Coming to America: International Suppliers Cater to the U.S. Jeweler

America, the world loves ya! At least, it loves doing business with U.S. jewelers – especially now. With once-buoyant Asian economies in financial tailspins and European business idling, more foreign jewelry suppliers and government trade agencies are courting the independent U.S. jeweler. As one British jewelry official puts it, the United States is “the most stable and opportune” market in the world.

That is evident at major U.S. jewelry trade shows, whose lists of overseas vendors waiting to get in are lengthening and where there are significant increases in the size of some foreign delegations – especially Asian. At the Jewelers of America summer show in New York, for example, both the Hong Kong and Italian groups were 10% larger than last year. Some regional shows are adding more international vendors, too. The recent Columbus Jewelry Show had exhibitors from Australia, Canada, Germany, and Thailand.

It isn’t only individual firms that are courting U.S. jewelers more aggressively. So are national export agencies and even regions within nations. The Sri Lanka Export Development board, for example, has a well-organized program that introduces new suppliers at U.S. shows, while ERSVA (representing one of Italy’s southern regions) began participating in U.S. shows in 1997 to raise awareness of its 8,000 jewelry craftsmen.

It’s a buyer’s market for U.S. jewelers – especially smaller ones – looking for high-quality foreign jewelry lines to offer their customers. And they don’t have to travel to foreign or even domestic trade shows to find them. More and more, foreign trade agencies, jewelry groups, and individual companies are reaching out directly to America’s fine jewelers via glossy catalogs, consortia, showrooms, the Internet, and special events. Here’s a look at a what a few of them are doing.

What’s a foreign jewelry firm to do if it wants to sell to independent U.S. jewelers but is too small to do it on its own? It forms a consortium with like-minded firms, agrees to share the costs, and finds an agent to take the products to America’s heartland.

Germany: Reaching America’s Heartland

That’s what some German fine jewelry makers, with assistance from the Association of the German Jewelry and Silverware Industries, did in early 1997. Four of these companies (all located in or near Pforzheim, Germany) are Silhoutte-Bentner, Laudier, Fredrich Schefold, and Hermann A. Kappler. Their U.S. agent is Karlan Ring Co., a Dallas manufacturer, which set up Karlan International Inc. to represent and sell the European jewelry.

For company president Dennis Karlan, representing the German firms is a logical fit. “We’re into bridal jewelry and semi-mountings, while the European firms are into fashion designs and styling, which we don’t have the time to develop,” he says.

Though he shows the Germans’ jewelry to any retailer at trade fairs, the primary audience is Karlan’s own customers – medium-sized independent retail jewelers, with a Jewelers Board of Trade credit rating of 51 or better and annual volume of $350,000 to $1 million.

For the moment, the Germans are content to let Karlan promote them as he chooses. Aside from a flier distributed at shows, they have done little other marketing. However, insertions in Karlan’s catalog, some mailers, and monthly advertising are being considered.

The response by jewelers is “good and growing,” says Karlan, so good that he would be willing to add more foreign jewelry firms to his lineup.

“The quality of the German jewelry is superb, its styling is fresh, and the price for jewelers – $3,500 and under, wholesale – is within reason,” he notes.

The Euro-styling provides jewelers with the alternative many want, and in some cases, even finds a new market here. For example, “what might be a fashion ring for Europe is selling as bridal jewelry here,” Karlan notes.

Some of the firms are adapting their products to U.S. tastes. Carat One, for example, is a new division of Schofeld, created specifically for the U.S. market, with 14k gold earrings and necklaces and slightly lower-quality diamonds than those used in Europe.

His customers like his arrangement with the German groups, says Karlan, “because they get access to designers and styling they wouldn’t normally have, but without the difficulties of contacting them [in Europe] or bringing the product” into the United States.

“As U.S. agent, we take care of imports and shipping, dealing with Customs, brokerage, and technical support problems,” says Karlan. Plus, as a U.S.-based office, his company is easily accessible to handle questions and calls about the German products and to take orders – in English. The only issue that leaves for the jewelers is whether they want to order jewelry from some or all of the companies.

For information about the German firms and their lines, contact Helen Karlan, Karlan International Inc., 10300 N. Central Expressway, Suite 426, Dallas, TX 75231; (800) 899-7464, fax (214) 368-0105.

