Best in Show

From remarkable rocks to the topics that inspired their fair share of talks, we reflect on the memorable sights and sounds of JCK Las Vegas 2011

You may wonder how we could possibly cover every bit of a show that comprises more than 500,000 square feet, 2,550 exhibitors, and 20,000 attendees (representing 23 ­countries!) in eight pages. Of course, we can’t. In the coming months, you’ll surely be seeing the phrase at JCK Las Vegas in these pages—whether it’s ­delving deeper into issues such as social responsibility, showing pieces from a designer’s brand-new collection, or tracking the rise (and fall?) of material prices as the holiday season approaches. The 2011 show may be over, but we’re still celebrating. As the classic tune goes, “The song is ended, but the melody lingers on.”

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Most Innovative New Setting
Michael Beaudry’s FlashSet

Remember those old holographic stickers from Cracker Jack, showing eyes that looked from left to right, or a baseball player swinging a bat? Well, that’s precisely the trippy effect created by Michael Beaudry’s new Flash setting, a patented technique in which gemstones are set under a microscope at specific angles to create patterns. From one angle, a flash of one color appears; when the piece is turned, another color emerges. The MIIORI by Beaudry FlashSet Collection, which the designer unveiled at LUXURY at JCK’s Elite Enclave, contains some 40 SKUs, with 25 more in ­production. Styles are made in 18k gold and set with diamonds and sapphires, and retail from $4,000 to $200,000 with an emphasis on the $5,000–$10,000 range. The setting allows for “endless ­opportunities to customize,” says Beaudry. —Jennifer Heebner

Biggest Business Boost
Overseas Buyers

JCK Las Vegas may be America’s largest jewelry fair, but it has always attracted a substantial ­international contingent. That was especially true this year. While vendors raved that American jewelers spent more than they have in years, they were even more enthusiastic about how foreign buyers—particularly those from Asia and Europe—were eagerly ­scooping up product in response to exploding demand from the luxury-hungry middle classes in India and China. One dealer told JCK that 60 percent of his sales in Vegas went to overseas customers. As Martin ­Rapaport declared in his annual “State of the ­Industry” breakfast, “American retailers are no longer the only game in town.” —Rob Bates

Most Intriguing New Venture

VeriChannel began as a project backed by two big names—the former heads of Polygon and the Gemological Institute of America, Jacques Voorhees and Bill Boyajian, respectively. Now another major player has signed on: I. Hennig & Co. On JCK’s first day, the famed (yet famously low-profile) rough broker for De Beers announced it had acquired an equity interest in the online startup, substantially increasing VeriChannel’s diamond industry street cred. And while VeriChannel is, for now, best known for its Daily Diamond Reports, which ­feature regular listings of freshly graded stones from ­leading labs, Voorhees told JCK that the ­company has heady ­ambitions to become the industry’s “search engine”—a “Google for jewelry,” he said—and is venturing into online trading. —RB

Best Investment Stones
Red and Purple Diamonds

If recent auction records set by extraordinary diamonds have taught us anything, it’s that remarkable gems are a good ­investment. So imagine the excitement of New York City–based Global Diamond Group when it showcased two extremely rare ­natural color diamonds at LUXURY at JCK: a 1.57 ct. oval-­modified, brilliant-cut, fancy red stone, set in a platinum ring with a halo of colorless diamonds, and a loose 3.02 ct. cut-cornered, rectangular- modified brilliant fancy intense purple diamond. Both stones—which hail from Africa—are the utter definition of incomparable. In fact, the rocks flat-out stumped many passersby, some of whom asked if they were rubies. “After they heard the price, they had no more questions,” a company rep told JCK, pegging the cost of the fancy red diamond ring at roughly $3 million…wholesale. (The ­diamonds nabbed the interest of two American buyers in particular.) Bonus: Both stones come with an analysis by famed diamantaire and author Steven Hofer. —JH

Best Place to Renew Your Vows
Bridal Pavilion

The matrimonial spirit was in the air on day three of the show, when organizers staged a ceremony and champagne toast in the new Bridal Pavilion—home to roughly 100 exhibitors selling everything from silver picture frames to platinum-set diamond ­jewelry—to celebrate “the iconic marriages in our industry,” says Desiree Hanson, director of industry development for JCK Events. Ten couples—including Gary and Kelly Gordon, Grace Karaguezian and Armand Terezian, and Jeff and Kathy Corey—were honored while actors participated in a mock wedding reception complete with traditional dances and an unannounced surprise from the Mandalay Bay Hotel: a life-size bridal dress fashioned from 50 pounds of white chocolate by Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s executive pastry chef Vincent Pilon. The sugary ensemble required 100 hours to create. —Paul Holewa

