JCK Show ~ Las Vegas Ends On a Positive Note

By most accounts, business was brisk and the mood upbeat at the 2006 JCK Show ~ Las Vegas. High-end exhibitors reported strong buying, but the feeling wasn’t unanimous, as the low- and midlevel sectors struggled with high metals prices and cautious buyers.

The seven-day event, featuring 2,989 exhibitors, opened with a two-day educational conference program and a keynote presentation by comedian Joan Rivers. Among special highlights of the show were a new VicenzaOro Italian pavilion that featured 170 exhibitors from Italy in a new ballroom setting, and a redesign and rededication of the Prestige Promenade pavilion of high-end exhibitors on the main show floor. The Design Center hosted its first annual Designer Retailer of the Year award, presenting the inaugural title to Marie Helene Morrow, president of Reinhold Jewelers of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

At press time, buyer attendance figures had not been fully audited, but vice president Dave Bonaparte of the JCK Show management team expects attendance to be on par with last year’s figure of 19,087 true wholesalers and retailers.

STYLE AND DESIGN: THE NEXT SILHOUETTE

The jewelry shows in Las Vegas offered the first fresh take on overall jewelry style in several seasons. The beautiful but played-out layering and draping trend that has driven the fashion end of the fine-jewelry market for two years has relinquished its grip, making way for a new, streamlined (and retro-feeling) silhouette.

Among the dominant new trends was the combination of button or short drop earrings with choker-length necklaces, especially in color and reminiscent of styles favored by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor in the 1950s.

The popular shapes of the season are pear and marquise (in both design elements and gemstone cuts), along with a new take on the ubiquitous circle and disc—their 3-D relative, the sphere. Color, consistent with fashion, remains en vogue but takes on more vibrant hues this year. Blues and greens are richer, and fiery reds and oranges show strength heading into the fall and winter seasons. Some other trends that were noted include:

  • Gold by any other color. Black gold is trendy, lending an antique feel to diamond pieces, and pink gold—long the province of the high-end design sector—has gone mainstream. Brown and green golds are on the rise.

  • Statement gems. Bold cocktail rings, especially featuring cabochon cuts or interesting top-only faceting, such as checkerboard or rose cuts.

  • Lightening up. Likely the result of gold’s rising cost, light and airy silhouettes led the pack in metal-intense pieces. Lace, lattice, and other cutout styles are strong gold jewelry trends, while two-tone designs (driven by price-conscious sterling silver and gold combinations) are making a surprising comeback—in traditional yellow and white or more fashion-forward pink and white versions.

DIAMONDS AND GEMSTONES

Business in the diamond sector was mixed. Companies with high-profile advertising campaigns did well, but others reported slower foot traffic and cautious buying among retailers. Yet by the end of the show, the consensus was that business overall was generally better than expected. Because diamond prices have stabilized—and in some cases dropped—the sector fared better than other categories where price volatility was still frightening off buyers. But the depressed state of rough prices remains a major concern, and the pipeline remains clogged with excess inventory.

The Diamond Promotion Service kicked off its latest diamond jewelry product campaign, “Journey,” at a retailer breakfast Sunday morning. The new category concept was so named because each product will have a series of diamonds in steadily increasing sizes to represent the path and growth of a couple’s love. The concept and sample products on display at various manufacturers were well received.

In colored gemstones, the “barbell” effect was also evident in the AGTA pavilion as sales on the low end and the high end were both strong while the middle was soft. On the low end, retailers sought stones that traditionally offer a lot of look for minimal money (amethyst, citrine, and new beryllium-treated blue sapphire), while on the high end, very fine untreated stones were in demand. Pearls, however, performed well across the board, with the high end, midrange, and low end all finding an audience among attending retailers.

GOOD TIMES

Retailers may have a love-hate relationship with watches as a category, but at the 2006 JCK Show ~ Las Vegas, they seemed to love them. Watch exhibitors, including those participating in the simultaneous invitation-only Swiss Watch by JCK show, generally said they did good business, and some reported “very good” and “outstanding” results. However, others said foot traffic seemed lighter than last year’s, and some exhibiting in the main show said its ambience—especially the abundance of advertising signs and small and large hanging banners—should be upgraded, comparing it unfavorably with other international shows like Basel, Switzerland, and Geneva’s.

The watch section saw the addition of some notable booth areas, especially Franck Muller’s replica of its Geneva headquarters.

Exhibitors had plenty of positive comments. Larry Lich, president of Festina USA, said, “This has been an unbelievable show,” citing the company’s 18k Gold Collection as “the essence of this show, for us.”

“We’re ahead of last year’s business, in the double digits, and we’ve gained new customers,” said Linda Passaro, U.S. general manager of Longines, exhibiting at Swiss Watch by JCK.

