Fifteen Years and Going Strong: A History of The JCK Show Launch

In 1991, shortly after Jewelers of America announced the sale of its semiannual JA International Jewelry Show to the Blenheim Group, a group of manufacturers and retailers approached Charles Bond, then-publisher of JCK magazine, about the idea of starting a new jewelry trade show.

At the time, the idea of launching a major jewelry show was practically unthinkable. The long-established JA Show was the big show in the United States, and New York, where it was held, was the center of the universe as far as many jewelers were concerned. But some in the industry were uncomfortable with the sale of the JA Show, and wanted a show that was still wholly owned by an organization within the jewelry industry. There were, however, few companies or associations in the industry who had the resources to handle such an undertaking. But JCK did. Although corporately owned by Chilton Co., a subsidiary of ABC/Capital Cities, the magazine itself had been an integral part of the jewelry industry since its inception in 1869 and was instrumental in helping to found several major industry organizations, including both the Gemological Institute of America and the American Gem Society. ABC, meanwhile, not only had the financial resources but also owned a subsidiary company in the trade-show business, called Professional Exposition Management Co.

A JEWELRY SHOW IN SIN CITY?

The proposed location for the new show was Las Vegas. At the time, Las Vegas offered a significant price differential from New York. In virtually every respect, from lodging to dining to exhibition space to union costs, Las Vegas was less expensive. (The popularity of Las Vegas as a convention venue and the subsequent building boom there has since driven prices up, but affordable lodging and dining are still available farther away from the city’s famous Strip.)

The timing of the new show would be different as well. The summer JA show, traditionally held in late July, was very late for many jewelers’ holiday buying needs. The new show would be held at the end of May into early June.

At a JCK staff meeting in the late summer of 1991, George Holmes, then the editor-in-chief, told the editorial team about the plan to start a show.

“What?” asked senior editor William George Shuster. “Go up against JA? Are you kidding?”

“We’re having it where?” asked fashion editor Hedda Schupak. “In Las Vegas? But we can’t have it there! There’s no jewelry industry in Las Vegas!”

“There’s no jewelry industry in Basel, Switzerland, either,” replied Holmes with his trademark calm.

The rest, as they say, is history. When JCK magazine launched “Jewelry ’92—The Industry Show” at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas the week after Memorial Day in 1992, it was a runaway success, both in the jewelry industry and among its peers in the trade-show industry. It was deemed one of the most successful exhibition launches ever, with more than 300,000 square feet of exhibit space sold out in its first year. When the lights dimmed in the Sands at 4 p.m. on June 2, 1992, signifying the close of the event, the exhibit hall burst into spontaneous—and thunderous—applause. Never before had that happened at a jewelry show.

The success continued. Companies who initially adopted a “wait and see” attitude clamored to be admitted, and the show’s famous waiting list was born. The year 1994—perhaps even more than the first two—was the bellwether that established The JCK Show as the premier jewelry show in the United States. Attendance and buying that year were so brisk that more than one manufacturer ran out of order forms and had to improvise on plain paper. Others complained—albeit with a smile—that they hadn’t had time to eat or use the restroom during the entire show. The waiting list to exhibit grew to more than 1,000 companies. That year, the show was officially renamed The JCK Show. To this day, it continues to attract more than 21,000 registered buyers annually. A year later, the Sands converted its lower-level garage into exhibition space, and the show made its first significant expansion.

THE BRAND EXPANDS

Soon, plans were under way to add a winter edition of the show. Encouraged by the success in Las Vegas, the JCK team selected Orlando, Fla., as the venue and February 1997 as the launch date. Like Las Vegas, Orlando was a warm-weather resort with ample hotel space, a huge convention center, and enough activities to encourage buyers to bring their families. Additionally, the show team wanted the winter show to be on the East Coast.

In 1996, the Walt Disney Co. acquired ABC/Capital Cities. Disney’s management—aware of the success of The JCK Show launch—was excited to have the show expanding to Orlando, home of Walt Disney World. Although the show was held at the Orange County Convention Center, the welcome reception and several other after-hours show activities were held on Disney properties, and many of the official show hotels were also on or near the Disney resorts.

Later that year, however, the Walt Disney Co. made a strategic decision to divest many of the publishing operations acquired during the ABC merger—including Chilton and PEMCO, which were sold to the Anglo-Dutch publishing and exhibition conglomerate Reed Elsevier in 1997.

PEMCO—and by extension, The JCK Show—were folded into the company’s Reed Exhibitions division, while JCK magazine became part of Cahners, Reed Elsevier’s business-to-business publishing division in the United States. (Subsequently, all Reed b-to-b publishing, including JCK, was globally rebranded under the name Reed Business Information, and the Cahners name was retired.)

Reed Exhibitions has increased the size of The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas and the number of attendees on a yearly basis since acquiring it in 1997. It has also launched several new, smaller jewelry shows under the JCK banner, including LUXURY by JCK; Diamonds by JCK; and, debuting in September 2006, its first international expansion of The JCK Show brand: JCK ~ New Delhi.

The JCK Show ~ Orlando never achieved the success of the Las Vegas event. Orlando is geared more to families on vacation than luxury-business travelers, and attendance at the show declined over the years. In 2004, Reed moved the show to Phoenix to take advantage of the popular Tucson, Ariz., gem shows 90 miles away. Unfortunately, the move didn’t help bolster attendance, so in 2006 the winter event was downsized, repositioned to an invitational show geared to major jewelry buyers, and moved once again—back to the Hilton hotel in New York, coincidentally the site of the original JA Show.