Sands Storm: JCK Las Vegas Preps for Its Big Move Up the Strip

It’s T minus four months and counting until the JCK and Luxury shows return to their original home at the Sands. Here’s what organizers are doing to ensure a smooth transition.

venetian palazzofunny thing happened after JCK Las Vegas completed its 2016 show at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

After five years, attendees had adapted to JCK’s new home at Mandalay, but never quite embraced it. And many felt surprisingly nostalgic for the show’s original home: the Sands Expo and Convention Center. Jewelers missed being at the northern end of The Strip, near the heart of the action, with its increased selection of restaurants, shops, and hotels. They liked how the Sands confined the show to two easy-to-navigate floors, rather than Mandalay’s endless sprawl.

And so in 2016 JCK Las Vegas and its sister show, Luxury, which in 2009 had jolted the industry by ­announcing they were leaving the Sands, jolted it again by declaring they were moving back in 2019.

Sarin Bachmann, event vice president for the JCK and Luxury shows, says the reason was simple: People wanted it. “We had both exhibiting and retail customers saying they wanted to go back,” she says. “It’s a huge, huge investment for our company. But we knew it was the right answer. And we have had unwavering support of the decision since we announced it.”

This spring, JCK Las Vegas and Luxury will have their first shows back at the Sands, and the adjacent Venetian and Palazzo hotels. Granted, a lot has happened since they packed their bags for the other end of The Strip. While the shows are returning to their old venue, this is not the old Sands. In 2013, the convention center underwent a $35 million renovation.

venetian las vegas
Like the city that inspired it, the Venetian offers gondola rides.

Attendees no longer have to exit the shows—or slip through the back stairs—to move from one level to another. The escalators are now located within the show walls, which will make traveling between floors a lot easier. The lobbies and bathrooms have been renovated (and everyone agrees the bathrooms needed it). The lights are brighter. The air-conditioning works better. The lower level no longer betrays its origin as a garage. The Sands is even greener, becoming the first meeting place to hit an industry environmental benchmark.

At the Sands, organizers of JCK Las Vegas hope for an experience that will be both comfortably familiar and, at the same time, refreshingly updated. While the show is in some ways returning to the tried-and-true, it’s also embracing the new and different. With everyone talking about reinvention, organizer Reed Exhibitions has been rethinking and reconceptualizing what a jewelry show should be.

“We are using this move as an opportunity to really make changes,” says Bachmann. “We want to make it more modern, more digital. We are changing the look and feel. I ran Luxury for years; I wanted to bring the upgraded look of Luxury to the JCK show. We will have park benches along the aisles, and some greenery, and street signs. We are also looking to do more experiential things on the show floor. Just like it’s important right now for retail stores to be experiential to draw the customers in, we want to lead the charge in that.”

sands expo
The JCK show’s home base, the new and improved Sands Expo

Of course, moving a show this size is a monumental task—one that was set in motion immediately after the 2016 announcement. Among the early challenges: securing the traditional Friday-to-Monday date pattern. After months of negotiations, organizers landed the dates they wanted: JCK Las Vegas will take place from Friday, May 31, to Monday, June 3, and Luxury from Wednesday, May 29, to Monday, June 3.

The biggest task—one that’s ongoing—is setting up the floor plan. While the macro show map has been completed, organizers expect to keep fiddling with the different components up until showtime.

“It’s a jigsaw puzzle,” Bachmann  says. “The show map never finalizes. It’s always changing.”

lido ballroom
JIS Exchange will fill the Lido ballroom (plus a few others) at the Venetian May 30–June 3.

When putting together the new fair, organizers didn’t feel that they were bound by what it used to be like at the Sands. “We would look back to the past for reference,” Bachmann says. “We weren’t making decisions based on what we did in the past, because so many things had changed.

“The Design Center is where it was,” she adds. “We have a Fifth Avenue like we did before. So we took the pieces that made sense.”

As it has been for the past several years, the show will be split into neighborhoods. Even the sign-wielding “Ask Me” folks will make the move, to help attendees acclimate to their new (old) digs.

“We want everyone to find what they want,” says Reed Exhibitions’ special events and conference ­director Kate Youngstrom (née Nellis). “There is no benefit to us in people just wandering around.”

palazzo waterfall atrium
The Palazzo Waterfall Atrium, just outside the Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes

But there will be also a slew of changes. They ­include a revamped Global Gemstone neighborhood, organized in conjunction with the International Colored Gemstone Association; a security pavilion with related education sessions, in partnership with the Jewelers’ Security Alliance; and a new ­“retail ­experience center” that will give jewelers ­cutting-edge takeaways. In-show advertising has become ­digital, rather than the traditional hanging banners and signs. Even education has been rethought: In addition to the standard 45-minute-plus sessions, the show will also offer learning in zippier 20- to 30-minute chunks.

Still, attendees will find much that is the same, including the social events. The show has found a home for all the traditional big events—including Jewelers for Children’s annual gala, the Diamond Empowerment Fund dinner, and the Rapaport Breakfast.

“We want to make sure that the industry has ­everything it needs under one roof,” Bachmann says.

A lot of organizers’ time is spent on things that ­attendees may not notice but make a difference—like the construction of show booths. Youngstrom has a replica of a booth in her office; the show team is constantly examining it from different angles—even with the lights off—to see how to best showcase jewelry.

Overall, the new look “will be modern and simple and clean,” Bachmann says. “We’re going to take that from our new logo, down to the show floor.”

dorsey bar at venetian
The Dorsey bar (sure to be a popular nightly gathering spot)

The show will also be smaller, as the Sands has less space than Mandalay Bay. “That’s a good thing, in a way,” Bachmann says. “With a smaller footprint, it will be easier to navigate.” The wait list has even returned, just like in the old days.

Like every industry, the trade-show business has faced its share of challenges lately, with Baselworld’s travails making worldwide headlines. (The Swiss fair lost a number of key exhibitors over the past year; the latest edition was down to less than half its 2017 size.) Some are wondering if large-scale gatherings still have a place in our increasingly digital world.

And yet considering the nature of jewelry and the jewelry industry itself, Youngstrom feels there will always be a need for a central meeting place.

“I’m a firm believer in face-to-face,” she says. “There is no replacement for meeting someone and having a cocktail with them and realizing you’re connected. There is no replacement for going past a showcase and seeing product that you have never seen. There is no replacement for having a four-hour conversation with your vendor and finding out all about them.

“This industry is dominated by passionate people who like to be involved, they like to talk, they like to meet each other,” she adds. “We are a passionate social industry and that comes through in our show, and that is what we are here to represent.”

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