Las Vegas 2004: The Boom Is Back

If there was any doubt that the economy is in recovery and that the jewelry industry is back, all one had to do was attend The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas. The event, held June 4-8 at the Sands Expo & Convention Center, was crowded with jewelers eager to buy. In nearly all cases, exhibitors reported strong to extremely strong sales. This also held true for the Luxury by JCK Show, held May 31-June 3 at the Venetian. JCK Show officials said that this year’s attendance figures were good and would probably top those of 2003. However, show officials don’t release attendance figures, a practice it started about two years ago.

Second year of change. This year, The JCK Show was organized into 13 core pavilions—Antique & Estate, AGTA’s GEMFAIR Cultured Pearl & Jewelry, Design Center, Diamond Plaza, Hall of Time, LUXURY Collection, Equipment/Technology/Service/Supplies, Galleria, Platinum Pavilion, The Plumb Club, Prestige Promenade, StyleMakers, and World’s Fair—plus the LUXURY Swiss Watch Show, which was held in private suites in the adjacent Venetian Hotel. Segmenting the show aimed to make it easier for buyers to find what they needed. Some of the changes implemented last year resulted in a bit of confusion, but with a year for buyers to get used to the new arrangement—along with some improvements on the show floor—exhibitors seemed happy.

“Traffic is much improved over last year,” said Manos Phoundoulakis of Kubik, a German-based creator of platinum and 18k gold jewelry, whose booth was located inside the Design Center. Susan Warner, also of Kubik, noted that attendees seemed more positive and optimistic. “There’s a different feeling this year,” she said. “People are much happier.”

Another Design Center tenant, Francesca Bertelli of Me & Ro, agreed. “Up to now we have had a few new people and a couple down the road,” she said. “We have some big new accounts. It’s one of the main reasons we come to the show.”

“The show has been very good,” said Moshin Tapia, general manager of sales and marketing for Jewel Art, a jewelry manufacturer based in Mumbai, India, which had its booth in the World’s Fair section. “It’s busy. Most of our appointments are fixed, but we have had some new customers.”

Tim Lawrence, president of the U.S. division of Hot Diamonds, a British jewelry firm, was delighted with his company’s results. “Phenomenal,” he said. “Saturday [the second day of the show] was our record sales day—ever!” The brand’s new “Hot Diamonds Squared” line drew especially strong interest, and the stand was often so crowded that the throng overflowed into the adjoining corner booth.

Not everyone was satisfied with the show. Some European exhibitors in the World’s Fair section said at its end that their business had been—as one German exhibitor put it—”just so-so.” The culprit, they said, was the strong euro, which made products of European vendors more expensive for Americans than those of competitors from other countries.

And some watch exhibitors in the reorganized and renamed Hall of Time were surprised—and unhappy—to find that the Hall still included a number of non-watch vendors, including engraving, gift, repair, and diamond jewelry people, and that Hall of Time’s overhead aisle signs carried a promotion of a diamond jewelry vendor in the section, not a watch company.

Keynotes and seminars. The keynote speaker for this year’s JCK Show was Ivana Trump, former wife of real estate mogul Donald Trump. She spoke about the importance of store branding and how she and “the Donald” built the Trump brand, as well as describing her experiences and relationships as a jewelry connoisseur.

Robin Leach, host of television’s long-running Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, presented the keynote address at the opening breakfast for the Luxury by JCK Show.

Leach emphasized the role jewelry plays as part of the luxury lifestyle, and he stressed the importance of both luxury and lifestyle as consumer categories. He also discussed the pervasiveness of the celebrity culture in the United States and outlined ideas jewelers can use to tap into the celebrity mystique in their own stores.

In a break with tradition, The JCK Show seminars were held for one day (June 3) instead of two. However, organizers added five roundtable discussions during the show on the topics of colored gemstones, employee training, and diamond industry changes and concerns. A two-part presentation by the Diamond Promotion Service addressed the evolution of the diamond industry and store branding.

The regular seminars dealt with a variety of topics including gemstones, diamonds, Internet issues, pearl grading, business issues, platinum selling, marketing reports, and legal topics.

New kids on the block. Several companies and associations introduced new products, services, and marketing initiatives at the show. Among them:

  • Jewelry manufacturer Super Bell, Los Angeles, held an event at Caesar’s Palace for its retailer-customers to hear a presentation on the company’s Jewelry Club House. The company is trying to compile a network of retailers to invest in and provide consumer support for a Web site that will sell to consumers around the country.

