To celebrate the return of the JCK and Luxury shows to their original location at the Sands Expo this month, we asked five veteran showgoers to reflect on what they loved most about the old venue (the parties!) and what they hope to find this year (new designers!). You can’t go home again? Watch us!
The JCK Las Vegas and Luxury shows are returning to their original home, the Sands Expo and Convention Center and The Venetian, this month after a successful eight-year run at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
The newly renovated Sands Expo will offer longtime showgoers a familiar, albeit elevated, environment. The venue has undergone a $35 million top-to-bottom overhaul that’s transformed its convention and meeting rooms into a series of flowing spaces boasting refined-feeling interiors.
The jewelry industry has responded to the return to the Sands with a collective sense of enthusiasm. We touched base with five veteran JCK Las Vegas showgoers—all influential independent fine jewelry retailers—to ask what they’re looking forward to this year and what they loved about the shows when they sparkled up the Sands nearly a decade ago.
Co-owner, Worthmore Jewelers, Atlanta
Geri and Harris Botnick, owners of two-store fine jewelry retail business Worthmore Jewelers based in Atlanta, have been attending JCK Las Vegas since the mid-1990s, soon after they opened their first store in midtown Atlanta 26 years ago.
Their memories of the show at the Sands are fond and hark back to an era when vendors more overtly wooed retailers: “I remember the time watch company Raymond Weil had rented a ton of limos—just to wine and dine [retailers]—and you’d see them all lined up out front when you walked out of the show,” Geri says. “Watch companies back then sometimes had two-story booths. They would serve lunch on the second floor sometimes! It was like a mezzanine and you would just eat up there.”
The retailing couple plan to have their annual dinner with one of their store’s top designers, Lika Behar. But nightlife always comes second for the Botnicks in Vegas. “We’re the type of people who are the first ones into the building in the morning, and then they’re kicking us out at the end of the day,” Geri says. “We really are busy.”
On the retailers’ shopping list this year are trendy jewelry looks including chains, hoops, and statement sterling silver, along with “things to support social media efforts,” says Geri. The duo will also be hunting “for the pieces that catch your eye in a case that are the most expensive, but you buy because they sell everything that’s placed around them,” she explains. “But lately we’ve been selling centerpieces like crazy—so we’ll be looking for those, too!”
Owner, Shelia Bayes Fine Jewelers, Lexington, Ky.
When Shelia Bayes thinks of the JCK shows at the old Sands, she remembers sitting around the side of a hotel bathtub in the Venetian laughing like crazy with a group of her best girlfriends, while soaking their sore feet in warm water together.
The owner of Shelia Bayes Fine Jewelers in Lexington, Ky., used to bring friends on her Vegas buying trips—both to help out and to hang out—and “of course, everyone had to wear these amazing stilettos,” the retailer recalls, before adding, “Age has brought wisdom in this area!”
Walking into the Sands each year, “I felt like singing ‘Viva Las Vegas,’ because that was filmed there. There was always this Elvis feel to it.”
This year, Bayes is hunting for “new, up-and-coming designers” to introduce to her clientele. “We have our great high-end designers at the store, but we also want to keep offering something new to our clients,” she says. “I’m looking for more stories. I’m really looking, at this point, to add designers to the mix that have great stories and are doing something meaningful.”
In between buying, Bayes says she hopes to connect with her vendors and fellow retailers off the show floor. “Vegas is so massive that we never have time to visit retailers and vendors and spend a little time taking a deep breath and enjoying each other’s company,” she says. “I think we’ve got to kind of stop competing so much with each other and start building each other up—and try to make our industry a little more relevant again.”
Owner, Houston Jewelry, Houston
Fine jewelry retailer Rex Solomon has attended every JCK Las Vegas show, with the exception of one, since 1993. And among his favorite memories from the show’s first run at the Sands was seeing a drove of Elvis impersonators drop from the sky.
The occasion was a product release hosted by watchmaker Longines, which had hired Flying Elvi, a 10-member skydiving team. “So, you walked out of the show and there were several men dressed as Elvis in white jumpsuits, parachuting down,” he remembers. “It was incredible.”
Solomon says he’s looking forward to returning this year to the Sands in large part because of its location in the middle of The Strip, which makes getting to other places convenient.