Best Fashion-Forward Style

Of the 120 styles of tassel necklaces that Pravesh Nigam brought to JCK, 80 sold out. “I could have sold all of them,” says the director of Oriental Gem Co. in New York City. “But we had to save the coral and emerald ones for a Hong Kong show in June.” Only 20 of the styles will be repeated, and of those, Nigam said Americans bought rubies, diamonds, and pearls. (One retailer from California ordered 15.) Andrea Hansen, CEO of Manhattan-based Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, told JCK that a dozen of her retailers had sold a $40,000 diamond tassel necklace from the collection. Said the clearly surprised Hansen: “We just thought it would be an editorial piece.” —JH

Best Product Endorsement
Les Gold for the GemOro AuRACLE

If you’re looking for an expert in the trials and ­tribulations of buying gold from the public, look no further than Les Gold (below left), the third-­generation pawnbroker behind Detroit’s 50,000-square-foot American ­Jewelry and Loan. The grizzled star of TruTV’s Hardcore Pawn ­reality series visited the Equipment, Technology and ­Supplies pavilion of the JCK show with his daughter and co-host, Ashley Broad, and wound up offering an unscripted endorsement of a new gold-testing product: GemOro AuRACLE, sold by Sy Kessler Sales Inc. The device (above left) can determine varying purities of gold and platinum using a pen probe filled with a saline solution to perform the conductivity work that was once done with gels, chemicals, and acids. “If it’s as easy as it looks here at the show, it’s going to work well in the store,” Gold said. —PH

Most Talked-About Coming Out
The Forevermark

By JCK Las Vegas standards, the trade launch of the Forevermark appeared pretty low-key: De Beers didn’t sponsor a booth or do a lot of ­promotion, other than a June 2 cocktail party at the Wynn, where Private Practice star Kate Walsh made an appearance. Even so, De Beers’ new diamond brand—which is already being tested at Borsheim’s and Ben Bridge Jeweler—attracted plenty of attention, given the big brand name behind it and hints of a well-financed print and online marketing campaign supporting the line’s nationwide debut in October. The sightholders carrying the inscribed gems were ecstatic, and while Forevermark US president Charles Stanley declined to say how many retailers signed on during the show, he told JCK the company is well on its way toward achieving its distribution target: 300 retailers in the United States. —RB

Best Use of Showcases
Yael Designs

At the LUXURY at JCK show, San Francisco–based Yael Designs went to the birds—literally. In its primary showcase, the brand created a bejeweled aviary that could have doubled as a diorama of bird life at a natural history museum. A flock of faux feathered friends perched on branches, sipped from small stone pools, and sparred with squirrels amid branches laced with the company’s diamond- and gem-encrusted pendants and rings. Operations manager Maryam Lavassani assembled the display in her garage in her spare time. Committed to maintaining a sense of authenticity, she not only included real grass that her son “picked up at soccer,” she also threw in a brown spider whose lifeless body she plucked from the floor of her garage on the night she packed up for the show. “It’s the end of the spring—enjoy it,” Lavassani said by way of explanation. She’s been invited to re-create the showcase in a handful of retail stores in the San Francisco Bay area. —Victoria Gomelsky

Best Way to Navigate the Show Floor
Mobile Apps

Organizers were intent on making sure buyers and exhibitors could find their way around the new venue, Mandalay Bay. On the low-tech side, attendees had access to printed show guides and those ubiquitous helpers holding “Ask Me” signs. The ­high-tech side, however, is where the show flexed its technological muscles. A mobile app designed to answer all attendee needs made its first—but certainly not its last—appearance at JCK Las Vegas. “Essentially, we took the entire show guide and put it in an app,” says JCK Events marketing director Liz Irving. In addition to a robust search capability, the app boasted a mapping option that could deliver users to a desired destination—much like GPS technology in a car. Elsewhere on the show floor, LUXURY at JCK exhibitor Rio Tinto Diamonds, having (correctly) assumed that most show-goers would be touting smartphones, launched a QR code campaign using quick-response digital barcodes. “It was still a technical challenge, being in a convention center where ­[connection speeds] are slow,” says Rebecca Foerster, Rio Tinto’s U.S. vice president. “But it definitely enhanced the awareness, just by having people stop and ask, ‘What’s this?’” —PH

