Subtle trends, flat attendance mark both Orlando and New York shows

The simultaneous scheduling of the three major American spring jewelry trade shows resulted in flat or slightly diminished attendance levels at all three. At the same time, fears of a faltering economy and a dreary holiday 2000 selling season meant designers and manufacturers were hesitant to introduce radically new jewelry designs, staying instead with proven ideas and merely changing gemstone accents or adding surface treatments to provide a touch of freshness.

Attendance figures for the JCK Orlando and Jewelers of America shows, both held Feb. 4-6, were absolutely flat from last year, according to Simone Lipton of the JCK Orlando Show and Drew Lawsky of the JA New York Show. The JCK Orlando show drew 3,764 buyers, many of whom represented major chain stores, with all 50 states represented in the buyer attendance figures, says Lipton. The show hosted 1,047 exhibitors, 821 of which were American-based. At the 890-exhibitor JA show in New York, Lawsky reported a total of 8,005 people entering the show floor. The American Gem Trade Association reported 8,863 attendees at its 2001 show in Tucson, Ariz., down from 9,323 last year—a drop of just under 5%. Head counts from the other Tucson gem shows were unavailable at press time, but show attendees reported full parking lots and long registration lines at many of the smaller shows there. (For more on the Tucson shows, see page 124.)

Exhibitors and show management at both the JA and JCK shows expressed satisfaction at the turnout, since most arrived expecting low attendance and few sales in the wake of post-Christmas reports predicting that jewelers weren’t planning to buy for spring. But retailers at the shows said post-Christmas business has been better than the gloomy economic forecasts indicated, and they were confident they’d have buyers for the right products.

The key, it seems, is quality. One lesson from the 1991 recession is that quality sells better than flash in slow times. Indeed, diamond jewelry manufacturers in Orlando noted that there was little trading down. Eugene Biro, president of Eugene Biro Diamonds, New York, says, “I expected zero but have been pleasantly surprised. Many are looking for hard-to-find items like G/H-color princess cuts. Yes, people are cautious, but it’s not like before where they’d start buying flash-for-no-cash [low quality] goods. Consumers are better educated today, and they understand the concept of value vs. price. Also, retailers came here to fill in their best sellers such as three-stone rings and princess cuts for earrings.”

Alex Waldman of Waldman Diamond Co. in Tel Aviv, Israel, says, “Many retailers are still looking at inventory overhangs, so they’ve been doing more looking than buying. But we expected that. Where we’ve been pleasantly surprised is that most of the retailers here seem less concerned with the state of the economy than we’ve seen on TV, so the mood seems more upbeat than we had anticipated. There’s some downtrading going on, but it’s mainly in diamond size, not quality.”

Gary Flyer, president of New York-based Martin Flyer, says, “We’ve done much better than expected because the higher end still did well at Christmas. Buying is cautious, but it’s there.” Indeed, independent jewelers were looking for good-color top-make diamonds and reported that carat-plus rounds and princesses with those qualities were difficult to find in Orlando. Even chain stores, which had disappointing holiday sales, were still shying away from cheap jewelry. Nicki Mehta, whose Diamond Days Promotions line features primarily lower- to medium-price diamond jewelry, says chain retailers were very cautious about buying but came with a shopping list for finer makes and upgrades from promotional-quality pieces.

Still, the move toward quality didn’t completely prevent jewelers from bargain hunting. Davenport LLC, the Richmond, Va.-based retail consulting firm, said in a February jewelry industry report for investors that product demand at the JCK Orlando show was polarized. Buyers sought low-priced commodity or closeout goods (generally under $300 retail) that can be promoted as loss leaders or to create the perception of “great values” at popular price points, while jewelers looking for new and exciting product bought designer goods. “We would not be surprised to see some of these designer goods replicated for the mass market at much lower price points later this year,” wrote Kenneth M. Gassman, an analyst with the firm.