  • The Italian Trade Commission unveiled a new marketing campaign that featured a full-page ad in the JCKShow Daily with the words “Feel the passion” followed by “Italian Jewelry, the tradition of beauty.” The ad was unveiled at a breakfast sponsored by the ITC on Saturday, June 5.

The European influence. Exhibitors at The JCK Show reinforced trends established earlier this year by European designers and manufacturers. There is little doubt that the strongest trends for fall and winter remain the linear earring and a focus on bracelets—especially those of significant size that feature open links, lattice-work designs, or other cutouts to lend a light and airy feeling.

One of the strongest—and still growing—categories is versatile styles. From interchangeable stones to adjustable necklaces to detachable pendants, anything that features several options is hot as jewelers continue to pursue self-purchasing females, a market segment that’s enticed by designs that are practical as well as beautiful.

Yellow gold continues to be the “hot” color for fashion-forward designers and the consumers who love them. As a steppingstone from white to yellow, many manufacturers and designers are offering two-tone styles. (Tricolor gold also seems to be staging a surprising comeback at the hands of leading designers.)

“If you’ve got one piece in white metal and one in yellow, you can wear both—you just need one essential piece [of two-tone],” said designer Aaron Henry Furlong, who was among those showing new creations in white and yellow combinations.

Color, however, is the strongest trend, with everything from the least expensive semiprecious stone to the rarest colored diamond enjoying the spotlight. With the rainbows of color on display, discerning a trend was difficult, but purples and greens seem to be the strongest colors for fall and winter fashions. Fancy colored diamonds, meanwhile, are being seen in more fashionable—rather than classic—designs by manufacturers ranging from Siera to Suna Brothers.

“We had so many requests for colored diamonds that we decided it was something that we needed to do,” said Ann Storm of Peter Storm, regarding a new line of diamond bands with fancy yellow accents. As if to underscore the rising interest in colored diamonds, the fledgling Natural Colored Diamond Association hosted a breakfast on Monday, June 7, to help boost membership. Noted colored-diamond expert and collector Alan Bronstein was the keynote speaker.

Generally, silhouettes are super-sized—from larger center-stone rings by Hubert Gem to dramatic multi-hoop drop earrings by Makur. “Everybody wants bigger,” said Makur’s Masis Hagopian. “That’s what’s selling right now.”

More and more nontraditional materials also continue to be strong sellers. The cuffs of seasons past are still hot, with fresh styles—like Rebecca Norman’s, which feature gemstones set directly onto the cuff—emerging at the show. Items like S & R Design’s large leather disc pendants—with gold or silver openwork medallions that sit flush above them—are examples of the newest take on this trend.

In contrast (or perhaps rebellion) to the over-the-top frou-frou factor of last season’s chandeliers, sleeker and more geometric Art Deco inspirations are increasingly popular. The use of Deco’s favorite stone, onyx, is on the rise with designers like Michael Bondanza featuring the luminous black stone in strong shapes.

Finally, in keeping with the growing partnership between fashion and fine jewels, modern brooches—promoted on the runways of fashion designers at the most recent shows in New York—were moving well at the show. Their popularity was somewhat surprising given the scarcity of new designs in this category.

AGTA Show: Gemstones and pearls. The AGTA Show was held June 3-7 in the ballroom adjacent to The JCK Show where it has been held for several years. The show has been a success for the organization, and this year’s edition was no exception: The floor was busy and business was good. But exposure at the show is just as important as selling. Some people who stop by but don’t buy may end up purchasing sometime down the road, said Francis Nozigilia of ProVockative Gems Inc., New York.

While pink sapphire still highlights lines from colored-stone jewelry manufacturers, loose stones appear to be in rather short supply. Madagascar, the leading supplier of sapphire rough, reportedly has no current production of pinks. And in the past few years, much of the Madagascan pink sapphire has been used for creating beryllium-treated padparadschas, reducing even further the total amount of available pink rough. Still, a good number of AGTA colored-stone suppliers had a nice—albeit small—selection for special one-of-a-kind orders.

