JCK’s It List 2005

A list of who and what—people, places, brands, concepts, and products—the JCK editors predict will be newsmakers in 2006 and why. Watch for them.

Escada

The German fashion house has built a lifestyle brand targeting youthful, fashion-conscious women; meanwhile, the Pluczenik Group, its fine-jewelry partner, is one sightholder that gets the jewelry/fashion connection. They’re serious about creating desire, not just peddling product. Isn’t adding value what it’s all about?

Rosy Blue

The Indian übersightholder knows the value of diversity in product, people, and holdings. Its new cutting factory in South Africa was a timely strategic move. As Africa demands a larger share of the post–mining profit pie, sightholders around the world are suddenly anxious to cut there. But Rosy Blue—which knows about branding and covering the market—beat the rush. Being a key player around the world doesn’t hurt, either.

Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America

New chief executive officer Frank Dallahan has both a wide perspective on the industry and the skills to revitalize this moribund operation and make it a contender again. On tap: plans to help manufacturers learn about building a better business, not just making a better product, and to boost both the Expo show and AJM magazine. The well-respected Dallahan also should be able to quickly cement faded relationships with other associations.

De Beers

With its new stores and long-standing American legal issues possibly on the verge of being settled, look for the name to remain as synonymous with diamonds in the minds of the public as it ever was. Lots of personnel changes both here and in London, however, are causing more than a few raised eyebrows.

Diamond right-hand rings

After the hullabaloo about the DTC’s good ads/bad product, Tiffany & Co. has subtly, elegantly, placed the right-hand ring into its advertising for fall 2005. With only a picture of Shalom Harlow wearing a beautiful, fashionable—not overdesigned—diamond right-hand ring, the retailer may finally spark the sales we’ve all been waiting for in this category.

H. Stern

This Brazilian jeweler has tackled the international stage with fashion-savvy decisions. By growing quietly with strategic steps—like teaming with fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg to create an exclusive DVF jewelry line, or dedicating the necessary resources to cultivate Hollywood connections and snagging key red-carpet placements—H. Stern has gone from small jeweler to international fashion brand. When a drug scandal forced the brand to pull its pricey Kate Moss ad campaign in September, it ultimately gained ground as the H. Stern name appeared alongside megabrands like Chanel in media reports around the world. In 2006, it will begin opening 50 stores in Russia through a partnership with Lev Leviev.

Hip-hop culture

Perhaps no other demographic is as focused on jewelry as this. Hip-hop icons like Diddy (formerly P. Diddy) and Russell Simmons have made diamonds a necessity for any self-respecting fan. While this market and its fascination with jewelry continues to grow, and the hip-hop culture as a whole drives an estimated $10 billion industry, the jewelry retail outlets recognizing and catering to it remain sparse. Retailers that understand the vast potential of this market now will make a big splash this year—but hip-hop’s influence continues to trickle down, making the men’s jewelry category much more commonplace.

DIY elements at retail

Charm bracelets and beaded jewelry have several factors in common: They feature small, affordable components that can be added over time; they’re fun to own and talk about; and, perhaps most importantly, consumers can make and personalize them as they wish. (Links of London and Rembrandt Charms have already cashed in on the cachet of do-it-yourself charm bracelets.) Jewelers hoping to follow suit might set aside a DIY jewelry section in-store for making charm bracelets and creating beaded jewelry, or even consider offering jewelry-making classes for customers who want to try carving a piece in wax. Remember, good retail is about the experience as much as the product.

Online retail

As the eBays and Amazons of the world sell diamonds and commodity products to customers around the world, independent fine-jewelers are slowly realizing they can romance unique, beautiful jewelry and exquisite craftsmanship online too—at better markups. With more single-store independents launching impressive Web sites, customers across the globe can shop for distinctive merchandise without leaving their own towns. Jewelers, meanwhile, are gaining new customers, whether it’s to unveil their latest creations or unload their old dogs.

Niches

Single-niche stores offer a deep—yet edited—selection of product in a distinctive shopping environment. Successful examples include Tiffany’s pearl-only Iridesse shops; charm-only stores like the World of Charms chain; and a new venture by an Indianapolis jeweler called Preston’s Rocks, a diamonds-only store for the echo-boomer generation. As competition grows both online and off, and the broad-based middle market dissipates in favor of high-end or low-end specialization, becoming a niche destination is one way for independent jewelers to set themselves apart.

Affordable mechanical watches

In an era of ubiquitous quartz watches and expensive luxury mechanicals, stylish and affordable automatic (self-winding) watches will be a growing category. Two major mass marketers—Timex and E. Gluck Corp. (maker of Anne Klein and Armitron watches)—have unveiled men’s automatics retailing for under $200, while midprice automatics are offered by National Geographic’s Pharaoh line and the relaunched Hilton brand. Even multimillionaire celebrity/entrepreneur Donald Trump is fired up about the category: Gluck’s classically styled Donald Trump Signature Collection is the first watch line to carry his name.

