They came from all over Italy and much of the world to the tiny Italian hill town of Arezzo to view beautiful, innovative, and unique gold-jewelry designs. And the designers and manufacturers from Arezzo and its neighboring provinces in the Tuscany region of Italy didn’t disappoint during the OroArezzo trade show, held April 9–13 at the Arezzo Trade and Meeting Centre.
The province of Arezzo, with more than 1,600 precious-metal jewelry firms (including 1,185 artisan workshops), is one of the world’s most important centers for crafted gold jewelry, and to a lesser extent silver and platinum jewelry. Arezzo’s precious-metal factories are known for innovative jewelry design, which makes this trade show, along with VicenzaOro, a popular destination for the world’s jewelry buyers. From 1999 to 2004, the number of visitors to the trade show increased 45 percent, reaching 6,668. Show organizers, the Central Promozioni e Servizi, and the Italian Trade Commission said 6,869 persons attended this year’s show—a 3 percent increase over the previous year.
This year’s show offered new creative designs; more traditional solid-gold fare; mixed jewelry pieces incorporating precious and semiprecious stones and pearls; silver jewelry; and even innovative use of unusual materials, such as silk, stainless steel, and rubber.
One clear trend was the use of finely woven gold mesh, in some cases half the thickness of a human hair, shaped and molded into elaborate necklaces, earrings, brooches, and bracelets. Color was also evident in many of the designs.
One firm from the region combining innovative gold-mesh designs with color is MetalOrafa. The company molded gold mesh into a variety of complementary floral arrangements for necklaces, rings, and bracelets. When not using mesh to create flowers, MetalOrafa uses it to string long braided necklaces.
But it is the introduction of color, particularly blue and brown, that separates MetalOrafa from other companies, says company official Alessandro Pozza. Pozza says the new colors are the result of a patented rhodium-plating process, which makes the colored finish much more resilient than painted gold. “We are at least one year ahead of the competition,” Pozza claims.
Vicenza & Valentina also introduced designs incorporating woven gold, including bracelets, necklaces, and watch bands. The company, which uses gold from 8k to 18k in its designs, also offered irregular-shape gold necklaces with rough surfaces made with diamond-cutting tools, says Maria Teresa Bon, Vicenza & Valentina managing director.
Vicenza & Valentina pioneered another trend at the show: the use of silk in gold jewelry, adding a variety of color in their necklaces.
Many companies use tiny pearls and gemstones to add color and highlights to their gold necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry. Vicenza & Valentina showed a number of examples of woven necklaces accented with gemstones.
Treemme displayed a number of traditional yellow- and white-gold necklaces and bracelets. The company specializes in 18k and 14k handmade chains. Among the items on display were chains made of yellow- and white-gold links shaped in teardrops and irregular ovals.
Giante specializes in gold beads and satin finishes for necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry, says Francesca Brunetti. The company began with the creation of round beads and now uses a variety of bead designs. In addition, the company creates braided gold necklaces highlighted with tiny pearls and gemstones for a touch of color.
One company, Ka-ti, produces a seemingly endless supply of inexpensive bracelets, brooches, necklaces, charms, rings, earrings, and watches using yellow and white gold, stainless steel, rubber, and other materials, some with gemstones and tiny pearls. Some pieces are decorated with laser inscriptions, and others, such as brooches and charms, take the shape of butterflies, clover, and other figures.
Buyer’s Dilemma. About three-quarters of the buyers at OroArezzo, in search of new designs and trends in precious-metal jewelry from the more than 600 exhibitors, were from Italy. Other countries also were well represented, including the United States, but many U.S. buyers were concerned about how much merchandise they could sell to retailers. Wholesalers Bernard and Madeline Sakmar of Old World Chain, Beverly Hills, Calif., said that higher gold prices, along with the dollar’s decline against the euro and less-expensive products from India, China, and Turkey, made it difficult to persuade retailers to take on Italian gold products.
“It’s had a definite impact on the business,” Bernard said. “Some pieces are just cost-prohibitive. We’ve reduced our margins to keep prices down a little bit. But then lowering our margins creates insecurity among our buyers.”
To adjust, the couple is looking for gold in lighter weights and pieces mixed with other materials and colors. “People are investing in color,” Bernard said. The couple, who have been in business for 30 years, is also providing some gold-jewelry pieces to retailers on consignment.
“The euro is so high we are not able to buy the volume we used to buy from Italy,” says Garo Hakop of Hakop Jewelry Inc. in New York. “The cost of gold is also another issue.”
Hakop, who deals primarily with independent jewelers, also noted other problems in the U.S. market. Among them: The decline of the middle class in the United States, the changing distribution chain, and the increased number of trade shows.
“We work with the middle class, and little by little they are disappearing,” he says. “And jewelers are buying directly through manufacturers. Customers used to come to New York and ask for goods. It’s not like that anymore. There are so many shows.”
The numbers confirm the hesitancy among American buyers. Jewelry and gold produced by the Arezzo region in 2004 totaled $2.1 billion euros, approximately 8.5 percent below 2003 figures, according to the Arezzo Chamber of Commerce, and a far greater decrease compared with what the country as a whole experienced. (Arezzo accounts for 28.8 percent of Italian gold and silver product exports and 45 percent of the Italian domestic market.) Exports, which account for more than half of the region’s total jewelry production, fell by 6 percent to 1.3 billion euros compared with 2003 figures. In 2003 the drop was 25.5 percent compared with the previous year’s figures.
The United States, at 264.7 million euros, is by far the largest buyer of Arezzo gold and silver products. It is also one of the countries in which exports from Arezzo dropped the most, by 26.1 percent in 2004 and 33.1 percent in 2003. “In other words, in two years it appears that U.S. imports of Arezzo jewelry has fallen by more than half,” Arezzo officials said.
Quantities of precious metals worked by the companies of Arezzo have fallen as well, from 165 tons to 155 tons for gold, and from 95 tons to 85 tons for silver.
In a province where gold and silver production accounts for 5.8 percent of the province’s gross domestic product and 42.6 percent of exports and employs 8 percent of the working population (10,500 employees), local officials have taken notice. Arezzo firms in the gold and silver business number 1,621, only a slight drop from the previous year’s number, but that figure can be misleading, says Alessandro Ruzzi of Rosato, a local fine-jewelry manufacturer. He says that’s because Italian laws make it difficult for owners to close their businesses.
To help offset the decline, area officials are undertaking a $26 million expansion and renovation of the Business and Convention Centre. In its 26-year history, the number of exhibitors gradually grew. That number peaked in 2003 with just over 600 exhibitors because the center reached capacity. When construction is completed in 2007, the convention center will just about double in size and house more modern facilities.