Blue sapphires, on the other hand, were in plentiful supply, with trays of all sizes and saturated even-colored unheated Madagascan, Sri Lankan, and Burmese stones. Even with blue, beryllium is always a possibility, so it’s important to always ask for enhancement disclosure. The comfort level was high in the AGTA ballroom and in the International German section, where most suppliers labeled their goods. However, throughout the rest of the show, it was sometimes necessary to do a little intense prodding of suppliers to determine whether or not the stones had been enhanced. Most signage was for unheated, natural sapphire, but at least one AGTA dealer was not afraid to have his beryllium-enhanced briolettes prominently labeled as such.

Bead suppliers were busy, as anything beaded was popular. AGTA executive director Doug Hucker’s “Add More Color to Your Life” presentation on Thursday made a huge impression on numerous buyers, who then went looking for big pastels, blues, and pinks—which translated into beryl, garnet, and chalcedony beads. JCK gemstone editor Gary Roskin’s “Mined in America” presentation had a similar effect, with numerous buyers subsequently showing up at the booth of Fine Gems International, Helena, Mont., looking for traditionally heated Montana sapphires. And luxury consultant Paula Petersen’s presentations at both The JCK Show and Luxury by JCK underscored the rising importance of sea-inspired blue tones in design.

Round pearls were still on a roll, as Chinese freshwaters and inexpensive Tahitians continue to dominate the category. After a two-year drought of fine-quality large, round Chinese freshwater cultured pearls, a small number of pearl merchants—like Freeman Pearl Co., Los Angeles—finally had acquired some splendid stock. Some of the finest rounds measured 10 mm to 13 mm, showing few blemishes, nice even colors, and high natural luster. Dazzling metallic luster was seen on a number of trays of Chinese freshwaters at nearby booths, leading some to believe it was too good to be true, i.e., that there must be some kind of polishing or coating enhancement being done.

Briolettes are still hot and were seen in sapphires, tourmalines, quartzes, chalcedonies, and garnets, among others. Again, speaker Petersen identified the “teardrop” shape—including briolette cuts—as an important trend in design for the next few years.

In addition to the usual stones, some surprising gem materials appeared: They looked like variscite, a green brown-veined material found in the Southwest, but were identified as either old stocks of unsalable chrysoprase, or dyed/stabilized limestone.

Alexandrites were more plentiful this year than in any recent year, as new discoveries and good supplies from India, Madagascar, and Brazil have helped boost the gem’s recognition. But most dealers agreed that alexandrite has always been a “memo stone,” not a strong seller.

Diamonds. Most diamond dealers shared in the general good feelings, with many reporting better sales than they’ve had in years, particularly to independents. “After three years, the independents have finally run out of inventory,” one banker said wryly.

Overall, many thought the mood had improved.

“There is an optimism in the air,” said Itchy Heshl of J. Kleinhaus in New York.

“Our business is up,” said Isaac Gad of True Romance. “Independents came to the show very confident about the coming season.”

The big sellers were princess cuts, now undoubtedly the most popular fancy shape, with prices increasing, by some estimates, as much as 10% over the past year. Asscher and other square cuts also did well.

Colored diamonds were in abundance at the show, particularly yellows, but that made buyers nervous as they wondered whether the stones were treated or even synthetic.

Three-stone diamond jewelry remained hot, with some expressing amazement that the trend still had considerable life in it. Most were optimistic about the plan by De Beers’ Diamond Trading Company to tie the style into anniversaries.

But reviews for the right-hand ring, De Beers’ newest product, weren’t so good. Both retailers and manufacturers hated the current designs, and while quite a few said they had faith in the concept, they noted it was not a right-off-the-bat hit as the three-stone ring had been. Some felt that De Beers had not gone all out in support of the ring, noting that the company had not aired a TV commercial. “If De Beers isn’t going to really get behind it, why should we?” one retailer asked.

The winners of the JCK/DPS Right-Hand Ring Design Competition were announced during The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas. Winners were Andrew Fox for Hansa, Caressa by DesignWorks, Coomi Bhasin, Daniel K., Escada by Universal Pacific, Fusaro, Gumuchian Fils, Hearts On Fire, M & M Diamond Imports, M. Fabrikant & Sons, Nouveau 1910, OGI Ltd., Ritani, Robin Garin for Verigold Jewelry, Rowena Maloco for Eugene Biro, Samuel Aaron International, Stefan Hafner for Bernard Grosz, Stuller Inc., Suna Bros. Inc., and Vassi Inc. Photos of the winning designs will appear in the August issue of JCK.

