The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas Business Solid Overall

Between May 29 and June 5, Las Vegas was the center of the jewelry universe, as The JCK Show and its sister events, LUXURY by JCK and Swiss Watch by JCK, drew 3,400 exhibitors, more than 20,000 buyers, 300 journalists, dozens of celebrities, seven Rising Stars, and one Hollywood icon into its orbit. The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas featured 22 national pavilions, 40 educational sessions, and two convention centers, including, for the first time, The Las Vegas Convention Center. The city also was host to satellite jewelry and gem shows taking place at the same time.

The Sands Expo & Convention Center, The JCK Show’s home since its inception in 1992, hosted the majority of exhibitors, but the LVCC held another 400 companies and also was the site of this year’s keynote address, delivered by actress, author, and entrepreneur Suzanne Somers. Cadeaux, the Luxury Gift Collection, a new pavilion with 200 upscale home accessory, tableware, and gift exhibitors, also made its debut at the LVCC.

While acknowledging some difficulties with the new LVCC venue, the show’s management said the 2007 edition was a success overall. “From the high-end manufacturers to the first-time designer, the buzz was that The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas was a great event,” said Dave Bonaparte, group vice president of JCK Events, which produces the show. “We’re going through a review process to see if we’re going to continue with the LVCC,” he told JCK magazine in July. “There were some good things about it—the keynotes were well attended, and we were able to accommodate exhibitors who’ve been demanding more space—but the [buyer] traffic wasn’t what they’d hoped it would be.

“We’re currently conducting research, listening to what both exhibitors and buyers have to say, and getting their feedback. Ultimately, we’re going to do what’s right for the customer,” he said.

Show management will decide by late summer whether to continue with the LVCC exhibit space, Bonaparte said. The space was meant to be a stopgap measure for 2007 and ’08 while the Sands undergoes an aggressive expansion plan; however, the original design for the Sands expansion was scrapped and a new building design is under way. That means if the show continues using the LVCC, it will do so through ’09. When completed, the enlarged Sands will be easier to navigate and more comfortable for buyers to work, said Bonaparte.

Exhibitors who made appointments fared best. “We had appointments with retailers nonstop for the entire JCK Show; it was truly a terrific event,” said Gadi Cohen, general manager of Universal Pacific, a division of the Antwerp, Belgium–based Pluczenik Group.

Avi Raz, president of Los Angeles–based A&Z Pearls, said his company also benefited from preplanning. “We sent out our brand new catalog to 7,500 stores, and I can honestly say this was the best show we’ve had in our entire 27 years in business. My advice to other exhibitors is to go the extra mile preshow; it pays off when you get to the show.” And Saro Marukian, president of Los Angeles–based Siera Jewelry Inc., called this year’s show the best in 16 years.

Some international exhibitors reported more mixed results. For example, Adam Pstragowski of S&A Amber Jewellery, said on the second day that business had been slow. It’s the Polish company’s eighth year exhibiting at the show. “Last year was much easier,” Pstragowski said. “This year it’s slower. We don’t know why.”

But Margaret Gliwinski, of Ambermoda, another Polish amber jewelry designer and manufacturer, reported a lot of interest on the second day of the show, and several retailers were checking out the collections while JCK was there. “It’s very busy,” she said. “Customers are interested in Technonature [the company’s newest collection]. They’re always looking the first few days and then they come back later to buy.”

The Hong Kong Pavilion (which includes companies from mainland China) had two locations this year: the first floor of the Sands Expo, where many international pavilions were located, and suites in a ballroom on the third floor of the Venetian hotel. Business was brisk in the Sands, but markedly slower in the Venetian.

It was so busy at Continental Holding Ltd., of Hong Kong, (located in the Sands) on the third day of the show that Alice Chan, creative director, barely had time to speak with JCK. “We are very busy,” she said, before returning to customers.

Xin Zhi Hong, general manager of Shanghai Lao Feng Xiang Jewellery Co., said he was at the show to introduce his company to the United States and the world. “The U.S. is an entirely new market, and we are looking for ways to understand it and explore,” he said through an interpreter. “We have some transactions at JCK, though it is not our primary concern. However, this will serve as a pathway to a great future for entering the U.S. market.”

TRENDS, DIAMONDS, AND GEMSTONES

While many of last season’s style trends returned for an encore, there were hints at what’s to come for 2008. In keeping with earlier shows this year, floral and nature motifs, rose gold in high-fashion pieces, black-and-white combinations, chocolate pearls, and yellow gold (especially with rich brushed or satiny finishes) continue to be popular and are selling well for fall, according to manufacturers.

Some of the new ideas evidenced at The JCK Show were black gold, pear-shape gems in pendants and drop earrings, burnished diamonds for a subtle sparkle in metal-intense pieces, and a hint of art-deco inspirations that work well with the clean lines popular in fashion for the season ahead. (A full report on jewelry trends and the ready-to-wear runway trends will appear in the next issue of JCKstyle.)

