Report From Inhorgenta 2006

Historically, the German jewelry industry has had an emotional connection to the culture of the German people, whose fascination with jewelry as art is well known. For years, sales were fairly predictable in a consistent market, but exhibitors at Inhorgenta Europe 2006, held Feb. 17–20 in Munich, say significant economic changes over the past few years have altered domestic consumers’ psyches. Germany’s reunification, conversion to the euro, deficit growth, and the subsequent drop in consumer confidence all have contributed to a somewhat lackluster marketplace for jewelry. Fine-jewelry sales in Germany have slumped, but new markets opening in both Eastern Europe and farther abroad have rescued many jewelry firms from the economic angst that serving an exclusively German clientele might have caused them.

One thing that hasn’t yet become a factor in European jewelry sales is the price of precious metals. So says Jürghen Wieneke of Heimerle-Meule, a refiner and producer of precious metal products in Pforzheim, Germany. In fact, he suggested, the media buzz about the rise in precious-metal prices has enhanced awareness and created a heightened desire for ownership that didn’t exist prior to the current leap in prices. Gertrud Gross-Stahl of Platinum Guild International Europe agrees and suggests that platinum is simply becoming more precious as the price rises. Markets for exclusivity are not shrinking, especially in emerging markets such as China, where there is a growing preference for noble materials and excellent craftsmanship. Although many producers see China as a competitive threat, an equal number regard it as an opportunity—an emerging market for fine-quality luxury goods.

Ursula Gnaedinger, of Ursula Gnaedinger Schmuck, Potsdam, Germany, said sales of her jewelry have remained fairly consistent during the economic downturn, which she attributes to both steady exhibition and exposure at international trade shows and careful management for the more than 20 years she’s been in business. She has no plans to expand, likes the size and manageability of her operation, and is content with the geographic shift in her customer base. Neither a trendsetter nor trend follower, she designs and produces aesthetically pleasing pieces in richly contoured 18k yellow gold.

Design trends. There was a gentle shift toward more colors of gold in some of the Inhorgenta exhibitors’ offerings, moving away from the stark white metal with white diamonds that has been so dominant in Germany and elsewhere, including most of North America, in the past. Fancy-color pavé-set diamonds of all available shades were found in both yellow and white gold or platinum, and the use of red or pink gold was a surprise element in a number of pieces. Large, fluid shapes aren’t going away anytime soon, as the range of bracelets, earrings, pendants, and rings appears to be expanding, but overall, the sizes of the pieces have become a bit more modest of late.

Lightweight but pendulous earrings in both yellow and white metal continue to contribute to a general sense that large and luscious in glowing forms will be around for a while.

The trend for color is as evident in Germany as it is in the United States. Large colored gemstones of magnificent cut were spotted in multiple groupings in necklaces, seemingly oblivious to each other’s shape or hue but delightful in their collective incongruity.

In contrast to those styles was a trend toward pieces that are fabricated, heavily hand-worked, connected mechanically, and exhibit an angularity and precision nearly impossible to achieve through simple casting or finishing procedures.

Of course, these handworked methods don’t lend themselves to mass production, but if rarity is to remain a positive attribute, pieces like these should be sought after by consumers jaded by too much cookie-cutter flash.