Spring Shows Bursting with Optimism

Like spring itself, it’s a breath of fresh air: Most of the spring season’s jewelry trade shows were busy and upbeat, signaling a return to optimism in the industry after several years of relative doldrums. The first show of the 2004 season, VicenzaOro I, held Jan. 11-17 in Vicenza, Italy, reported a boost in overall attendance as well as a significant rise in the number of American visitors returning to the show after a year or two of absence.

Aisles were crowded at the Jewelers of America show, held Jan. 25-27 in New York; business was booming and exhibitors ecstatic at the by-invitation-only Centurion show held Feb. 1-5 at the Westin La Paloma Resort in Tucson, Ariz.; and gem dealers at the American Gem Trade Association GemFair (Feb. 4-9) and the many other gem shows in Tucson also reported a busy week.

Foot traffic at the JA show was heavy on Sunday and Monday despite repeated threats of snow. The prevailing attitude was upbeat, and many firms—such as designers Coomi and Alberian and Aulde Inc.—reported solid sales. The snow, incidentally, didn’t materialize until Tuesday afternoon, right about the time of the show’s closing.

The Centurion show opened Sunday, Feb. 1, with a reception and Super Bowl party on the exhibit floor, with television sets stationed throughout the show. As a portent of the business to come, there were as many attendees already working as watching the game. All during the show, exhibitors had nothing but praise for the event, some saying they wrote as much business as they had at some of their best JCK ~ Las Vegas shows.

Highlights of Centurion included four morning conference sessions, on staff management, diamond cut grading, trunk shows, and the emerging Echo Boom bridal market. A special evening of entertainment featured comedian Dana Carvey and Beatles tribute band The Fab Four. Networking opportunities included communal meals and an after-hours disco and open bar.

The JCK Show ~ Phoenix, newly relocated from Orlando, was the only spring show lacking heavy foot traffic. At press time, attendance figures were still being verified, but Dave Bonaparte, vice president of The JCK Shows, said he anticipates attendance will be flat compared with the 2003 Orlando show.

Exhibitors expecting large numbers of independent jewelers to attend the Feb. 7-9 event were disappointed with the turnout. However, those who work with volume buyers or who did pre-show promotion and made appointments did solid business and were pleased with the outcome. Exhibitors such as Robert Manse of S&R Designs, Bob Harris of Gelin & Abaci, Donald Diderio of Dora, and Marvin Markman of Suberi Bros. all reported a good show. This pattern is traditional for JCK’s spring shows, says Bonaparte. The show’s timing—last on the spring circuit, after Centurion and AGTA, and held over a Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to boot—also may have had an impact on foot traffic. Next year’s show is slated to be held immediately prior to AGTA.

Still, “quality over quantity” was how Sylvia Halvatzis of Econ-Lite Products Inc., a Jersey City, N.J.-based lighting manufacturer, described the Phoenix show. Her peers in the Equipment, Services, and Technology pavilion agreed, saying they gained a number of new contacts and leads. Many exhibitors in the watch sector also rated the event as satisfactory in terms of new contacts made, if not in sales.

Show management was praised, however, for its quick response to one major miscalculation. Association and magazine booths had been located in an outdoor pavilion separate from the main show building. Bonaparte said show planners figured attendees would want to take advantage of Phoenix’s normally warm weather to sit outside for lunch or see the exhibits in the outdoor area. But unseasonably cool weather kept people indoors, so at the end of the first day the outdoor pavilion was closed and its booths relocated to the lobby of the Phoenix Civic Plaza.

Other highlights of the show included the traditional Welcome Reception, held Feb. 6 at the Hyatt Regency hotel, and keynote speaker Leeza Gibbons, host of Entertainment Tonight. Gibbons’s talk was inspirational on a personal level, as she exhorted the audience to dream big and reach for their goals. She talked about her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease and how that forced her to reevaluate her own life and change her path from entertainer to philanthropist.

The trends. Fringe, circles, and nontraditional materials were the leading design trends for new jewelry debuting at the early 2004 shows—that, and the noticeable lack of chandelier earrings.