Shrikant Parikh, president of C. Mahendra Jewels in New York, a manufacturer of promotional-quality diamond jewelry lines, says volume buyers like Zales, Wal-Mart, and Sears were buying in Orlando. Orders, however, were significantly reduced from last year; this year’s biggest seller was a promotional white gold tennis bracelet that would retail for $199, he says. He also says the reduction in orders was no problem because “the previous few years had been so strong that a slower year or two doesn’t matter.”

Orlando: Sleek Silhouettes for Warm, Touchable Jewelry

A splash of citrus, a focus on yellow gold, a brush of unusual surface treatments—all added to last season’s sleek silhouettes—characterized the first showings of jewelry fashion for 2001. While blue remained the most common color in gemstone jewelry, orange—especially in the form of such stones as mandarin garnet—is on the rise, like the sun rising in an azure sky. Mazza Bartholemew and Richard Palermo for Color Craft were two manufacturers in Orlando who showed the orangey garnet for 2001.

The use of orange and other warm-hued stones is no surprise in a season when fashion on all fronts is in love with yellow gold. Fine jewelry suppliers are stepping up to meet expected demand, although the nearly 50-50 mix of white and yellow gold styles in their showcases is an acknowledgement that white is here to stay.

According to Renee Miller of Aaura, Chicago, the buzz about yellow gold is encouraging buyers to pick up a few yellow gold pieces for their stores. In yellow gold, along with the hoops that have had consumers jumping for the past year, Aaura was showing new neckerchief and other fabric-like gold styles for necks and ears. Multi-chain necklaces in the spirit of the ’70s also were hot sellers. Contrasting textures—matte and polished—in a mix of white and yellow gold are new for this company, which specializes in Italian chain.

At the higher end, sales are almost all in yellow gold, particularly lariats and hoops, according to Jack Winer of Termine and Winer in Boston. His strongest white metal sales have been sterling silver set with diamonds, in his firm’s Quintessenza line.

While the slinky, sexy, draping chains of last year are growing in popularity, there’s an international trend toward heavier, bolder gold, according to suppliers. The trend is in line with spring 2001 fashions but could be questionable in the long term as apparel fashion is gradually moving in a more minimalist direction for fall and winter 2002.

Finishes are important this year, in line with current apparel fashion. With leather one of apparel’s leading fabrics not only for winter but also into spring, summer, fall, and next winter, jewelry designers are providing their own versions of luxury surfaces. New York designer Alex Soldier’s new pieces boast surfaces that range from a sparkling textural finish that looks like sprinkled diamond dust to a subtle finish reminiscent of snake skin. Hawaii-based Robert Wander’s take on the importance of texture in design was shown in several new faceted pearl pieces. Unoaerre, meanwhile, continued with textures but added other elements that call out to be touched. A braided look was carried into a lighter feel with the firm’s “Gauze” line of woven gold, while its Virtual Movement collection features individually stamped small squares of gold threaded on a chain, like golden cards in a Rolodex.

Another fashion trend being mimicked by jewelry this year is that of black and white. Fashion worn at the Golden Globes, for example, had about as much color as an I Love Lucy rerun. Bold black and white, worn for both casual and formal events, is an important trend in fashion. In jewelry, the combination of black and white diamonds—a look that came on strong last year—is still evident.

Suppliers are aware of consumer resistance to costly black diamonds, however, and are translating the look into more affordable styles. John Bagley reported that his black and white collection—made with black jade—is doing very well, especially with fashion-forward East Coast buyers. Elini, meanwhile, brought CZ to a new level with black and white hand-set CZ in 14k and 18k white gold—an affordable take-off on fashionable Italian black and white diamond pavé jewelry. And popular designer David Yurman is featuring a new black-and-white collection for spring.

New York: A Mix of New Looks and Old Favorites

Winter greeted JA Show attendees with a fall of wet snow that filled the streets of New York with pools of slush. But inside the Jacob Javits Center, it was business as usual. Jewelry trends observed at the summer show continued to dominate, as plenty of white metal, diamond pavé, colored stone, and freshwater pearl designs remained on offer. Among the new looks that cropped up, the most prevalent was what one person referred to as the “Jennifer Lopez earrings.” The oversized, thin, diamond pavé hoop style was a best seller for Jenny Perl, Elite Gold, and many other manufacturers. Honora offered double-layer versions featuring an extra inner loop of diamonds.