The retailer’s shopping list is more stripped-down than it’s been in years past: Hurricane Harvey devastated homes in affluent areas in his community, which has affected Solomon’s sales. But he’s open to seeing and buying exciting new collections and notes, “We still have basics to fill out, and we will do that.” Luxury is his first stop: “Since Luxury opened early, we’ve been trying to get all our Luxury work done during that [early opening] so we have the rest of the time to do JCK, and look at tools, and our IJO vendors.”
Before Solomon and his team head to the show, which he plans to approach systematically, from “the left side of the show—aisle A,” the retailer will do what he always does: crunch the inventory and sales numbers. “In preparation for buying, I’ll run an analysis of inventory last year at this time and come up with a calculation of what would be the open-to-buy from my vendors.” Buying for his business, he says, “is a math equation to some degree.”
Owner, Susan Eisen Fine Jewelry & Watches, El Paso and Austin, Texas
When reminiscing about JCK Las Vegas’ first Sands era, Susan Eisen, whose namesake fine jewelry business has two Texas locations, in El Paso and Austin, remembers the scores of private parties that took place back in the day. “Almost every night we were invited to a private party by a vendor in a nice restaurant,” she recalls.
Eisen has been attending JCK Las Vegas since it debuted in 1992, and this year she’ll be eyeing collections from new designers, along with supplies and tools. “You can’t ever get too many tools,” she says, explaining, “I was a bench jeweler and developed a very big respect for tools. I like to look at the displays, see what’s for sale, and how the booths are set up. I get ideas for my store sometimes!”
The jeweler also plans to attend a GIA seminar or two and check in at the GIA booth. “I love going to talk to them and also some of the insurance people, too. There’s a wealth of things to do and learn at JCK.”
Eisen says she’s delighted with the move back to the Sands because she personally loves to stay at the Sands-adjacent Venetian Resort. But there’s one element she says she’d like the show team to carry over from its Mandalay Bay days: the attendants in the hallways holding the “Ask Me Anything” signs: “They are very beneficial to us retailers.” Don’t worry, Susan—they’ll be there!
Owner, Farmer’s Jewelry, Lexington, Ky.
“Going back to where we started will have an air of nostalgia, but it will also feel different,” says Bill Farmer, owner of Farmer’s Jewelry in Lexington, Ky., who was a speaker at the first JCK show in 1992. “We were part of the opening educational offerings,” he recalls. “My session was on ‘Winning Customer Service.’ ”
The retailer remembers spending time—professionally and socially—in rooms at the Sands that overlooked the thruway, where people walked in and out of the show. “If you had one of those rooms, you looked out and were able to watch the entirety of jewelry humanity walk before you,” he says. “It was so wild to watch everyone—from the high to the low to the you-don’t-know. We’d be having great fun up there, having drinks and being together, and everyone was walking around you.”
Farmer also remembers lots of impromptu parties after the show closed for the day. “Someone would say, ‘Hey, we’re staying here, come on up!’ Then you’re scrambling around trying to find something to drink. It was a little looser-feeling.”
This year the retailer and his buyer are looking for earrings, and “we’re always looking around for what’s new and different,” he adds. “We are so much online now that when it comes to buying jewelry that gets noticed on social media, it’s almost like you need something that’s photogenic first and then also wearable. You almost have to grab their attention before you can tell them anything about the product.”
Farmer adds that he’s excited to return to the Sands, “a familiar spot,” because “it’s where the seeds of great success were laid. We’re going back for another seeding, really. Let’s go back in for greatness!”
JCK and Luxury 2019: New Products, Neighborhoods, and More
Hoop earrings, especially in gold, are having a major moment—they’ve never been out of fashion, but they’re more on-trend than ever. And gold chains of all shapes and sizes are at the top of all buyers’ shopping lists this year. For these jewelry box basics, check out the always-on-point Royal Chain, Herco, and Midas Chain—all of which can be found in Currents, on level 2 of the Sands. And don’t forget to visit Bella Italia, the 80-brand section on level 2 just outside Luxury adjacent to the Plumb Club. After all, who does gold better than the Italians?
If you want to stop shoppers in their tracks, never underestimate the power and luminosity of an opal. For the most outrageous opals, visit Omi Privé, Parlé, and Yael Designs. If emeralds are more your thing, don’t miss the gobstoppers at Takat. And if you’re looking for dynamite diamonds to anchor your display, try Rahaminov and LJ West. Not surprisingly, you’ll find all these big-gem brands in Luxury.
