Dateline: Munich

The annual fair is creating a niche for itself as a must-go venue for jewelers who focus on cutting-edge designer goods or want unusual twists on traditional styles. It’s also a lot of fun for techies.

Inhorgenta Europe 2007, held Feb. 23–26 at the New Munich Trade Fair Centre in Munich, Germany, featured 1,183 exhibitors from 44 countries, including purveyors of finished jewelry, equipment and technology, loose gemstones, and watches. It also featured a special pavilion for designer jewelry and new artisans. Show management said more than 30,000 visitors attended the four-day event, which encompassed 64,500 square meters of exhibition space.

The most notable trend at the Inhorgenta fair was jewelers’ innovative use of technology in their designs. Global design trends such as circles, spheres, and shades of brown—like Yvel’s chocolate Tahitian pearl collection—were evident here as well, but clever technology stood out. It might be stereotypical to chalk it up to German engineering, but German designers are fascinated by the possibilities technology offers, and many of the designs at the fair had an extra spin, spring, bounce, snap, or other high-tech element to offer.

For example, Gebrüder Schaffrath’s Liberté collection featured a series of diamond solitaire rings in which the diamond is set cleverly to allow it to spin freely. The movement—and the relative lack of metal save for around the culet—greatly increase the stone’s sparkle, yet the setting is secure.

Designer Michael Weggenmann of Auf der Vogelweide, Germany, employed some new/old technology in his collection of cufflinks. Frustrated with trying to fasten his own cufflinks with one hand—something most men can relate to—he devised a mechanism that allows the cufflink (with an array of designs set in 18k rose, white, or yellow gold) to separate into two pieces. The wearer inserts each half into the front and back of the shirt cuff before putting it on. After he puts the shirt on, both sides snap together like an old-fashioned garment snap.

Sabine Brandenburg-Frank, designing for IsabelleFa, offered an 18k brushed folded gold bracelet that incorporates hidden hinges in the folds. The wearer can open it wide to put it on and close it with one hand.

The Inhorgenta show, which includes a high percentage of designer jewelry exhibitors, attracts design-focused retailers worldwide, such as Michael Hamilton and Sarah Hill, G.G., of Hamilton Hill International Designer Jewelry, a gallery in Durham, N.C. “This is just a great resource for us,” said Hill. Her sentiments were echoed by Jochen Exner, president and CEO of Niessing, a design-driven firm famous for its tension-set diamond rings and architectural jewelry. He called the fair the top site in Europe for designer jewelry and said he saw a number of customers from the United States and Japan as well as his regular European customers.

No discussion of German jewelry would be complete without platinum. The steely white metal lends itself to the clean, geometric, Bauhaus-inspired design aesthetic that categorizes much German jewelry, and Germany has always been one of Platinum Guild International’s leading global markets. PGI’s German office, based in Oberursel, had a large display and hosted several special events at the fair.

The most significant of these was the presentation of the Platinum for Men 2007 design competition prize. Florian Kehr-mann, who plays the outside right position on the championship German national handball team, was there to celebrate the winner. Participants from Germany,Austria, and Switzerland were asked to conceive unconventional and innovative ideas for men’s platinum jewelry and accessories. The top prize was awarded to Anna Maria Gygax of Suhr, Switzerland, who created a “men-ding” (“thing for men”) meant to be hung from the pocket of a pair of jeans. Her piece, which pairs precious and common materials, incorporates platinum, PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic/polyester, and hemp cord.

Second place was awarded to Carlo Wild, of Mackenrodt, Germany, who created the Courage platinum brooch. The piece, manufactured by Hans D. Krieger Fine Jewellery of Idar-Oberstein, Germany, featured a lion’s head of black tourmaline on a platinum crucifix, surrounded by stylized fleurs-de-lis. Third prize—incorporating another innovative use of technology—went to the team of designers of the Meister jewelry manufacturing firm, with locations in Wollerau, Switzerland, and Radolfzell, Germany. Their piece was the Yes or No platinum ring. The ring, designed to help a man make decisions, features a tiny ball bearing integrated into the ring so that an inner band with a flush-set diamond freely circles the ring’s outer band. Where the stone comes to rest determines the decision (yes or no).

