10 Things Rocking the Industry: May 2014

1. Shows

If you attended this year’s Baselworld fair in search of blockbuster introductions, better luck next year. Sure, the show had its talking pieces—the solid-gold iPad and iPhone cases at Buccellati, the new Rolex GMT-Master II with the tricked-out blue and red ceramic dial (aka “the Pepsi”), the elegant tourbillon sheathed in Fairmined gold at Chopard (see “Fairtrade, Fairmined, and the Ethical Gold Rush”)—but, for the most part, the novelties were pared down from past years, and the overarching design approach leaned sober. As trends go, the show saw case sizes inch a little bigger, straps take on a bit more texture and color, and World Cup mania go into full effect. The most beguiling trend, however, belongs to the watchmakers bringing new and ever more intriguing forms of artistry to ladies’ timepieces. Feathers, silk threads, Bohemian glass—if the sheer number of techniques currently in use is any indication, the distinctions between art and watchmaking are fast fading.

2. Deals

CIRCA jewelry: soon to be seen on Portero?

CIRCA is largely known for purchasing ­consumers’ jewelry and gems. Now it’s bought a website—­Portero.com—in what looks like a deal made in secondhand heaven. Executives say the decade-old e-tailer, which sells authenticated preowned luxury items, gives CIRCA another sales channel. But marketing director Natasha Cornstein said that while the site will be CIRCA’s “first digital option, we will be maintaining our relationships with specialists around the world.”

3. Celebrity Gems

He who is without bling—here are some nice stones. New Orleans–based M.S. Rau Antiques is selling two jewels once owned by Pope Paul VI: an 18k gold cross covered with diamonds and emeralds (right) and a 13 ct. diamond ring with ruby crosses. The items were offered on eBay in 2011, but didn’t sell. Still, given their unique provenance, and perhaps providence, Rau’s Peter Hernandez is confident he’ll locate a buyer. “To find any Vatican or papal jewelry outside of museums or the Vatican is highly unusual,” he says, adding that the pieces are both well-made and visually striking. “When the Vatican does jewelry, it does it right.”

4. Fashion

In the jewelry world, L’Wren Scott was perhaps best known for designing the ­diamond sautoir Nicole Kidman wore to the 2008 Academy Awards. In fashion circles, the former model was famed for being an A-list designer, stylist, and girlfriend of Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. Now, sadly, the Utah native may be best remembered for her ­much-­publicized March 17 suicide at the age of 49, which has shed light on what ­jewelry designer Karen Erickson called the fashion industry “pressure cooker”: “The demands are huge,” she told The Telegraph. “We’re squeezed from every end.… There is no one in the middle to help an American designer.”

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Left: Nicole Kidman in Scott’s diamond design; right: L’Wren Scott

5. Finds

The flea-market Fabergé egg

When a Midwest scrap dealer bought a weird-looking spherical gold object for $14,000 at a local flea market, he intended to sell it for scrap and make a quick buck. Lucky for him, no one bought it. Noticing the piece contained a Vacheron Constantin watch, he turned to Google and discovered it was a rare Fabergé egg. Eventually, Fabergé expert Kieran McCarthy, director of London antique dealer Wartski, ventured to the man’s house to examine the piece, where it was standing on his kitchen table, next to a cupcake. When informed it was one of three missing Imperial eggs—originally bestowed by Russian emperor Alexander III to his wife—and worth as much as $33 million, the shocked forager fell to the floor. “He was conscious,” McCarthy says, “but he dropped.”

6. Watches

No, you’re not hallucinating. That’s 110 cts. of diamonds

For its first year at Baselworld, Graff Diamonds made a rainbow-colored splash when it introduced a ladies’ watch draped in 110 cts. t.w. rare natural colored diamonds. Its price tag is $55 million—Graff called it the “most expensive watch ever”—assuming, of course, that someone buys it. The company dubbed its Technicolor dream-watch The Hallucination, but JCKonline’s more skeptical commenters couldn’t believe their eyes. “I wonder,” one asked, “how much it costs to change the battery.”

7. Lawsuits

Sensitive-guy singer John Mayer has never been shy about ­professing his love for wristwatches. Yet the Grammy winner’s affections don’t extend to counterfeits. In a complaint filed March 18 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Mayer claims that California watch dealer Robert Maron sold him seven vintage Rolexes with ersatz parts and, when he tried to return them, he was told they were sold “as is.” The case has shed light on the widespread practice of selling “Frankenwatches”—authentic timepieces with nongenuine parts—which are just as illegal as complete fakes. Maron’s lawyer calls the suit “meritless.”


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Was John Mayer (right) sold a set of phony Rolexes?

8. Gold


Twice every weekday, the gold price is set by five banks in a ritual their lawyers probably wish wasn’t called the “London fix.” Lately, this 95-year-old price-setting mechanism has come under greater scrutiny from U.S. and EU regulators, and in March a pair of class-action suits—one from an investor, the other from an investment firm—charged the quintet with illegally manipulating the market. The financial institutions deny it. But the CEO of one participant, Scotiabank, has acknowledged that the daily teleconference could probably profit from greater transparency.

9. TV Tie-Ins

Pyrrha’s Game of Thrones talisman necklaces; $228

Fans of HBO’s top-rated fantasy drama Game of Thrones can now show their love in a much classier way than donning a T-shirt: with an official collection of talisman necklaces and rings by Vancouver-based jewelry company Pyrrha Design. Handcrafted in reclaimed sterling silver or bronze in Pyrrha’s signature style mimicking antique wax seals, Game of Thrones pieces feature symbols (or “sigils,” in GOT parlance) and mottos representing the six warring families on the show: Baratheon, Greyjoy, Lannister, Stark, Targaryen, and Tyrell. Pyrrha’s husband-and-wife designers Wade Papin and Danielle Wilmore were already enormous fans of the show when the network approached them. Wilmore’s personal choice: the House of Stark talisman, featuring the head of a dire wolf and the motto Winter Is Coming.

10. Stats

Crimes against the jewelry industry fell 8.1 percent in 2013, which Jewelers’ Security Alliance president John J. Kennedy attributed to greater law ­enforcement attention and increased sharing of information. Off-premises crimes sank to their lowest number in 30 years—though that’s mostly because there are fewer ­salespeople on the road. However, rooftop burglaries are on the rise, the group said, and total dollar losses jumped from $60.2 million to $66.5 million, due to some multimillion-dollar heists.

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