2014 Grammy Awards were full of big moments. They were also full of big bling. Queen B donned $10 million+ in Lorraine Schwartz diamond rings; Cyndi Lauper rocked the handlet trend in Michael Spirito; country star Miranda Lambert showed off massive Kimberly McDonald earrings; and Madonna channeled MJ in a fingerless diamond glove by Michael Schmidt. There were a few big fashion moments as well, but, frankly—the less said about producer Pharrell Williams’ ­Canadian Mountie hat, the better.

Earrings in 18k gold with black rhodium and 49.92 cts. t.w. black opal and 4.31 cts. t.w. diamonds, rubies, and natural-color hand-carved sapphires; $142,675; Kimberly McDonald, NYC; 646-205-9994; kimberlymcdonald.com

3. Exhibitions

The Duchess of Windsor’s Panther brooch was displayed in its own black-walled case.

In a season crowded with high-profile jewelry retrospectives—The Art of Bulgari at San Francisco’s de Young Museum and Jewels by JAR at New York City’s Met, to name two—Cartier: Style and History at Paris’ Grand Palais was one to beat. A monumental staging of some 600 pieces that showcased the firm’s craftsmanship and enduring style, the two-month-long exhibition (which closed Feb. 16) took an art history approach, combining clothing, archival documents, paintings, and accessories with a remarkable selection of baubles to establish the maison as the quintessential jeweler of the 20th century. From the Art Deco–era Egyptian revival brooches to a tower of royal diadems and a room full of mystery clocks, the totems of wealth and status included those worn by Cartier’s ritziest clients: the Maharajah of Patiala, socialite Daisy Fellowes, cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, and the inimitable Duchess of Windsor, whose 1949 Panther brooch—centered on a 152.35 ct. Kashmir sapphire—makes a compelling case for Cartier’s eternal elegance.

4. Majors

It’s not 2009 again, but you’d be ­forgiven for experiencing a touch of déjà vu ­watching the recent spate of big retailer pink slips. First, Macy’s laid off 2,500 workers. Then Target dismissed 475; Sam’s Club, 2,300; and J.C. Penney, 2,000 (it also closed 33 stores). Analysts said this might be just the beginning, given that the United States is “over-stored,” and business is increasingly migrating online. “There is a shift in the retail environment,” Michael Burden, a principal with Excess Space Retail Services, told CNBC. “And it’s one that will continue.”

5. Labs

The GIA’s DiamondCheck

Just as alarm was growing over undisclosed synthetic diamonds in the market, the GIA has thrown the trade a lifeline. The organization has developed and plans to sell DiamondCheck, a spectroscopic instrument that uses proprietary software to determine if a stone is “natural and untreated,” “not diamond,” or needs to be referred for further testing. And while the machine’s price tag isn’t cheap—$23,900—the GIA is leasing it for free to diamond bourses and industry associations. GIA scientists admit that the expensive gadget is not the simple “black box” the trade has repeatedly called for—but they say that may not be developed for a long time, if ever. And for the time being, it appears that DiamondCheck is good enough; the GIA says it’s already received a number of inquiries about the device.

6. Diamonds

Petra Diamonds seems happy to have the blues. In January, the miner unearthed an “exceptional” 29.6 ct. rough blue stone at its ­Cullinan mine in South Africa. Three weeks later, it sold the ultra-rare gem for $25.6 million ($867,780 a carat) to Cora International. But to turn a profit, the buyer will have to top the Star of Josephine sale. That 26.6 ct. piece of blue rough, also from Cullinan, was eventually turned into a 7 ct. polished stone that earned $9.5 million at Sotheby’s in 2009.


 7. Reviews

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Most reviews on Yelp—whether good, bad, or indifferent—are anonymous. In 2012, a Virginia carpet cleaner tried to change all that, going to court to force the review service to unmask the authors of some “defamatory” write-ups. And in January, the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled in his favor, decreeing that “freedom to speak with anonymity is not absolute.” Yelp said the ruling could chill anonymous communication on the Internet, and vowed to appeal.

8. Currencies

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Bitcoin may or may not be a novelty, but the digital currency is certainly popping up in a lot more places these days. In December, Overstock.com announced it would be the first major online retailer to accept its peer-to-peer payments. Shortly afterward, CEO Patrick Byrne pronounced the experiment a success, generating 840 orders and $130,000 in sales on its first day. Then jewelry search engine Verichannel unveiled its own Bitcoin program, giving retailers a way to accept the payment system. In reaction to the currency’s volatility, however, CEO Jacques Voorhees stressed that all Bitcoins will be converted to dollars.

9. Trade Fairs

18k white gold ring with 0.71 ct. t.w. white, 0.41 ct. t.w. grey, and 3.17 cts. t.w. black diamonds; 0.4 ct. t.w. blue and 1.7 cts. t.w. pink sapphire; 1.04 cts. t.w. ruby; and 0.7 ct. t.w. tsavorite; $17,400; Wendy Yue, Kowloon, Hong Kong; 852-2142-8188; wendyyue.com

The year got off to an auspicious start at January’s VicenzaOro Winter fair in Italy, where a new president—Matteo Marzotto, a former chairman of Valentino—presided over an event that left plenty of people smiling. Many exhibitors, including Roberto Coin and Bohemme, reported healthy sales and a renewed focus on bringing karat gold lines to market now that the metal’s cost has evened out. Hong Kong–based designer Wendy Yue, a first-timer in Vicenza, took up residence in prestigious hall B1 after her international buyers urged her to show at the fair. Also making a much-buzzed-about VicenzaOro debut: New York designer/­manufacturer Le Vian’s signature trend-forecasting fashion show.

10. Stats

Americans feel slightly better about the economy, according to the latest measure of consumer confidence from the New York City–based Conference Board. In January, the widely watched index rose to 80, the second month in a row it has climbed. “All in all, confidence appears to be back on track,” said the group’s Lynn Franco, who said the numbers “suggest the economy may pick up some momentum in the months ahead.”

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