Color also remained strong, in both gemstones and metal. Yellow gold designs continued to look fresh, and more two-tone pieces were on display, some of which incorporated combinations of brushed and polished finishes, such as those offered by Joryel Vera.

Colored stone designs sold well, with green a particular best seller for many. Blues such as aquamarine, blue topaz, and iolite remained popular, and green quartz sold well for Christen Some and Cheri Dori. Green tourmaline was an unexpected success for Electrum. Chalcedony also appeared frequently, usually cut as cabochons, although Rina Limor offered faceted versions for a new, yet subtle, effect.

Chinese freshwater pearls—”rounder than they ever were before,” according to Keith Fagley of Artistry Ltd.—also sold well, as they offer both quality and affordability. Honora offered them in stretchy, multi-strand bracelets, some strung with stations of blue topaz and others with dividers of 18k yellow gold or platinum set with diamonds.

Two designers offered striking new looks. Gurmit, a New York City-based former model from Singapore, creates nature-inspired jewelry using 18k gold, diamonds, colored stones, and cultured pearls. Pageo Jewelry of Newton, Mass., showed an eye-catching line of leather and 18k yellow gold necklaces that proved popular among buyers. The necklaces were shown in single, double, or triple-strand lengths of leather cord, featuring large central beads of sandblasted gold with raised polished detail.

Finally, the lariat remains popular, particularly those embellished with colored stone briolettes. International Bullion showed 14k yellow gold lariats incorporating a fresh color combination of citrine and green tourmaline briolettes, while Mazza Bartholomew offered a version with freshwater pearls as well as colored gemstones.

Speakers and Honors

The JCK Show offered a full day of educational seminars at its conference program, held Feb. 3. Sessions covered a variety of topics, including conflict diamonds, fashion trends, merchandising, inventory turn, and the progress of women in the jewelry industry. That session, presented by Phyllis Bergman, president of Englewood, N.J.-based Mercury Ring Co. and a member of the Women’s Jewelry Association, sparked a lively question-and-answer session afterward as women of varying ages discussed changes in how they’re perceived and treated by both male and female peers in the industry.

Trends were a hot topic in Orlando. Rick Bannerot of the World Gold Council discussed societal trends that have resulted in a shift in consumer buying habits, and JCK senior editor Carrie Soucy showed jewelers how to pick jewelry to match spring apparel fashion trends. Also popular was a nitty-gritty business and inventory management session, offered by Jeff Corey of Day’s Jewelers, a four-store operation in Maine. Finally, the highlight of the JCK Conference Program was the Feb. 4 keynote address by sociologist Paco Underhill, author of the bestseller Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. In a humorous but highly informative talk, Underhill showed some of the most common—and easily correctable—errors retailers make that drive down sales.

“This,” he said, picking up a chair and brandishing it above his head, “is your most effective marketing tool!” The more time a shopper spends in your store, the more money he or she is likely to spend, he explained (after putting the chair down). When people shop with a spouse, friend, mother-in-law, or child, making the non-shopper comfortable and keeping him or her amused means the shopper spends more time—and more money—in the store. For jewelers, he suggests placing a pile of interesting reading material with gemological information near the chair.

Underhill also discussed other common retail errors that few shopkeepers consider. One example was “butt brush,” a humorous term for not having enough room between showcases or displays to ensure that browsers aren’t bumped from behind as others walk past. Another was window display, and the fact that a store begins to make an impression on shoppers long before they hit the lease line. Most retailers, he said, place products in the window directly facing the street, but only a fraction of shoppers will approach from directly across the street. A better idea, Underhill said, is to put a display at an angle so people can see it as they approach from the side as well as the front. He also pointed out that many downtown shop owners and employees take the prime parking spots—which should be left for shoppers.