Though they may still charm consumers in certain regions of the country, and some manufacturers continue to offer them, the early 2004 jewelry shows in both Vicenza and the United States confirmed that the chandelier moment has peaked and is on the wane. The overall appeal of the drop silhouette for earrings remains strong, but the newest looks have morphed from chandeliers to long slim drops and “fringe-y” designs.

An especially popular look in earrings this spring is the fringed hoop—a medium-sized hoop with dangling fringe ranging from gold chains to mixed-color gemstone beads. It’s a favorite of designers like Zydo and Valente, who showed ranges of bright colors, and Scott Colee, who infuses the look with his signature architectural Deco design.

The fringe look is big in necklaces as well, and the drop-lariat look shows no sign of budging as fashion’s darling of the moment. Meanwhile, another strong neck trend—a spinoff from last year’s large-pendant look—is the super-large pendant, often in a disc shape.

The disc shape is the season’s strongest—circles even gave shape to big gemstone rings. Show-stopping circles ranged from a coral cocktail masterpiece by designer John Hardy and enamel pieces by Italian firm La Nouvelle Bague to the links in gold jewelry by major importers like Chicago-based Aaura. The look is an obvious nod to fashion’s fancy for the Mod look, as Sixties’ Mod icons inspired the spring/summer fashions seen on the runways.

In metals, as the “yellow vs. white” debate rages among retailers, jewelry manufacturers have abandoned it in favor of less traditional materials. One trend that emerged during the past few years—the use of leather, rubber, and fabric—has exploded, with everything from precious stones to funky pendants to pearl and metal-intense designs integrated with these nonprecious materials. Italian goldsmith Orlando Orlandini showed his gold designs on silk, while designers like Saundra Messinger chose suede to highlight her brushed silver looks. Others, like Raico, broke other boundaries and introduced a few prototype rings featuring gemstones set in wood. Leather, meanwhile, is no longer just being used as a cord to hold a pendant: It’s making a strong showing in bold bracelets and cuffs and is being used in vibrant colors rather than subdued browns and blacks.

Another fashion-forward trend from 2003 that still inspires designers is mother-of-pearl. The iridescent look was used in everything from those large disc-shaped pendants to interesting combinations with onyx for a checkerboard look. The material is largely affordable, making it a low-price-point fashion favorite for designers and manufacturers like Nanis, Varella, and Acleoni, whose new line combined faceted mother-of pearl in suites with amethyst, blue topaz, and pink sapphire.

Two themes that continue to dominate fine-jewelry design are versatility and messages. Earrings with detachable drops, pendants that can be converted to brooches, and even rings and bracelets with interchangeable features are extremely popular. Hearts, stars, and flowers are favorite motifs once again, in both traditional and trendier designs. Designer Dana David uses all three in large dome rings and fun bangles, while Pasquale Bruni showed the heart in modern styles—with asymmetrical hearts and letters spelling out “Amore” (love) clustered in rings, bracelets, and pendants.

Color still reigns, and it was bright and pretty in anticipation of spring. Various stones are popular, but opaque stones such as onyx and coral (in Italy) and milky aqua and chrysoberyl (in the United States) constitute a definite trend. There’s also interest in green, with many stones other than peridot and emerald representing the color. Unusual stones such as chrysoberyl, chrysoprase, vesuvianite, and aventurine made an appearance, along with the more popular green beryl, tourmaline, and tsavorite garnet.

Other prevalent Sweet-Tart shades included pinks, light purples, and light blues, alone and in combinations. Lime green and deep purple was a popular combo, and Marya Dabrowski, showing in New York, was excited about her new necklace of small spinel beads in every shade of the rainbow. “Amethyst and ametrine in rose gold are huge for spring,” said designer Dominique Cohen, who also noted that rose gold in particular continues to be a great seller for her. Bright orange and red stones—e.g., treated sapphires, natural fire opal, and garnets—are on the horizon as well, adding a hot pop to fine jewelry.

Color also turned up in cocktail rings. Cohen showed large rectangular pinky rings, each set with a single cleaved semiprecious stone that resembled a small, colored ice cube. Another standout was Galatea’s “Sutol” (“lotus” spelled backwards) ring in textured yellow gold with an organic twist. Large and sculptural, yet surprisingly comfortable, it’s modeled on the lotus flower. It twines around the finger and comes to rest in blossom form between the central knuckles of the hand, with a diamond-inset black pearl nestled in the center of the bud.

