The U.S. jewelry, gem, and watch industries responded quickly to aid the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Many lost friends and acquaintances in the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York and plane crashes at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, retailers are worried about consumers’ willingness to buy in a time of national crisis.
Numerous companies and groups acted immediately to aid the bereaved and injured. At least 15 watch companies formed “A Time to Aid” to raise up to $250,000 for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, says organizer Mitchell Caplan, president of Daniel Mink (U.S.). Jewelers of America and Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA) compiled lists of charities for members to support. MJSA also listed suppliers of patriotic jewelry at www.mjsainc.org.
The Gemological Institute of America and The Jewelers 24 Karat Club of Southern California are donating proceeds from their fall fundraiser galas to relief efforts.
Tourneau, the New York-based watch retailer, at press time was developing a fund for either the Red Cross or rescue workers. Zale Corp. of Irving, Texas, set up a Red Cross blood donor station in its headquarters and linked its Web site to that of the Red Cross to encourage contributions.
The American Society of Appraisers gave $5,000 to the Red Cross, while employees and managers of Jewelers Mutual Insurance gave $4,400 to the Red Cross and United Way’s September 11th Fund.
The American Gem Trade Association, whose membership is heavily concentrated in New York, had “many friends affected by this tragedy,” says AGTA director Doug Hucker. The group plans to transfer money earmarked for other charities to the relief efforts.
Many jewelers displayed flags at their stores, and some created special promotions to aid relief efforts. JK Jewelers in St. George, Utah, hosted a three-day sale with 50% of proceeds going to the Red Cross, while Geys-Perry Jewelers in Atlantic, Iowa, gave 100 flag lapel pins free to the first 100 customers who donated to the Red Cross.
Designers also lent support. Kathy Bernu of Christian Family Jewelers, St. Paul, Minn., donated hundreds of her “Memorial Tear” jewelry pieces (a teardrop with a rose in the center, symbolizing “loss and God’s consoling truth”) to be distributed free of charge by clergy to the bereaved in New York. Matthew Gross of MHG Studio, Berkley, Mich., designed a silver pin with red, white, and blue enamel accents, images of the WTC, the Pentagon, and a peace symbol, and a broken pattern for “the broken lives caused by the disaster.” It retails for $35, with all profits going to the Red Cross. Just Jules of Scottsdale, Ariz., created a silver-and-gem bullseye keyring charm, to “target terrorism.” Profits from the $20 charms go to the Sept. 11 relief fund.
Professional Gem Sciences, a gem-grading laboratory with offices in Chicago and Los Angeles, is donating $3 per graded stone to the American Red Cross, effective Sept. 11 through the end of this year.
U.S. and foreign retailers, manufacturers, suppliers, and associations issued statements of sorrow over the horrific loss of life. “The enormity of this on a human scale is overwhelming,” said Zale Corp. chairman Robert Di Nicola. “Everyone has a relative, friend, or acquaintance affected by this.”
Among thousands killed was Robert Speisman, 47, director of marketing at the New York diamond firm Lazare Kaplan, and chairman of the American Gem Society’s board of trustees. At least half-dozen jewelry businesses in the WTC were destroyed, as was the Thai Trade Center, which organized trips to gem and jewelry fairs in Bangkok. All TTC employees escaped safely, as did those of two Tourneau watch stores in the WTC shopping complex. (New York police later arrested two people caught looting those stores.) Several banks doing business with the jewelry industry had offices in the WTC, and jewelers with stores near “ground zero” were denied access for many days after the attacks.
Howard Herzog, vice president of International Jewelers Block, an insurance firm, said at press time that the loss to stores in or near the WTC could not yet be calculated, but noted that any merchandise in jewelers’ safes was probably all right because “most jewelers don’t open that early [when the attacks occurred]. We expect to see mostly loss-of-business claims.”
Disruptions. The disaster caused disruptions throughout the industry. False bomb threats in New York City during the ensuing week forced repeated evacuations of the building occupied by JA and JIC.
Many jewelers and industry executives—including those attending the CIBJO conference in Italy—were stranded or delayed at airports here and abroad when the FAA grounded all U.S. flights for three days. Exhibitors heading to a gem show in Denver were unable to make it to their destination, and more than 70 U.S. firms had to cancel buying trips to the Japan Pearl Exporters Association auction (Sept. 13-15). Even when flights resumed, some jewelers—including those who had planned diamond-buying trips to Antwerp—canceled.
A number of events were rescheduled, including the AGS board meeting in Vancouver, Canada (originally slated for Sept. 13-14), and jewelry auctions at Sotheby’s, Christies, and Antiquorum. The ready-to-wear shows of “Fashion Week” in New York—the week of Sept. 11—were canceled, though some designers held private showings.
The Jewelers’ Security Alliance canceled a Nov. 5 conference in New York concerning shipping security, because top law enforcement officials wouldn’t be available. JSA also suspended (until next year) lobbying for more government funding for the FBI’s fight against jewelry theft gangs.
The tragedy caused many jewelry and luxury goods retailers to rethink business projections. LVMH, the world’s biggest luxury-goods group, had foreseen double-digit growth in 2001 but now has adjusted its operating profit growth forecast to 5%-10%.
The New York Jewelers Exchange expected less business because, as one jeweler told The New York Times, “It is wrong to think about luxuries at a time like this.” In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., David Boudreau, chief financial officer of Mayor’s Jewelers, told the Sun-Sentinel the crisis would probably hurt sales because people buy jewelry to mark celebrations and “this is not a celebration environment.” Jeweler Phil Silverstein, Anderson, S.C., noted, “Everyone has this disaster foremost on their minds. We hope for a semi-revival at Thanksgiving, but it’ll be far from previous years’ figures.”
Even prior to Sept. 11, the jewelry industry had anticipated low holiday sales because of the sluggish U.S. economy, lower consumer confidence, and rising unemployment. “People will blame it on [the attacks], but the seeds were already planted for a slow retail season,” said Jewelers Board of Trade president Nathaniel Earle.
The National Retail Federation cut its forecast for holiday sales growth to 2.5%-3% (down from 4%), the lowest since 1990. But both the New York-based Conference Board, which tracks consumer confidence, and Deutsche Bank were more optimistic in their outlooks, saying a U.S. economic recovery could begin as soon as early 2002.
By mid-September, many jewelers believed that, barring a serious wartime situation, consumers would be ready to buy for Christmas, though most likely less-expensive gifts. Sheila Newton, whose Louisville, Ky., jewelry store is less than a year old, agrees. “It’s difficult now for a new business, but I’m not giving up,” she told JCK. “With extra hard work and lots of prayers, I hope my American dream will continue. God bless America!”
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