Italy: Florentine Silver

Italian gold jewelry is well known to U.S. jewelers, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Italian Trade Commission (ITC) and the Italian Jewelry Guild (IJG). But another segment of Italian craftsmanship is seeking a place in the inventory of U.S. retailers by cashing in on the current popularity of silver jewelry and giftware.

“Ariento” is an ancient Italian name for “silver.” It’s also the name of a guild of 15 fine silversmiths in Florence, eight of which have established a showroom and warehouse – called Ariento USA – for their products in New York City. The eight firms are Brandimarte, Casamonti, Del Conte, Fani, Masini, Pampaloni, Raddi, and Sacchi. Though they have been successful in Europe, this is their first time in the United States, notes Ellen Cohen, U.S. manager and sales representative for the group.

The target audience for Ariento USA products is high-end jewelry stores and department stores, as well as corporate accounts. Right now, Cohen is focusing on building awareness of the year-old Ariento USA in the tri-state region around New York City. Future plans envision a West Coast branch in Los Angeles and possibly even showrooms in Chicago and Atlanta.

So far, says Cohen, retailers’ response has been “very positive [because] these are products that are beautiful and unique.” The Italian firms’ U.S. clients also appreciate having an American office that can handle orders or queries and take care of matters involving imports and working with Customs, she says.

In addition to the New York showroom and warehouse and Cohen’s sales trips in the Mid-Atlantic states, Ariento USA exhibits at the Jewelers of America Show and important giftware shows. It also has its own Web site (see page 130) and is planning to do some consumer advertising. Its stylish “Ariento – Company of Florentine Silversmiths” catalog presents products from the eight firms.

For information, contact Ellen Cohen at Ariento USA Inc., 230 Fifth Ave, Suite 2008, New York, NY 10001; (212) 679-0555, fax (212) 532-6340, e-mail: ariento@ix.netcom.com.

The U.K.:Seeking a Stable Market

Asia’s woes have made U.S. jewelers much more attractive to British suppliers, who paid little attention to them in the past.

“Nearly all of our [2,000] members agree that America and the Caribbean are our top priority and focus for the next two to three years,” says Alan Leach, manager of the British Jewellers Association (which, despite its name, is a manufacturers’ organization).With Asia’s markets in a financial slide and European economies stagnant – “a lot of traditional jewelry shows there are not paying off,” says Leach – “the American market in British eyes is now the most stable and opportune” for British manufacturers.

Britain’s Department of Trade and Industry is now spending “a lot of money and time promoting [the U.S. market]” to British suppliers and helping BJA promote British jewelry to U.S. retailers, says Craig Chislett, export promoter for the department’s jewelry and gifts section.

A notable promotional effort this year is a stylish, full-color booklet called “The British Collection,” which presents descriptions and the creations of 14 high-end British jewelry designers and suppliers – Elizabeth Gage, De Vroomen Design, Sceptre Jewels, Webster Jeweller, Paul Spurgeon Design, E. Wolfe & Co., Deakin & Francis, Martyn Pugh, Richard Fox Associates, Carrs Silverware, Kenneth James Jack, The Original Perfume Bottle Co. Ltd., Rodney J. Rigby, and Young Jones.

The book was distributed by BJA at the Couture Collection and Conference in May in Scottsdale, Ariz., and at the JCK International Jewelry Show in Las Vegas in June. It has been mailed to upscale U.S. jewelers for distribution to their customers. Chislett says BJA would like to issue new editions of the booklet once or twice a year.

BJA is also working on what Leach calls “a mini-mission” – a trunk show – of merchandise by designers from “The British Collection.” The show will travel to some of the leading upscale U.S. jewelers interested in design, platinum, gemset, and 18k jewelry.

Meanwhile, the British trade office and BJA are doing more direct mailings to “build more awareness” of British jewelry and expanding their database of U.S. retailers. Most of the attention so far has been on jewelers catering to the luxury market. But the British have just invested in a research project to identify markets for silver, gold, platinum, gems, and pearl jewelry, says Chislett. “Having started with [high-end] gemset and 18k jewelry, we want to now help those other companies which can produce high volumes for larger players.”

BJA also plans to more actively promote jewelry exhibitions in Britain, bringing over more U.S. buyers and making them aware of the jewelry suppliers there, says Leach. BJA already offers several free services to assist U.S. jewelers, including product and market information, import advice, and assistance in finding and meeting British suppliers.

For information, contact the British Jewelers Association at 10 Vyes St., Birmingham, England, B18 6L, or call (44-121) 237-1110, fax (44-121) 237-1113.