You could devote a whole trip to famous Vegas films: 2009’s raucous The Hangover (FYI: No tigers allowed at Caesars Palace); 2001’s Rat Pack remake Ocean’s Eleven, which basically had the run of the house at the Bellagio; and, perhaps most famously, 1995’s Casino. To honor the Martin Scorsese–directed classic, dine at Oscar’s Steakhouse and drink at Atomic Liquors, Sin City’s oldest bar (the site of Joe Pesci’s ballpoint pen massacre).
Looking for new styles? Make a beeline to the Design Center, on level 2 of the Sands. Here you’ll find high-end gold and gemstone jewels (Dallas Prince Designs), sleek sterling silver (Frederic Duclos, Jorge Revilla), edgy international artists (Poland’s Eva Stone and Zaremski), colorful but not budget-breaking baubles (Mia Katrin for Jewel Couture, Trésor), must-have diamond basics (Liven Co.), and more. Plus: Nearly a dozen of the 55+ exhibitors are JCK newbies, including Cameo & Beyond, which does vintage-ish pieces in porcelain, and Judith Leiber, who is channeling her crystal-studded clutch designs into a costume jewelry line.
Days 1 and 2 of Luxury, May 29–30, are invitation-only, but when JCK opens on May 31, Luxury—on level 2 of the Venetian—is open to all showgoers. In the Luxury ballrooms, you’ll find these brands, whose designs can’t be confined to a booth alone: Forevermark, Gabriel & Co. (which moves to the JCK show floor on May 31), Le Vian, Tacori, Takat, and Verragio. And don’t assume these 250+ exhibitors are out of your price range; just because it’s called Luxury doesn’t mean it’s unattainable.
While you’re at Luxury, check out the show’s curated pavilions: Greek Jewels is a small but mighty assembly of brands such as the Byzantine-inspired Dimitrios Exclusive and the gold-strewn Samoli. Design@Luxury features artists known for handcrafted, high-end pieces: Alishan, Jennifer Dawes Design, and Just Jules, to name a few. And luxury fashion jewels rule at Prestige, home to such names as Evanueva (where you’ll find beaded necklaces in every gem imaginable), Fope (those how-did-they-do-that stretchy high-karat gold bracelets), and Lauren K (gorgeous, supersaturated colored gemstone styles).
The Essentials & Tech pavilion—located on level 1 between the Hong Kong and (new) Global Gemstone neighborhoods—houses about 175 companies. Here you’ll find everything from displays to lighting, from CAD/CAM software to 3D printers, from microscopes to laser engravers, and more. You can even grab something as simple as jewelry packaging.
The fall-winter 2019 fashion shows were practically dripping with big earrings, and we are totally on board with that. Remember: Oversize doesn’t necessarily mean overpriced; sterling silver statement earrings can be surprisingly reasonable—and pack a ton of visual pop. Plus, as we emphasized in our May issue, don’t be afraid to mix fine and fashion. On level 2, The Bridge—where you’ll find Les Georgettes by Altesse’s colorful interchangeable bracelets, Freida Rothman’s CZ-studded stacks, Vincent Peach’s leather-and-pearl pieces, and ultrachic Lucite drama designs by Alexis Bittar—is the perfect place to dip your toe into the costume jewelry waters.
GIA is holding three seminars at JCK Las Vegas—including two on identifying lab-grown diamonds, both on Friday, May 31, in Lando 4204, one from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and another from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. But that’s just the tip of the JCK Talks iceberg. Everyone’s favorite educational track comprises more than 50 info-packed sessions, speeches, presentations, and roundtables on such subjects as fashion trends, responsible sourcing, self-purchasers, e-commerce, omnichannel marketing, and much, much more. Visit lasvegas.jckonline.com for the full downloadable schedule. —Melissa Rose Bernardo
Top: Hera earrings with 5.01 cts. t.w. tanzanite, 7.97 cts. t.w. canary tourmaline, 0.63 ct. t.w. Brazilian Paraiba tourmaline, and 1.74 cts. t.w. diamond pavé in 18k yellow gold; $42,000; Erica Courtney; 323-938-2373; ericacourtney.com