The JCK Show: Jewelers Look, Buy, Play & Learn

Retailers roamed the aisles of the JCK International Jewelry Show to replenish stock, gear up for Christmas and see the latest in jewelry and watch design. Final figures for the show, held in Las Vegas in June, put buyer attendance at 15,123 and exhibitors at 2,167 in 3,550 booths.

Here are highlights of what they found, plus reviews of an Industry Issues Forum titled “Ethics and the Family Business,” a panel on Italian gold jewelry and some other events held during the show.

FASHION TRENDS: SOFTNESS, FEMININITY REIGN

Soft, flowing lines and feminine detailing were the jewelry design trends spotted at The JCK Show. Designers and manufacturers are moving away from geometric edges and into organic curves, complementing the return of femininity in apparel design.

Here are some of the key looks:

  • Convertibles. The value-added concept shows up in pin/pendant combinations, in rings with interchangeable centers, in necklaces with removable decorative clasps and in earrings with removable dangles. The earring trend goes beyond the hoop and charm; most prevalent are on-the-ear buttons with sizable detachable drops. Removable dangles also are seen in many necklaces.

  • Cameos, flowers and insects. Italian designer Rossana Andreozzi offers dainty pale pink cameo rings, earrings, pins and necklaces accented with tourmalines, pearls and textured gold flowers.

  • Diamond accents.

  • Silver, sometimes with 18k gold. Scott Keating offers a new silver line in classic Keating designs, designers John Atencio and Steve Lagos continue to do well with their silver collections and Krementz offers the new Bill Blass line of silver, 18k and gemstone jewelry.

  • Designers and high-end manufacturers with production lines geared to sell faster than their signature and one-of-a-kind pieces. They include Cathleen Bunt, Kent Raible and Hammerman Bros., whose new HB line comes with specially designed boxes and merchandising and display pieces.

  • Color. This season, it’s more often blue, pink, purple and red than yellow and green. Stones of choice include tanzanite, tourmaline, rhodolite, rubellite, iolite, ruby, pink sapphire and amethyst. Cabochons are still key. In addition, designers are playing with new colors of garnet, especially orange, and with fire opal. The orange tones should complement this fall’s oranges in apparel.

  • Polished gold. Matte gold has become an institution, so designers are moving toward polished looks alongside the matte pieces. Some designers play with textures with shine in them, such as Jay Lavin’s gold and diamond pieces.

  • Collar-length necklaces and longer necklaces wrapped around the neck or with a pendant.

  • Platinum. More and more manufacturers have added it to their lines.

– Hedda T. Schupak

NEW FACES AND KARAT GOLD LIGHT UP TIME SQUARE

The expanded Time Square at this year’s JCK Show offered retailers a depth of options that parallels the sales many are experiencing at their watch counters.

Retailers said they were replenishing their best-sellers and eyeing the aisles for new watches.

Exhibitors used the show as an opportunity to display their wares in booths larger and more customized than those seen in the U.S. in recent years. Citizen’s display, for example, was its largest in the U.S. since 1992. E. Gluck Corp. – maker of Armitron, Anne Klein, Now and other brands – gave new meaning to high-end with its 24-ft.-tall exhibit featuring its brands in ideal retail showcase displays. In one of its large showcases, Seiko educated retailers about its battery-less Kinetic watch technology. SMH, including each of its U.S. divisions for the first time at The JCK Show, built a large, open suite with a central reception area. And top Swiss luxury brands were featured in a By Appointment Only courtyard.

Away from Time Square in the all-luxury Galleria, near the show floor entrance, Geneva-based Vacheron Constantin, the world’s oldest continually operating watchmaker, made its first U.S. trade show appearance in at least seven years.

Sports and karat gold: A number of vendors courted retailers riding the wave of sport watch sales. They added steel bracelets, newly functional or larger bezels and luminescent hands and markers.

Vendors also offered greater options regarding timing functions, whether it be adding a chronograph for the first time or creating digital-analog combinations. Generally, water resistance was upgraded, typically to at least 330 feet for sport models, and straps were conspicuously water-resistant to appeal to today’s better-educated watch consumer. For the same reason, sapphire crystals were far more common, and screw-down crowns and bezels could be found more easily in sport lines.

Away from sport watches, women’s karat gold watches garnered renewed attention from retailers and manufacturers. The category, while hardly new, appears to be on the rise. “I wanted to find two watch companies to add more ladies’ models to our store,” said Corrina Huang, co-owner of Mathis Fine Jewelry and its watch store, Modern Time, both in Houston, Tex. Since opening the watch store in mid-1993, Huang has noticed more men asking for women’s gold dress watches as gifts.