Equipment, Technology, andSupplies (ETS). The ETS pavilion provided the best case study on how the new show organization works. In 2003, show organizers decided to move most of the 100-plus exhibitors (including interior design and architectural firms, equipment manufacturers, lighting companies, fixture and display manufacturers, and display and packaging manufacturers) into several first-floor conference rooms. At the time, exhibitors complained that people would not be able to find them outside the main show floor—and, in fact, it was difficult for many people to find their booths. However, buyers did come, and those who did were looking to do more than “kick the tires.”

With a second year to get used to the new arrangement, and with much better signage for the area, customers descended on the area in droves. As it was last year, the area was divided into three sections. Those in the first section received the most traffic, with a gradual drop off in visitors to the second and third sections. Although the third section received the least amount of traffic, the volume of visitors was much improved over last year’s.

George Halvatzis, vice president of Econo-Lite Products, a Jersey City, N.J., lighting manufacturer, moved there for the first time this year and at first wasn’t happy about the location. He soon changed his opinion. He was promoting the company’s new 70-watt metal halide track fixture, which provides 16,000 hours of white light and can light a five-foot span when situated six feet above the case. On Sunday, he said the new light was attracting a lot of interest, and what he first thought was a bad location turned out to be a good place to showcase the new light. “There’s a lot of interest in the product,” he said. “It’s been a good show for us.”

Mervyn Rudgley, senior director product manager of 3D Systems, Valencia, Calif., was attending his first JCK Show ~ Las Vegas, introducing a new product. An engineer by trade, he goes to conferences largely attended by engineers and had an unusual perspective on The JCK Show. “This is a very interesting show for us because people buy things here,” he said. “We’ve sold some [product] off the show floor.” He explained that at most of the conferences he attends, people don’t buy product: They return to their offices and consult with associates before placing an order.

Rudgley was at the show to promote 3D’s new product, the InVision HR 3-D Printer that produces high-quality production casting patterns or presentation models directly from jewelry design or 3-D CAD software. It uses technology based on ink-jet printing, but instead of using ink, the InVision machine deposits an acrylic photopolymer to create a solid model. The plastic-like material is deposited layer-by-layer until a three-dimensional object is formed.

Herb Schottland of Store Design and Fixturing in Chapel Hill, N.C., said the show had been “pretty good” for his company, which designs interiors and floor plans. “I don’t think there are as many bodies as last year, but those who come here are really serious and that’s what counts.”

The story was even more positive at GRID/3 International Inc., a New York-based interior design firm. Ruth Mellergaard, principal of the firm, said that Saturday and Sunday were two of the busiest days at the show. “Sunday was absolutely crazy,” she said. Keith Kovar, another principal with the firm, added that all of the people coming to their booth were serious about expanding or renovating, and not just curious.

Keely Grice of Grice Showcase & Display Manufacturing Inc., Charlotte, N.C., concurred about the positive numbers and the seriousness of the buyers.

“The numbers are up and there are good-quality clients all around,” he said. “This area has reduced the number of tire-kickers for all of us. Those who come here are serious. You just don’t wander into this area.”

He adds that customers are specifying much more wood and wood veneer display cases than in the past. “There’s been a dramatic increase in the past 24 months,” he said. “Five years ago we sold 99% laminate. Now it’s 80% laminate and 20% wood.”

The ModelMaster booth drew huge crowds. The Woodstock, Ga., company builds model-making machines for the jewelry and awards industries. One item the company featured at the show was a product from ArtCam, a British company, that allows a digital picture to be transformed into a cameo that can be engraved into any piece of jewelry. The product can take the item from photo to finished relief in 15 minutes, said Randy Hays of ModelMaster. “Traffic has been good,” Hays said. “People are optimistic.”

Watches. Business at The JCK Show’s revamped watch section, the Hall of Time, lived up to its acronym—H.O.T. Aisles teemed with retailers, and business was brisk, said many of the 140-plus watch and watch accessory exhibitors, citing retailers’ more upbeat mood, their need to rebuild inventory, and the recovering economy.