Israel: Building Awareness

Israeli jewelry does well at major trade shows and has a strong presence in most parts of the United States. One area where it doesn’t is the Southeast. Now, Israel’s Economic Mission is acting to change that.

“Israel offers a diverse range of creative and unique collections designed with elegance and sophistication,” says Alison Lewis, director of business development for the government of Israel’s Economic Mission to the Southeast, based in Atlanta. “Our goal is to build awareness” among fine jewelers and distributors in the southeastern United States, she says.

There are good reasons why the Economic Mission is doing that now. “The jewelry market in the Southeast has changed,” Lewis tells JCK. “There’s a lot more demand by jewelers [for Israeli jewelry] and more interest in doing business internationally. Before, smaller stores only dealt with local distributors. Now, more of them attend international shows, have a better understanding of trade relations, and have more interest in Israel.”

For their part, small, high-end Israeli firms are “more willing to sell here, to make three or four trips here a year if necessary to do business.”

The Economic Mission, which has already sent out jewelry catalogs to interested jewelers, was scheduled to take another big step in building awareness on Sept. 9 with an elegant reception and product show at the Fort Lauderdale Marina Marriott in Florida. Designed as a mini-exhibition, the program was to focus only on jewelers and wholesalers catering to the high-end 18k, platinum, diamond, and designer jewelry markets.

The program’s cosponsors were the Israeli Economic Mission, Mayor’s Jewelers (whose president, Samuel A. Getz, was slated to be the guest speaker) and Jan Bell Marketing. More than 300 high-end jewelers, distributors, and wholesalers of 18k, platinum, and diamond jewelry in Florida were invited. Eight top Israeli designers planned to exhibit – Abigail’s Jewelry, Batia Wang Jewelry, Cartelle Ltd., Guy Kristin Jewelry, Herbert Blankstein & Son, Oliva Diamonds & Jewels, Simon Lindenman, and Yvel Ltd.

Depending on the reception’s success, more events will be scheduled in other areas of the region. In the meantime, the Economic Mission is already planning “a diamond event,” featuring models wearing the latest in fine Israeli jewelry, in the Southeast sometime next year.

For more information, contact Alison Lewis, Director of Business Development, The Government of Israel Economic Mission, 1100 Spring St., Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30309-2823; (404) 724-0830, fax (404) 724-9030, e-mail: alison@mindspring.com.

Mexico: The Fruits of NAFTA

Call it the NAFTA effect. Ever since the landmark North American Free Trade Agreement was enacted in 1994, the market among U.S. jewelers for Mexican jewelry has improved, says Sergio Hildalgo, trade commissioner for Bancomext, the Mexican government agency that aids export by Mexican firms. “NAFTA opened the door and totally deregulated the sector,” he notes. “Since our jewelry is handcrafted, there are no [U.S. import] duties on it.” That creates cost advantages for American jewelers and competitive advantages for Mexican suppliers.

“Before, the jewelry market in the United States was being served by a lot of Asian countries,” he notes. “Now, because of NAFTA, we’ve become very competitive.”

That has also encouraged more creativity among Mexican jewelry makers and more interest by them in cultivating the U.S. market. And the Mexican agency is helping its suppliers open new markets in the United States.

The 10 Mexican Trade commission offices in the United States (Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Antonio, and Seattle) suggest contacts and provide information on what sells well in their regions. The agency also seeks to bring interested U.S. jewelers and suppliers together with Mexican jewelry makers. Depending on a market and what appeals there, it may organize trunk shows.

Bancomext has a databank of some 900 jewelers and wholesalers in the United States (the number is growing) for direct mailings and invitations to shows or events.

For U.S. jewelers who want to visit Mexico’s silver and jewelry trade fairs – Expo Plata Taxco (in Taxco) and Joya (in Guadalajara) are the largest – or its jewelry design centers in Taxco or Mexico City, Bancomext will help organize the trips, arrange meetings with companies or designers, and even pay for the airplane ticket in some circumstances, says Hildalgo.

One other source of information about Mexican jewelry makers is the permanent Mexican Gift House showrooms. There are currently three – in New York, Dallas, and Atlanta – and they each showcase about 20 firms, including jewelry makers.

For information, contact Sergio Hildalgo or Monica Murrieta in New York at (212) 826-2916, Ext. 19. Similar information is available at any of the other nine U.S. offices of the Mexican Trade Commission.