Ceramic watches

Expect more brands to pick up on this lightweight, high-tech, tough, and scratch-resistant material. Rado’s DiaStar first used it two decades ago, and Chanel gave the material its fashion blessing in 2000 with its all-ceramic J12 watch. Now, more brands are using high-tech ceramics for cases and bracelets, including Anne Klein New York, Versace, Lancaster, TechnoMarine, Hidalgo, Festina, Rado, and Hublot.

GIA’s International Gemological Symposium

This once-every-decade gathering of the best gemological minds and industry VIPs is slated for August 2006. It’s sure to yield groundbreaking information about both business and science—in and out of the lecture halls. New this year: a pre-Symposium technological conference for the scientific crowd.

More debate on HPHT diamonds

At GIA’s last Symposium in 1999, Maurice Tempelsman announced to the world that Lazare Kaplan—along with General Electric—had perfected what Mother Nature started, using high pressure and high temperature to create colorless diamonds from top light browns. Tempelsman also said that laboratories couldn’t identify the enhancement. While the Swiss Foundation for the Research of Gemstones (SSEF), Gübelin Gem Lab, Gemological Institute of America, and De Beers have all developed ways to identify the majority of treated diamonds, don’t be surprised if Tempelsman was right after all—2006 may be the year many GIA grading reports say “color origin undetermined” for colorless Flawless, IF, and VVS clarity diamonds.

Columbia Gem House and Fair Trade Gems

Social responsibility is moving to the forefront of gem mining, but Eric Braunwart, owner of Columbia Gem House in Vancouver, Wash., already sources his Fair Trade Gems only from mines that respect the environment and provide fair conditions for workers. Columbia’s cutting factory in China pays its workers three times the minimum wage and provides benefits like room and board; paid vacation; medical, disability, and unemployment insurance; and an annual bonus, says the firm’s Web site. Columbia is a member of Co-op America, which supports responsible consumer choices. Braunwart also gives his distinctively cut gems branded names, offers retailers in-store programs, and speaks publicly about responsible sourcing.

The price of tanzanite

TanzaniteOne has been streamlining its mining operation to efficiently control consistent production, allowing it to better implement quality grading of rough before packaging and pricing its tanzanite sight parcels. Expect—as announced early in 2005—the company to follow its own script and lower prices of lower-quality material and raise prices of higher-quality material.

Rising interest in emeralds

Late this year at least two tour groups of American jewelers and trade journalists visited Colombia’s emerald mines, so watch for emerald promotions as well as lively discussions about treatments and origins, including debates over the benefits of enhancements. Also expect spirited arguments about whether or not there are downsides to buying Colombian emeralds, or if you should consider buying from other localities.

60-60s

For many years, educated consumers clamored for Ideal-cut diamonds, egged on by pro-Ideal propaganda on the Internet and from enthused retailers. Now the Gemological Institute of America—which has long said that while Ideal cuts are beautiful, they are not the scientific ultimate in cutting—is enshrining this in its first-ever cut grade, debuting next month. The American Gem Society’s lab, which helped spread the gospel of the Ideal, also is broadening its definition of top cuts, so expect to see well-cut 60-60s make a significant comeback—which many diamond dealers will welcome.

“Politically correct” diamonds

The industry may have thought the conflict-diamond dragon slain, but Kanye West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” and continued media coverage show that this and other politically charged issues will likely remain a concern for consumers. Look for more jewelry manufacturers to stress the positive effects their stones are having on the countries that mine them, much like Russell Simmons did when he announced his new jewelry line would benefit children of Sierra Leone. And with nongovernmental organizations now targeting alluvial diamonds, look for more attention to be paid to how diamonds are mined—and for savvy marketers to make that a selling point for consumers.

Tech-efficient stores

More jewelry stores are being fitted with additional data ports to house computerized kiosks or laptop computers for consumers to use, says Keith Kovar of Grid/3 International, an interior-design firm in New York City. These computers, among other uses, help customers find additional store inventory and make it easier for them to get the custom design they want.

Computers that feel

A recently released computer-aided design (CAD) program mimics the feel of molding clay. ClayTools System from SensAble Technologies simulates clay consistency and allows jewelry designers to feel the resistance of the object they are “sculpting” on their computer screens. Watch for other software companies to introduce more programs that simulate the sensation of hands-on creation.

RSS

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) allows Internet users to quickly view content from their favorite Web sites, automatically updated in the form of a feed. The content within each RSS feed contains article headlines, summaries, and links back to full-text articles on the Web site. At present it’s used primarily for news feeds, but retailers also are using it because it can’t be spammed, and it goes to people who are interested in their products, increasing customer loyalty.