10 Things Rocking the Industry: May 2015

1. Shows

While connected devices and pricing dominated conversations in the watch halls at Baselworld, the jewelry hall at the Swiss show was noticeably quiet, as exhibitors bemoaned the slowdown in China and the standstill in the Russian economy. There was at least one good thing about the lack of crowds: plenty of elbow room at the showcases! Brands displayed chic earring jackets and front-to-back styles, fresh color combinations and stone shapes, big bib necklaces, and a bounty of one-of-a-kind pieces to appeal to everybody’s target client, the top 1 percent. On the heels of a quiet Hong Kong show, a slow Baselworld can only mean one thing: Better luck in Las Vegas.

2. Celebrities

More than 740 pieces of jewelry, art, and furniture once belonging to Lauren Bacall (left) went up for auction at the Allure of Lauren Bacall sale at Bonhams March 31 and April 1. The smoky-voiced actress, who passed away last year, was also a connoisseur of ­jewelry, furniture, and art, and the auction’s 375-plus page catalog was a testament to her sophisticated aesthetics. Top earners included an amethyst, turquoise, and diamond ring by Jean Schlumberger, which went for $52,500, busting its $8,000–$12,000 estimate.

Bacall’s Jean Schlumberger–designed ring was a highlight of the sell-out $5 million auction.

3. Majors

Signet Jewelers is testing a new store name that is also a very new store ­concept. Le Vian by Jared, the company’s first store devoted to a single brand, will open later this year in the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y. In a ­conference call, CEO Mark Light stressed that Signet is just testing the concept, like it’s testing the mall-based Jared Jewelry Boutique. But if this works, could Neil Lane, Tolkowsky, and other brand stores be far behind?

Earrings with 3.35 cts. t.w. Cotton Candy Amethyst, 2.97 cts. t.w. Candy Colors Amethyst, 0.53 ct. t.w. Raspberry Rhodolite, and 0.63 ct. t.w. multicolor stones in 14k Strawberry Gold; $3,147; Le Vian, Great Neck, N.Y.; 877-253-8426; levian.com

4. Movies

Dakota Johnson, star of the fan fiction–to–best seller–to movie Fifty Shades of Grey, wears just one piece of jewelry in the film: a delicate 14k gold-fill horseshoe necklace designed by Lisa Richardt of Seattle-based Veronica & Harold. Viewers noticed, and Richardt hasn’t been able to keep the necklace stocked since. “Both retail stores I sell through have sold out, which means around 250 necklaces in two weeks,” she says. “I’m making this necklace constantly!” Johnson chose the style herself before filming started, and production contacted Richardt to acquire multiples of the piece. “I’m beyond excited,” she says. “It feels amazing being part of a moment in popular culture.”

Veronica & Harold’s ¾-inch horseshoe necklace retails for $54.

5. History

Researchers at the University of Kansas discovered the world’s ­oldest necklace, and here’s the kicker—it was created by Neanderthals. A 130,000-year-old eagle talon discovered in Croatia was found to have been polished and manipulated into a necklace. The discovery proves that the long-underrated Neanderthals were actually smart enough to create and adorn themselves in jewelry. “Neanderthals are often thought of as simple-minded mumbling, bumbling, stumbling fools,” says researcher David Frayer. “But the more we know about them, the more sophisticated they’ve become.”

Talk about a statement necklace!

6. Diamonds

Earlier this year, the world’s leading diamond miners gathered to discuss forming a body similar to commodity groups like the World Gold Council and Platinum Guild International. The most pressing issue, according to Bloomberg (which first reported the story): the growing threat posed by synthetics. But the miners also discussed working on promotion, supply chain integrity, and “diamonds for good.” Still, one source stressed the companies weren’t looking to take up De Beers’ old mantle of generic diamond advertising: “I think most producers believe that time has moved on since then.”


7. Smartwatches

LVMH watch and jewelry chief Jean-Claude Biver called his Baselworld announcement “something I never would have dreamt.” And it was, indeed, striking to see Biver, long a smartwatch skeptic, stand with representatives of Google and Intel to announce that a TAG Heuer–branded smartwatch will be released sometime this year. Despite the presence of several Silicon Valley “geniuses,” as Biver dubbed them, the announcement remained very Swiss: It ended with the three new partners gathered around an enormous hunk of cheese, produced at Biver’s farm.

Nothing seals a deal like a wheel of cheese!

8. Suppliers

Long ago, the city of Taunton, Mass., was ­nicknamed the Silver City because of its concentration of silver­smiths. One of the most prominent was Reed & Barton, which designed the medals for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. On Feb. 17, however, the 111-year-old manufacturer filed for Chapter 11 protection, citing costs associated with its pension plan and diminished orders from mass merchants. The name looks likely to live on in some form: Competitor Lifetime Brands has offered to buy Reed & Barton’s non–real estate assets for $15 million.

Susan Walsh/AP
Olympic medals by jewelry and silver maker Reed & Barton

9. Auctions

Christie’s is facing fallout from two recent high-profile jewelry sales. First, the Elizabeth Taylor Trust sued the auction house over its record-breaking sale of Taylor’s jewels. After the buyer of Taylor’s Taj Mahal necklace claimed there was no proof it was owned by a Mughal emperor, Christie’s refunded the $8.8 million sale; the trustees claim that was never guaranteed, and the sale should stand. Then, the heirs of the original owner of the Princie diamond—a 34.65 ct. fancy intense pink cushion-cut that sold in 2013 for $39.3 million—say the gem still belongs to them. Christie’s dubbed the latter suit meritless, and said it’s seeking a speedy resolution to the Taylor matter.

The ­Taj Majal diamond necklace

10. Stats

Last year was marked by mixed news on industry-related crime; the overall number of crimes fell and arrests soared, but the amount of dollar losses also rose. The most troubling trend was a dramatic increase in the number of smash-and-grab robberies, often committed by organized gangs. But the news isn’t all grim. “The long-term trend for crime is down,” says Jewelers’ Security Alliance president John J. Kennedy. “The amount of violence is down. Last year, there were three homicides. In past years, we have had 15 and as many as over 50.”

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