Hottest Conversation Topic

It was the talk of the show: From gold to silver to diamonds, just about every jewelry material has seen dramatic price increases over the past year. According to some sources, diamond prices even rose while JCK was in progress. And so weary ­jewelers searched for a way to cope. “The gold prices just kill you,” complained Trans Baca, owner of Princess Bride Diamonds in Huntington Beach, Calif. “We used to sell high-end chains for $2,000. That chain is now $5,000.” Many, not surprisingly, were seriously seeking out alternative metals. “This is the first year we are shopping for silver, which I can’t believe,” said Joel Rzepko, owner of JMR Jewelers in Cooper City, Fla. “We always looked at silver as costume jewelry.” —RB

Gemstone Most Likely to Succeed
Ethiopian Opal

Gemstone fashion owes as much to the colors of the season as it does to the vagaries of what’s coming out of the ground. In other words, designers buy what the market has to offer, especially when the material comes in quantities sizable enough to guarantee a steady supply. Enter Ethiopian opal: About two years ago, following the 2008 discovery of a new deposit in the Wollo region of Ethiopia, the trade began to see an increased amount of opals with a startling play of color—think reds, oranges, and yellows evoking the fiery hues of a tropical sunset. While their big coming-out party took place at the gem shows in Tucson in February, the American Gem Trade Association show at JCK Las Vegas provided an opportunity for buyers to more closely inspect the goods. At the Commercial Mineral Co. booth, brothers Jerry and Mike Romanella were thrilled with the response. “Many retailers have a built-in stigma against opals, but when they saw this stuff, even the skeptical ones were intrigued,” says Mike, adding that reports suggest the deposit has long-term potential. If that availability is any indication—and it usually is—you can count on seeing Ethiopian opal in designer collections of the coming year. The same could be said of noteworthy gemstone runners-up chrysoprase, moonstone, and labradorite. If the JCK show were a high school popularity contest, these stones would be the cool kids—for now. —VG

Hot Trend That’s Now Hotter Than Ever
Social Responsibility

If anyone doubts that the jewelry industry has embraced social responsibility like never before, check out this year’s JCK Las Vegas educational calendar, where there were no fewer than five sessions on ethical topics, in addition to meetings for the Rapaport Fair Trade initiative and the Responsible Jewellery Council. (The RJC, in particular, had its largest presence yet; the group has grown 50 percent over the past year, according to chairman Matthew Runci.) Many speakers said that socially responsible practices not only are increasingly being mandated by the government, but also make good business sense. Today’s consumers “want something extra,” maintained Fred Meyer Jewelers’ supply chain specialist Sean ­Murray during a session on “The Real Value of Sustainability,” sponsored by miner Rio Tinto. “It’s not enough for us to just provide them with a product. They want something that aligns with their values and beliefs.” —RB

Best Period Piece
Vintage Cartier Choker

The vintage Cartier diamond and platinum choker necklace (circa 1906) on display—and for sale—at the Beaudry Salon at LUXURY at JCK was beautiful enough to pique the curiosity of passersby, but its unique provenance made it truly something special: Über-celebrity Angelina Jolie wore the piece in the 2010 film The Tourist. Even though the necklace—shown in collaboration with Daniel’s Jewelers CEO David Sherwood, ML Jewelry president Michael Landver, and designer Robert Procop—arrived in Las Vegas a couple days late due to a customs snafu, there was plenty of time to garner the interest of up to 60 visitors between Sunday and Monday, ­according to Landver. “We had one person from Mexico City and several Russians interested,” he told JCK after the show. Once the piece sells, a substantial portion of the $1.5 million price tag will be donated to the Jolie-Pitt Foundation. —JH

Best Live Performance
Bruno Mars Rocks the Beach

After three (or six) blister-inducing days of walking what felt like every inch of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, how did JCK attendees and exhibitors blow off steam? By turning the pool into a mosh pit and singing along loudly—and unabashedly off-key—as Bruno Mars ­performed his million-selling single, the pop-reggae-Hawaiian mashup “The Lazy Song” at JCK Rocks the Beach: “Today I don’t feel like doing anythin’/?I just wanna lay in my bed.” All evidence to the contrary—considering all the sand being kicked up and shots being thrown back. Sporting his trademark fedora and irresistible dimpled grin, Mars charmed a mostly barefoot crowd of 4,000 with Vegas-friendly hits “Billionaire” and “Marry You” (“Well, I know this little chapel on the boulevard we can go…”), and finished off the evening with a brassy, swing-band–style spin on his sweet and soulful love song “Just the Way You Are.” Tweeted Greenwich Jewelers’ co-owner Jennifer Gandia: “Bruno Mars was ­ah-mazinggggg! Now stick a fork in me. I’m done.” —Melissa Rose Bernardo

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