Many reported significant gains over the 2003 show. Speidel “doubled our sales from last year,” said president Jeffrey R. Massotti. Philippe Charrioll had “our busiest show ever,” noted Ori Zemer, director of marketing. “Great show,” said both Francie Abrahams, Bulova’s vice president of marketing, and Stuart Kerzner, president of Lancaster USA. Croton had “fantastic response” to its new, affordable Croton Reserve watches, said vice president Eli Mermelstein. Jewelry makers with watch lines, like Oro Diamante, Rialto, and LeVian, also had strong sales. “A truly great show,” said David Zar, president of LeVian watches, adding that sales were “sold out.”

Prestige brands in the fair’s by-appointment-only Luxury Swiss Watch gallery (in the adjoining Venetian Hotel) also did well. “The show was phenomenal,” said Stacie Orloff, Corum USA president, especially for its spaghetti-thin Debutante gem bracelet watch with petite clip-on case. “Last year, people were more solemn, ordering less, selling down inventory and reviewing stock. Now, they’re jazzing up assortments and ordering.”

Strong sales and buyer confidence also were cited by representatives of upscale brands like Breitling, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Carl F. Bucherer, who were meeting clients at Las Vegas hotels outside the show.

“Oval” and “sideways” described the prevalent design of new watches at The JCK Show, and in all sizes, from petite (LeVian’s Delano, Ecclissi’s Bali) to mid-size (Lorzeno Possan, Trebor’s black-on-black L’Ovale, Effy) to big (Tiret, Festina, Robert Lighton). Many were “east/west,” though there were striking vertical designs as well.

Other trends included cuff watches; unusual watchband materials such as stingray, python, and ostrich; interchangeable watchbands; large and oversized watches, a trend that’s spreading to the main stream; women’s “mini” watches; more debuts of diamond watches for both women and men; and women’s watches with colored gemstones.

Gold watches also did well at the show. Brands with niches in 18k (such as Baume & Mercier) and 14k (like Cyma) reported strong sales and interest by fine-watch retailers.

Sterling silver watches also sparkled, including Ecclissi’s Bali collection (with east/west oval and rectangular casing), John Hardy’s Kali cuff watches, and Peugeot’s affordable evening-wear Couture line.

Watches with multiple time zones (GMTs and travelers’ watches) also remain an active niche.

Social events. The whirlwind of social activity began with the official JCK Welcome Reception and Product Preview held June 4. The Bellagio Hotel and Casino was the backdrop for the reception with food and drink in the grand ballroom. The evening ended with a performance by retro-classic Deney Terrio and The Boogie Nights.

Among the other JCK-inspired events were the 11th Annual Designer’s Live Auction, which featured one-of-a-kind jewels and art pieces created by JCK Show designers. Proceeds benefited The Future of Design Education Fund. The JCK Silent Auction offered bidders a variety of jewelry, gemstones, watches, and jewelry-related items. Proceeds from the Silent Auction are allocated among the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Jewelers’ Security Alliance, Jewelers Education Foundation, and the Jewelry Information Center.

The Plumb Club’s annual dinner—held in the Grand Ballroom at Caesars Palace—this year welcomed 1,500 attendees, the most ever. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld entertained the guests at dinner.

At the Facets of Hope dinner, the annual gala fund-raiser event of the Jewelers Charity Fund for Children, the industry’s charity gave $3.8 million raised in the preceding 12 months to charities that aid children: The Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Research Network, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the National CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) Association. The event, attended by 2,188 top industry officials and guests from various organizations and companies, honored Fred Dayoob, president and CEO of Fred Meyers Jewelers, and Susan Jacques, president and CEO of Borsheim’s. The gala also raised $70,000 in a live auction following the dinner for three “Diamond Diva” portraits (each composed of 500 cts. of diamonds) of screen legends Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and Bette Davis. The portraits were donated by the Kwiat Co. Altogether, with other fund-raisers connected with The JCK Show, JFC raised $158,570 for the industry’s charity work. The JFC golf tournament brought in $9,150; the Luxury silent auction, $7,300; and raffling of a 2004 VW convertible, donated by the Stuckey Co., $37,000.

In the spirit of Las Vegas, the True Romance brand of bridal jewelry rented out the Graceland Wedding Chapel on Friday, June 4, for an extra special celebration: a party and a wedding. Dozens of True Romance patrons enjoyed the clever celebration, which included an Elvis impersonator who doubled as the minister for the evening. A couple, married for 39 years, renewed their vows in a tiny on-site chapel packed with True Romance partygoers. True Romance presented the couple with a diamond ring.