10 Things Rocking the Industry: September 2015

1. Shows

For three days in late July, the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel hosted the fifth annual LUXURY Privé show, an anchor of New York City’s jewelry week. The intimate event, known for its small community of exhibitors and high-caliber retailers, was something of an oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of jewelry week, which this year included a bigger-than-ever Women’s Jewelry ­Association Awards for Excellence gala and the equally well-attended American Gem Society Circle of Distinction dinner. “This show is so chill,” said Omi Privé’s Manos Phoundoulakis, who channeled his inner Sonny Crockett at the ’80s-themed opening party. “You have time to talk and bond.” And, let’s not forget, time to play dress up.

2. Haute Joaillerie

Fleur de Lotus necklace from Boucheron’s Bleu de Jodhpur collection

Every year around the Fourth of July, French fashion houses show off their most spectacular creations during Paris couture week. This year, the growing presence of the world’s finest jewelers—from hometown favorites like Boucheron, Cartier, and Dior to newcomers such as Valery Demure’s stable of young talent—made clear that Paris is now a key part of the annual jewelry circuit. “Jewelry and couture clothing go hand in hand,” says second-time attendee Marion Fasel, founder and editorial director of the forthcoming online jewelry magazine The Adventurine. “Couture week is about craft and craftsmanship and doing things in the best possible, most old-fashioned way, so it really is a perfect fit.”

3. Celebrities

Bey’s got a new pair of shoes! 

Looks like Beyoncé heeded the lyrical advice of fellow single-named songstress/fashion icon Rihanna: The 20-time Grammy winner will be shining “bright like a diamond”—quite literally—thanks to a pair of just-purchased pricey stilettos encrusted with 1,310 genuine diamonds. For those of you dying to be like Bey, the 65.5 ct. Princess Diamond Constellation heels—created by Christopher Michael Shellis of Birmingham, England–based House of Borgezie—come in your choice of platinum or 18k gold, and ring in at $337,000. Fortunately, they also come with a 1,000-year guarantee.

4. Accidents

Photo: Alessio Botticelli/Getty Images

On the July 13 episode of The Tonight Show, host Jimmy Fallon showed up with an ­elaborate finger cast and the story of how a rug, a countertop, and his wedding band conspired to land him in the ER. Here’s how it played out: Fallon tripped on the rug, and, as he fell, his wedding ring got caught on the kitchen countertop, leading to a serious (but, thankfully, rare) injury called ring avulsion, requiring a six-hour surgery and 10 days in the intensive care unit. Fallon said that he had a lot of time to think about rings during his convalescence, and he had some ideas for styles that would never put any wearer in danger again, inviting jewelers to contact him about implementing his newer, safer design. Any takers?

5. Grading

Diamond trade leaders will no longer tolerate over-grading.
Photo: Belchonock/Thinkstock

Industry groups convening in Tel Aviv, Israel, officially banned over-grading—which they defined as more than a one-grade difference from the “broadly accepted industry benchmark” (i.e., the GIA scale)—and declared that selling over-graded diamonds could now subject dealers to disciplinary action. Skeptics griped that bourses rarely cite members for nonfinancial infractions. But industry leaders, like Israel Diamond Exchange president Shmuel Schnitzer, insist they mean business: “In the past, people would go to labs to get better results,” he says. “Now they will be more cautious.”

6. Apple

The Apple Watch: category killer or sales flop?
Photo: Yun Wang/Alamy

The media abhors a vacuum, so when Apple withheld sales information on its new high-tech watch—to avoid informing competitors, it said—many jumped on a Slice Intelligence report that purportedly showed a 90 percent plunge in sales. Following a slew of headlines that declared the Apple Watch a “flop,” Slice clarified that it measures only online sales, and it’s possible watch sales have migrated to the company’s brick-and-mortar stores. The tech giant’s CEO, Tim Cook, took issue with the report on an earnings call, noting watch sales have surpassed the company’s internal expectations. But all this tea-leaf reading might be pointless. Apple’s products, one pundit said, typically gain momentum as they go on.

7. In Memoriam

Part of Tino Hammid’s rich photographic legacy

Jewelry writer David Federman calls Tino Hammid the Richard Avedon of jewelry ­photography. “Colored stones ‘sat’ for him the way celebrities sat for Avedon,” he says. Hammid, long considered one of the industry’s top photographers, died of cancer July 11 at age 63. He began shooting gems at the GIA in 1980. His exquisitely rendered photos later graced the pages of ­Christie’s catalogs and GIA materials. Federman hopes that “someday they’ll honor Tino as a pioneer of gem and jewelry portraiture with an exhibition of his work.”

8. Chains

Photo: Jupiter Images/Thinkstock

Two once-prominent regional chains look headed for that big shopping mall in the sky. G.M. Pollack & Sons, a 12-store Maine retailer, shuttered most of its stores in June and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in July. Founded in 1955, the company had been employee-owned since 2009. The news was similarly bad in California at Romano’s Jewelers, which once boasted 10 stores. The chain declared Chapter 11 five years ago and hammered out a bankruptcy plan three years later. In June, however, the Internal Revenue Service and state tax authorities claimed Romano’s owed them more than $200,000. Creditors beseeched the court to keep Romano’s alive, arguing they’d be better off. But a federal judge didn’t agree, and now it, too, is in Chapter 7.

9. Gold

Rain Drop earrings in 18k gold with 0.75 ct. t.w. diamonds; $4,550; Ron Hami, Los Angeles; 866-503-4255; ronhami.com

As the saying goes, “Nothing gold can stay.” So far, the yellow metal has experienced a dismal 2015 and some are wondering if bullion’s, um, golden years are behind it. At press time, gold had fallen to a five-year low, ­trading below $1,100, with analysts fretting that even the Greek financial crisis didn’t revive its fortunes, a worrying sign for the traditional “safe haven.” Platinum has become even more tarnished; at press time, it was trading not only at six-year lows, but also below both the crucial $1,000 benchmark and its traditional “younger brother,” gold. Goldman Sachs’ Jeffrey Currie told CNBC that both metals had been knocked down by the slumping market for ­commodities: “The individual commodity stories are reinforcing one another,” he said, “creating a negative-feedback loop.”

10. Stats

The industry continues to consolidate, says JBT president Dione Kenyon, though she notes the rate of discontinuances has somewhat flattened. (In 2014, they rose 32 percent.) The data don’t surprise her, given the macro atmosphere: “If the [U.S.] economy can’t grow more than 2 percent, jewelry sales won’t grow more than that. And this is the best economy in the world right now.” The news isn’t all bad: JBT’s credit inquiries have risen 5 percent for the year, and that generally signals increased activity. “I would not say the industry is growing,” she says. “But the people who have made it this far have pretty good potential.”

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