A dozen other pieces, including a platinum golf tee and a platinum knife–cum–pendant accented with an aquamarine, received honorable mentions. “The items in this competition prove that jewelry for men is much more than wristwatches, wedding rings, and cufflinks,” said PGI Germany manager Gertrud Gross-Stahl.

“Some men want more fashionable pieces,” added Claudia Petz, who handles marketing for PGI in Germany. Men in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are most receptive to fashion jewelry, she said, but she’s observed a cultural shift in attitudes in Germany, and now men in their 40s and 50s are still perceived as—and consider themselves—quite young.

The three winning pieces and the 12 honorable mentions will go on a yearlong tour of jewelers in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

Bridal jewelry remains a core focus for PGI Germany, as it is for PGI in the United States. An extensive selection of platinum bridal rings was on display at the PGI stand. “It’s not as common to have an engagement ring in Germany as it is in the United States,” explained Petz, but she said a few manufacturers are introducing three-ring sets consisting of a diamond solitaire and two wedding bands (Petz calls them “eternity” rings, although that term here usually refers to diamond bands given on a significant anniversary). But PGI Germany hasn’t yet introduced a program to emphasize the three-ring sale, as the American PGI office has done.

In the nonbridal category, platinum was frequently mixed with the colors of the moment, incorporating such gems as amethyst, aquamarine, black and white diamonds, moonstone, rubellite, and smoky quartz. The stand also featured a display of new platinum designs from China, India, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The American designs on display were a cuff bracelet by Ritani and a diamond solitaire ring by MaeVona, both of New York.

The retail picture is looking up in Germany.Petz said unemployment has dropped to less than 4 million, and PGI expects growth in the luxury sector. That theme was echoed by a number of fair participants, and, in fact, the luxury market was a key focus of several seminars. (See sidebar.)

Jutta Effenberger, marketing manager for pearl supplier Schoeffel GmbH, based in Stuttgart, Germany, noted an increase in sales over last year’s figures. “We had a lot of customers at our booth from the start. Many German jewelers are again confident enough to invest in luxury products,” she said, noting that pearls seem to be popular.

Designer Georg Spreng, of Heubach, Germany, said, “The feared dent in demand at the beginning of 2007 has not taken place, to our great relief. We currently have a 20 to 30 percent increase in [sales in] the high-price segment.”

Petz noted that it’s becoming much more common for German women to buy jewelry for themselves. More women are single, she said, and while Germany still doesn’t have the jewelry culture that Italy does, more women are treating themselves with a fine-jewelry purchase.

In a TNS Infratest survey conducted on behalf of the show’s management, exhibitors expressed guarded optimism about the economy and future business development, while retailers expect substantially better market development. Fifty-nine percent of the exhibitors assessed the current economic situation of the industry as excellent to good (compared with 39 percent last year), and 83 percent said the same about the future development of the market. Among visitors, 62 percent viewed the current economy positively (compared with 50 percent last year), and 86 percent were optimistic about the future of the market.

Manfred Wutzlhofer, chief executive officer of fair organizer Messe München GmbH, said, “Visitor figures at Inhorgenta Europe have increased continually since 2004. Trade fairs are always considered as a reflection of the industry, and [this] demonstrates … business is again improving in the industry. The substantial increase in foreign trade visitors is especially pleasant news; they have strengthened the international goals of Inhorgenta Europe considerably.”

Fair officials said 38 percent of exhibitors and 31 percent of visitors came from other countries. They noted a strong increase in visitors from France, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States and a smaller but still significant increase in visitors from Scandinavia and from eastern European countries such as Poland, Slovakia, and Romania. First-time foreign visitors numbered 10,000, setting a record.

Inhorgenta Europe 2008 will be held Feb. 15–18, 2008, at the New Munich Trade Fair Centre. For information, contact the fair hotline, (49-89) 949-11-398, e-mail: info@inhorgenta.com, or visit www.inhorgenta.com.