10 Things Rocking the Industry: October 2014

1. Organizations

It was with a heavy heart that Tanzanite Foundation executive director Hayley Henning announced the closure of the promotional agency (including its New York City office) in August. The 11-year-old nonprofit was formed by miner TanzaniteOne to serve ethically and socially responsible operators and partners in the tanzanite industry, helping implement standardized methods of conduct and deliver ethically sourced stones to market. The decision was largely economic—the gem has been trading at all-time lows—but Tanzanite­One aims to keep as many of its projects, like raising money for schools and clinics, operating under its direction.

2. Watches

Introducing Apple’s very first timepiece

The Apple Watch will “redefine” what watches can do, CEO Tim Cook boasted at the Sept. 9 product event. The long-rumored gizmo will hit stores in 2015 and comes in three styles (and two sizes), from an entry-level edition starting at $349 to a high-end model with an 18k gold case (the price wasn’t given, but it won’t be cheap). Critics were impressed by the major design ­innovation: a “digital crown,” which can scroll and zoom, much like ­classic watch design and functionality. The Apple Watch, however, requires an iPhone—and a newer model at that—and analysts were disappointed it doesn’t stand on its own. Still, the wearable doesn’t lack for features: It can track heart rate, play music, and contact other users—what Apple calls the “walkie-talkie” feature. It even tells time!

3. Celebrities

So Sofia necklace with amethyst, tanzanite, and white topaz in sterling silver; $239

Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara is TV’s highest-paid actress, but she’s also a full-time jewelry evangelist—or so her new jewelry collection for Kay Jewelers would suggest. The line, dubbed So Sofia, includes gem-set rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets in 10k gold and sterling silver, and each piece features a hidden natural emerald—a nod to Vergara’s home country of Colombia. Vergara, who professes to love jewelry so much that she wears it to bed, hasn’t been shy about talking up the line. “Obsessed with my Kay jewels bangels [sic]!!!” she wrote in a recent Instagram post. Even if spelling isn’t her strong suit, her style quotient is superb.

4. Videos

If you always wanted to see jewelers dump cold water on themselves, August was a great month for you. That’s when the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, with millions getting doused to raise money for the fight against ALS (amyotrophic lateral ­sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). Industry ­Facebook pages were filled with clips of business ­buddies ­soaking themselves for the cause. The viral ­sensation ­eventually snagged everyone from heads of Jewelers of America, Blue Nile, and Saks Fifth Avenue—that’s president Marigay McKee getting drenched (right)—to brick-and-mortar retailers, ­including Hamilton Jewelers in Princeton, N.J.; ­Jewelry by Design in Woodbridge, Va.; and Lily & Co. in Sanibel, Fla.

5. Haute Joaillerie

The Harrods Princess, a one-of-a-kind timepiece from Backes & Strauss, with 80 Gemfields emeralds and 13.52 cts. t.w. diamonds

To describe September’s Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris as a luxury art, antiques, and jewelry fair is like saying the holidays are an important time of year for retail jewelers—a statement can be true yet still miss the point. From Graff’s Royal Star of Paris, a brooch loaded with 271.33 cts. t.w. diamonds—including the 107.46 ct. fancy yellow Graff Sunflower—to Wallace Chan’s exquisite gemstone cuts, the jewels on display at the biannual fair, which took place Sept. 11–21, represent the ne plus ultra of the jewelry universe. And it’s not too late to see them. If you’re passing through London Oct. 1–14, pop by Harrods to admire its Biennale-themed exhibition. Just don’t forget the digits to your Swiss bank account!

6. Diamonds

Peter McCue/Thinkstock

It’s not uncommon to see companies proclaim “We buy diamonds.” But no one expected one of those companies to be De Beers. In September, the gem giant debuted the International Institute of Diamond Valuation (IIDV), a New York City–based lab that plans to handle off-the-street diamond buying for retailers. (So far, four jewelers, representing 15 doors, are taking part in the test.) The new service says it will pay the “highest possible price…on the secondary wholesale market” for trade-in gems. Some smelled a new business venture, but De Beers says it’s just experimenting with a way to improve the used diamond market. 

7. E-tailers

Chrysoprase and silver earrings ($158) from Moira K. Lime via Etsy

Famed craft e-tailer Etsy is going wholesale. The new Etsy Wholesale division emerged from beta testing this summer—and ­jewelry is the biggest category. Product manager Vanessa Bertozzi tells JCK the site was created in response to retailer requests: “We heard them say: I come to Etsy, I have to search and search and search, and finally when I find something that I would like in my shop, the seller doesn’t know anything about wholesale.” Most of the sales will be made through the company’s online ­portal, with Etsy receiving 3.5 ­percent of each purchase.  

8. Proposals

Susanna Franks’ will-you-marry-me moment was captured on Ring Cam.

The moment a woman receives her engagement ring—and hopefully says yes—is the most sacred and important in our industry, judging from how often it’s featured in commercials. And yet very few of those moments are actually captured, because if a fiancé-to-be whips out a camera, the surprise is ruined. Now a group of Hope College graduates has invented the Ring Cam, a jewelry box that includes a hidden video recorder, so that the reaction to the ­proposal can be saved and (presumably) posted on Facebook. The entrepreneurs hope to market the high-tech box to retailers; they’ve also auditioned for the next season of Shark Tank.

9. Beads

Pandora’s Disney Minnie & Mickey Kiss charm in sterling silver and enamel; $55 (available in November)

In August, charm manufacturer Pandora inked a “strategic alliance” with The Walt Disney Co., which will kick off with a line of silver and gold charms embossed with Disney characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse. The Danish company will also get a presence in Disney’s U.S. theme parks. Pandora executives say they are “ecstatic” about the new venture, adding that customers have been requesting Disney-themed jewels for years. Maybe they wished upon a charm.

10. Stats

Consumer confidence, as measured by Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan, hit 82.5 in August, its highest level since July 2007, or seven long years ago. Still, the news wasn’t all good, with consumer spending, as measured by the Department of Commerce, falling 0.1 percent in July—the first drop in six months. While economists remained bullish, retailers were a little more pessimistic about the economy. “The low- to moderate-income customer is struggling,” Ross Stores president and chief operating officer Michael O’Sullivan said on an Aug. 21 earnings call, as quoted by Bloomberg. “We don’t see a lot of evidence that that’s going to change in the back half.”