In New York, honors and announcements were a key part of the show. Lynn Ramsey, the former president and CEO of the Jewelry Information Center (JIC), was honored for her more than five years of work, which transformed the organization from a little-known operation to one of national prominence. JIC chairman Steven Kaiser presented Ramsey with a plaque during a brief ceremony at the JIC booth at the Jewelers of America show. Ramsey resigned from JIC Sept. 30, 2000.

“Lynn was very instrumental in taking the JIC to where it is now,” Kaiser said during the ceremony in front of about 30 industry executives and friends. “We are proud to have someone of Lynn’s caliber.” Kaiser later told JCK that Ramsey set a standard for the organization that will ensure its success long into the future: “She took it from scratch. The work now is much easier because she set the foundation.”

To understand how much JIC has grown, one had only to look at its booth at the JA show. Posted on a backboard were color magazine covers from the best-known consumer magazines in the country. Six years ago, the board would have been covered with black-and-white newspaper clippings from mostly small-town newspapers.

Ramsey also served as the jewelry industry’s spokesperson, appearing on many national and local television shows, including NBC’s Today, CBS’s The Early Show, CNN News, Oprah, and New Attitudes. Overall, publicity for the organization and jewelry industry increased more than 250%.

In addition, Kaiser noted that the Center’s budget, through an alliance with Jewelers of America (JA), has doubled, and membership has increased 1,000%.

Ramsey noted that she had a lot of help in building the organization. “With the help of a lot of people, particularly JA, we were able to build the p.r. and the visibility we needed,” Ramsey told JCK.

Before joining JIC, Ramsey was vice president of N.W. Ayer & Partners, where she ran the Diamond Information Center for seven years. A former magazine editor and author, she previously served as a vice president of Cunningham & Walsh Public Relations, where she was instrumental in the launch of Swatch Watch.

Ramsey told JCK that she’s enjoying her time off while carefully pursuing her next position. “I’m looking for a challenge—hopefully in jewelry,” she said. “But I’m looking very slowly. It’s important to take time off and reflect about what I want to do with my life—to take on a challenge at the end of my career that is as rewarding and stimulating as the beginning and middle has been. I’m looking at that next step.”

Also in New York, the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC) launched a new membership drive by instituting new standards and compliance practices and mandating that all JVC members sign on to the standards. JVC is calling the drive “Integrity is Good for Business” and is pushing JVC members to use the JVC logo whenever possible.

Jewelers who sign the detailed membership agreement will receive a framed certificate promoting their commitment to follow U.S. law. Cecilia Gardner, JVC executive director and general counsel, advises jewelers to hang the certificate in their store in plain view of customers. Gardner also encourages all JVC members to use the JVC logo whenever possible.

“The JVC logo is a recognized symbol of integrity and trust,” Gardner says. “Displaying it provides tremendous benefits to our members in building credibility with our customers.”

Gardner says JVC membership standards and compliance practices represent a “benchmark” for the industry. “We felt it was time to [be] specific on what it means to be a JVC member,” Gardner told JCK during a press conference at the JA New York Show. “Members must sign a pledge, showing their commitment to JVC standards of enforcement.”

Esther Fortunoff, chief executive of Fortunoff’s and longtime JVC member, says that for the past three years, JVC—under Gardner’s leadership—has been instrumental in providing the information jewelers need in a way they could easily understand and communicate to their customers. The creation of the membership standards and compliance practices takes the effort one step further, she says, and it’s what the industry has been requesting.

“They have done an excellent job of educating the industry and consumers on the laws,” Fortunoff says. “They are proactive when it comes to educating the industry on compliance with the law.”

For a copy of the standards and compliance practices developed by JVC board members, contact JVC at 25 West 45th St., Suite 400, New York, NY 10036; (212) 997-2002, www.jvclegal.org.

Additional reporting by JCK Web editor Anthony DeMarco, contributing editor Russell Shor, and editor-in-chief Hedda Schupak.