Huang and other retailers at the show could select from an unusually large selection of newly minted women’s 14k and 18k gold lines. Omega, known in recent years for its masculine astronaut and sport models, introduced Saphette, a line of 18k women’s watches, and a steel and gold women’s line called DeVille Prestige Jewelry. Pulsar prominently displayed its first-ever 14k women’s line. Among other new models, Piaget introduced a petite version of its 18k Dancer women’s line. Michael Anthony debuted a branded 14k watch line, and Movado introduced the Minuet collection of women’s karat gold watches.

Time for new design: Retailers in search of fashion watch lines, designer lines or brands new to the U.S. had a wide selection. Designers Nicole Miller and Robert Lee Morris debuted their watches at the show, and David Yurman showed new models in the watch line he introduced earlier this year. Esprit launched a watch line to add to its clothing empire; the line includes solar-powered models and automatics.

Brands new to the U.S. included Michele Timepieces, a fashion and sport brand that is popular in South America; Titan, a full line of watches from the India-based Tata Industries; Art In Time from Alfex, a collection of eight watches with humorous character designs by Berlin artist Dorothee Walter (Alfex is distributed in the U.S. by Swiss Watch Corp., New York, N.Y.); Epos, Swiss mechanical watches with a variety of luxury looks at moderate prices; Catena, a line of Swiss-made slim dress watches being reintroduced into the U.S.; and three lines from Chelsea Marketing, which last year introduced Mondaine to the U.S.

Also new were Buler Swiss, a sporty fashion line distributed by Accutime Watch Corp., New York, N.Y., and Wolverine Wilderness, a new watch line from the outdoor footwear company of the same name. The watches are made by Prime Time Watch Co., New York, N.Y.

Also seen at Time Square and nearby:

  • Vacheron Constantin introduced a rare women’s automatic as part of its flagship Phidias line. The new men’s model is the company’s first officially registered chronometer.

  • SMH (U.S) formally launched Pierre Balmain, the watch from the French fashion house that SMH (U.S.) now distributes in North America. Bob Emmons, brand manager for Longines, will oversee Pierre Balmain.

  • Rotary Watches (USA) unveiled five new product lines, including a limited-edition Centenary to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

  • Chelsea Marketing of San Diego, Cal., added three brands to its growing distribution network. In addition to Mondaine, the Swiss railway watch it launched in the U.S. last year, Chelsea showed Click-Clock, a whimsical do-it-yourself kit watch from Denmark; Ventura, a modernist-inspired line featuring works from different designers; and Mahara MHR Montres, a line of rugged Swiss-made, Italian-designed watches with colorful dials, large numerals and aviator motifs. The company is headed by former Gruen executive Steven Holtzman.

  • Gevril, the much anticipated new brand from UTime, debuted at its own booth featuring a watchmaker at work. The watch is made in steel and 18k gold, includes three sizes and a chronograph, sports two patents and is priced between $895 and $3,450 retail. The watchmaker will be available for retailers to use for in-store promotions.

  • Armitron’s new Durasteel line features all-steel sports models with analog-digital displays.

  • In personnel news, Hal Wilensky, former executive vice president of Seiko, now heads the U.S. distribution of Swiss designer brand André Le Marquand.

– Mike Thompson

FORUM CONFRONTS THORNY FAMILY ISSUES

Should spouses who work in jewelry stores be paid the same as non-family employees – or at all? And who should be in charge – family member or long-time non-family employee – when the boss of a family-owned business is incapacitated?

Thorny issues such as these captured the interest of several hundred jewelers and their staffers, families and guests at the Industry Issues Forum at The JCK Show. Titled “Ethics & the Family Business,” the presentation touched on many fairness issues that occur in family-owned stores.

H. David Morrow, director of training and education for the Diamond Promotion Service and a former retailer, was moderator. Panel members who provided the spontaneous interplay of ideas were Carl Schmieder, president of Schmieder & Son Jewelers, Phoenix, Ariz. (playing “Mr. Hometown Jeweler”); Helene Huffer, owner of Elaine Cooper & Co., a high-end jeweler in Philadelphia, Pa. (“Ms. Upscale Jeweler”); John Lilly, chief executive of Lillys’ Crown Jewelers, a 10-store chain based in West Virginia (“Mr. Classic Jeweler”); Debbie Hiss, marketing and public relations adviser and teacher at the Gemological Institute of America (“Sylvia Seller, a sales associate”); Michelle Sterrett, a high school teacher who occasionally helps in her husband’s jewelry store in Moberly, Miss. (“Ms. Professional, an involved spouse”); Dr. Lisa Newton, professor of philosophy and director of the program of applied ethics at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. (“Ms. Conscience”); and Michael Caples, an attorney with Jackson, Lewis, Snitzler & Krupman, a labor and employment law firm (“Mr. Litigator”).