“This was our best show in five years,” said R. Guy Gordon, chief marketing officer of Wenger Swiss-made watches, which has significantly revamped its line.

HIGH TECH

Overall, technology and equipment exhibitors seemed pleased with results at the show, finding plenty of interest from retailers in a wide variety of new products and services. The sector wasn’t without its complaints, however, as some exhibitors resented being housed in a series of ballrooms on the lower level of the Venetian hotel and separated from the main part of the show; they felt foot traffic was light. They also complained about the rooms being warm and a lack of cell-phone reception.

In general, buyers expressed a lot of interest in new design software applications (computer-aided design), new computer-aided-manufacturing solutions, and improved laser welders. Other exhibitors who said jewelers were interested in specific products included Rosenthal Jewelers Supply, introducing a new PC-controlled digital photography studio; ASC, introducing a redesigned point-of-sale system with touch-screen technology, as well as a new Platinum Rewards loyalty program jewelers can offer customers; ToolCrafter and its new J3T Ringmaster metal ring cutter for bench jewelers; 3Design with a new, improved version of its popular design software, 3D CAD (version 4); and Rofin’s next- generation marking laser (SL Manual 1).

Numerous equipment and supply companies said the 2006 JCK Show ~ Las Vegas was the first time they marketed directly to retailers and bench jewelers; previously they had exhibited only at manufacturer-oriented shows like MJSA Expo. And in the case of the digital photography studio, the show marked the first time its manufacturer, Ortery Technologies, has offered the system to jewelers.

This trend may be an indication that more retailers are taking on custom repairs and design in-house, as a way to upgrade their image and set themselves apart from the competition.

THE STARS SHINE ALL DAY

Who needs Hollywood or New York nightlife? The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas 2006 had celebrities and parties to satisfy the most fun-savoring, starry-eyed enthusiasts. Among these were the industry charity, Jewelers for Children, hosting its annual Facets of Hope fund-raising gala dinner (at which it presented $4.5 million to the children’s charities it supports); LeVian’s annual Red Carpet Revue, this year featuring winners and contenders of recent Mrs. America pageants; Platinum Guild International’s Sunday morning breakfast fashion show; the Diamond Promotion Service’s official launch of the “Journey” campaign; the annual Women’s Jewelry Association DIVA party; and nighttime parties by various watch and jewelry brands, including Chris Aire, David Yurman, Hearts On Fire, Ritmo, and Von Dutch.

Some of the celebrities on hand at The JCK Show, the preceding LUXURY by JCK event, and other events included keynote speaker and comedian Joan Rivers; basketball great and celebrity bad boy Dennis Rodman; TV soap legend Deidre Hall; singing star Celine Dion; actress Vivica A. Fox and reggae/hip-hop singer Shaggy (at designer Chris Aire’s midnight fashion show atop Pure, Las Vegas’s most popular club); American Idol judge and musician Randy Jackson (launching with Ritmo watches his self-named watch collection); global lifestyle accessories tycoon and model Kathy Ireland; the classic R&B soul band Earth, Wind & Fire entertaining attendees at LUXURY by JCK; comedian Ben Stein entertaining guests of the Indo Argyle Diamond Council; and Phil Gordon, international poker champion, taking on all comers at the Sector Group watch booth. (Coincidently, Omega—a sponsor of the new James Bond movie —had a poker table in its suite at Swiss Watch by JCK and a professional poker player ready for anyone wanting to play a hand.)

Even celebrities not there in person were represented: A couple depicting the famous golden girl and the villainous Oddjob from the movie Goldfinger strolled the show’s aisles for Festina’s 18k gold watch collection. New, edgy, upscale fashion watch brand Von Dutch displayed a “million- dollar microphone,” covered in diamonds, used by Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx in the film Ray, and a motorcycle customized by legendary ’50s designer Von Dutch.

THE SERIOUS SIDE

Despite the festive atmosphere and upbeat mood, there remained an undercurrent of concern about both financial and social issues in the industry. The Council for Responsible Jewellery Practices hosted sessions to help jewelers answer customer questions that might arise from the upcoming Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Blood Diamond, slated for release late 2006/early 2007, while diamantaire Martin Rapaport teamed up with colored-gem dealer Eric Braunwart to launch a new initiative focusing on Fair Trade Jewelry. Under this initiative, traded stones would not only be conflict free but also mined and manufactured under fair labor conditions. In addition, finished-jewelry factories around the world would adhere to fair labor practices.

The industry’s bankers discussed the state of finances—at present under pressure from price volatility, shrinking margins, and rising interest rates—at the Rapaport Bankers Forum. The panel predicted more mergers, bankruptcies, and consolidations in both the manufacturing and retail sectors, with those serving the middle market bearing the brunt.