Watches to watch. In the watch sector, the big news was big watches. The trend, which began in Europe with watchmakers such as Panerai, was picked up here three years ago by celebrities and urban stylesetters. Although some in the watch business expected the trend to peak by now, the category still has legs and should remain active for at least another few years, according to a number of watchmakers at the shows.

“More people in the United States—women and men—are getting into this type of watch as it moves beyond New York, Los Angeles, or Miami into the heartland,” says Gany Cohen, vice president and marketing director of Invicta Watch Co. of America. “Main Street jewelers are starting to accept and stock it.”

“Men have always bought larger watches, but now more women are going for it, too,” says jewelry designer Eddie LeVian, who debuted his new upscale watch collection at The JCK Show ~ Phoenix. Meanwhile, Sergio Waingarten, president of CTE Watch Co., which distributes Caterpillar and Givenchy, noted that the trend toward larger watches also is prevalent in the popular-price market. New big-watch lines launched in the United States during the spring shows include LeVian’s women’s “three-eye” (day, date, month) watches with diamond rimmed subdials; Honora’s Orchid series with mother-of-pearl dials; designer Silvio Hidalgo’s colorful watches designed to complement his enamel jewelry line; and Nekta’s limited-edition U.S.-made luxury stainless-steel watches, with diamonds and Swiss movements.

Other big sellers—literally—include Invicta’s Grand Lagarto (48 mm) with diamond bezel and hornback alligator cuff strap; Alfex’s curved “One Eye” chronograph (40 mm) with big date and speed-set hour hand; Givenchy’s new popularly priced Attitude collection (40 mm); Caterpillar’s rugged “North Cape” (40 mm/42 mm) for men and women; Emporio Armani’s new round classic-styled watches (44 mm) on orange or black straps; and Croton’s new automatic Crotalis collection (previewed in New York and set to debut in Las Vegas), which includes 41-mm timepieces.

Some brands, however, are going in the opposite direction—possibly anticipating changes in fashion and consumer tastes—and adding smaller watches aimed at women. Among them are Gevril’s first small watch, the Mini Avenue of the Americas luxury timepiece—a limited edition, like Gevril’s larger models, and its first quartz watch; Ice-Tek’s heart-shaped watch (without diamonds); and Aqua Swiss’s new Teardrop watch with faceted crystal and three rows of diamonds on the case.

In watch styling and design, tonneau (French for “barrel”) shapes were everywhere. Complementing those were retro looks (so-called “TV screen” shapes), more ovals (such as Chase-Durer’s women’s Oxygen watches with diamonds or Speidel’s popularly priced delicate women’s watch on a mesh band), more horizontal oval and rectangular cases, and more use of “belt buckle” straps. One eye-catching debut was Citizen’s new Aviara line of sports watches designed for women.

New watch products weren’t limited to watches. Wolf Designs unveiled its newest watch winder, a patented, programmable, quiet unit designed in conjunction with a major Chinese university. The winder can hold from one to eight watches.

Other watch trends:

  • Larger numbers on dials (a nod to aging Baby Boomer eyes as much as to fashion) as seen on Invicta’s trapezoid Hypo, Leonard’s large east/west rectangular timepieces, and Alfex’s “Big TV” watch.

  • Geometric shapes such as Mt. Rushmore’s new two-tone square watches featuring more contemporary styling, or Emporio Armani’s square watches on linked patent leather straps.

  • More use of decorative stitching and growing use of exotic materials, such as python, ostrich, and—especially—grainy stingray for straps.

  • More “slim watches” (usually 4 mm or less) such as Citizen’s Stiletto (with new men’s tonneau models) or Roven Dino’s Astor series with textured dials.

  • More 14k gold watches, often with diamonds—a “neglected” segment of the U.S. market, according to watchmakers who are rushing to fill it.

  • Jewelry designers’ introduction of big, colorful, fashionable watches under their own labels, such as Honora, LeVian, and Hidalgo.