The panel agreed that a family business has unique problems. “Family members aren’t like other employees,” said Newton. “The business is run for the family and they will inherit it.” Still, the owners must be “fair” and “honest” in dealing with family and non-family employees, said Newton and other panel members.

Giving family members benefits such as trade show trips and training that is denied to others “can destroy the morale of a business,” said Newton.

And unequal pay or discipline can create legal problems if a disgruntled non-family employee sues, added Caples. “A jury won’t be very sympathetic,” he warned.

He also said that while laws don’t require you to treat family employees the same as non-family employees, store policies should be spelled out in writing for moral reasons and legal protection.

Caples added that not paying family members who work in the store can raise problems with minimum wage, insurance coverage and tax consequences.

Generally, the panelists agreed that fairness should govern the running of a family store. But the issue of who is in charge – family member or employee – when the boss is temporarily laid up wasn’t resolved.

The question arose of whether ethics issues should be controlled by the “blood is thicker than water” dictum. “No,” said Newton. “That just makes things more difficult. Family needs purpose and business needs a sense of humanity. ‘Family business’ brings the two together.”

BUILDING SALES WITH ITALIAN GOLD JEWELRY

The traffic- and profit-building potential of fine Italian gold jewelry was spotlighted by a 24-karat panel of jewelry and retailing experts at The JCK Show. The breakfast forum titled “Fulfilling America’s Love Affair with Italian Gold Jewelry” was sponsored by the World Gold Council, the Italian Trade Commission, the Vicenza Trade Fair Board and JCK magazine.

Robyn Lewis of the Italian Jewelry Guild moderated the panel, whose members reviewed the affluent niches most likely to buy Italian gold jewelry, the advantages of branded and designer collections, and how to position the jewelry to attract more customers and raise a store’s image.

“Nowhere is the consumer love affair with Italian gold jewelry more apparent than in the U.S.,” said Italian Trade Commissioner Pasquale Bova, based in Los Angeles, Cal. In 1994, he noted, 41% of all gold jewelry imports to the U.S. were Italian. This indicates U.S. consumers’ appreciation of Italian jewelry and “the excellent relationship between U.S. buyers and their Italian vendors,” he said.

The panel also included David Arnold, manager of the watches and jewelry section of Town & Country magazine; Christine Yorke, merchandise manager for the World Gold Council; Leopoldi Poli of La Nouvelle Bague, a manufacturer in Florence, Italy; Alberto Pavan of Superoro, a manufacturer in Vicenza, Italy; Ruth Tivol of Tivol Jewels, Kansas City, Mo.; Jan Calass of Mayor’s Jewelers, Coral Gables, Fla.; Leon Adams of Cellini Jewelers, New York, N.Y.; and Hedda T. Schupak, JCK fashion editor.

Among the many points they made:

  • 5% of American households have incomes topping $100,000. These comprise the prime market for fine gold jewelry.

  • Many U.S. jewelers are missing the boat. “Many women say they love gold jewelry,” said Yorke. “But they also tell us they see the same thing time and again when they visit their local jeweler, or they see beautiful jewelry that isn’t in their price range. She also said women shop for design first and then value.

  • Tivol said Italian gold jewelry has increased sales and lifted the image at Tivol Jewels over the years. She urged jewelers to train their staffs so they can speak knowledgeably about Italian gold jewelry, to display it prominently, to work closely with the manufacturers and to redefine customers’ wardrobes with promotions for Italian gold jewelry.

  • Consumers are becoming more brand-conscious in gold jewelry, said Calass, and “Made in Italy” has become virtually “a brand name in itself.” However, she urged exclusivity because “saturation is the death of designer jewelry.”

  • Italian gold jewelry has quality, aesthetic sensibility and status, said Adams.

  • The brands a retailer offers set it apart in a customer’s mind, said Schupak. “Italian gold jewelry has an image of style and quality…Carrying and promoting it establishes a jeweler as a source of individuality, craftsmanship and quality.”

William George Shuster