At the AGTA Pavilion, most exhibitors termed the buying “slow,” though some did quite well. Especially puzzling to exhibitors, given the U.S. dollar’s exchange rate, was a lack of the foreign buyers so prominent in Tucson, Ariz., last February.

Most of the colored-stone business focused on the high and low ends of the price spectrum. Midrange price, color, and quality stones weren’t moving. With all the concern over enhancements and disclosure, buyers either paid high prices for unheated “certed” goods, or bought inexpensive, good color, eye-clean goods, both natural and treated. Even so, the high-price goods—especially unheated ruby and sapphire—moved much more slowly than most dealers had anticipated.

Retailers are learning from designers that anything goes when it comes to color and cut. Traditional cuts still need to be well made, but unconventional cuts are stretching the boundaries. As for color, any gem that had obvious color and decent clarity moved, though pinks, purples, and Paraíba-like blue/green colors were the most popular.

Also indicative of the retail environment, colored-stone dealers observed requests for longer terms, more memo goods, and a lot of credit card payments, all of which ultimately let the retailers pay later.

Diamond dealers were generally content with their business in Las Vegas. The strongest demand was for big stones, a sign of the increasing strength in the high end. In fact, those stones are hard to keep in stock any time of year. “Bread and butter” stones (i.e., 0.50 to 2.00 cts.) were less wanted but still moved. Square cuts—particularly princess, cushions, and Asschers—continued to receive lots of attention.

“Journey” diamond jewelry also remained a strong seller—though mostly for people selling to the mass market—and some thought it was not as well promoted as it was last year. Three-stone diamond jewelry also continued to move, but diamond right-hand rings drew mixed reports.

There was much less talk about diamond branding this year, a sign that the diamond industry is moving the trend into a lower gear. Some companies that once heavily promoted their brands barely mentioned them at all. And, while at the height of diamond-branding fever there were so many sightholder parties they sometimes ran up against each other, this year hardly any sightholders threw the kind of lavish events we saw a few years ago.

This may be remembered as the year that synthetic (aka “cultured” and “lab-grown”) diamonds had a far bigger presence at the show, although it was still solely of the fancy-color variety. A number of booths displayed synthetic diamonds, while executives of manufacturer Gemesis—with their new spokesperson, industry veteran Joan Parker, in tow—threw a big party and were a visible presence at the show.

Many diamond dealers expressed signs of pessimism—not necessarily about the show, but about the industry and their eventual role in it. Their biggest worries are about the long-term future of the middle market, credit issues, and possible future bankruptcies of big companies.

On Monday, June 4, Martin Rapaport hosted his annual Rapaport Breakfast, followed by another seminar discussion later in the day. The topic of both was fair-trade jewelry. His special guest was Demos Takoulas, chief executive officer and founder of Vukani-Ubuntu (www.vukani.org), South Africa’s oldest jewelry development project. Takoulas said, “Being at The JCK [Show] is the single biggest thing to happen in South Africa’s development sector, empowering emerging black jewelers. It is the culmination of nine years of intensive skills development and training. Rapaport’s marketing initiative unlocks the most critical success factor: route-to-market.”

WATCH TRENDS

Watch companies at both The JCK Show and Swiss Watch by JCK reported very good to excellent business, citing healthy orders and new contacts. This was especially true of upscale lines.

Close to 200 watch firms exhibited, 18 percent more than in 2006. North American or world product debuts included luxury brand Harry Winston’s limited-edition Exotic Birds collection, Timex Group’s new midprice “technoluxury” TX brand, and the Hamlin Ultra Thin, a revived vintage brand with double-level casebacks. Las Vegas also saw the North American debut of midprice Montblanc’s Collection Villeret 1858, its entry into limited-edition haute horlogerie timepieces.

Other market newcomers included longtime Swiss brand Wyler Genève, European fashion line Cerruti 1881, Puma sport lifestyle watches, Paris Hilton’s eponymous watch brand, and Sector Group’s Phillip Watch, of Naples, Italy, (founded in 1858). Also debuting were Swiss-made, Florida-based Glam Rock’s upscale fashion watches, Body Glove sport watches, French fashion watch Clyda, and Italian fashion watch Vabene.

The JCK Show also was the site for some important relaunches, including luxury Swiss brand Maurice Lacroix, which is redefining its U.S. distribution and retail pricing; Kriëger’s Swiss-made Marine Chronometer (originally debuting in 1990) in a 43 mm analog-digital version with thermal compensation; and the licensed National Geographic brand (made by EganaGoldpfeil), redesigned for looks and field-tested by National Geographic explorers.

The show also demonstrated the strength of the diamond watch sector. German luxury jewelry maker Hellmuth debuted its first-ever luxury diamond watches, as did jewelry maker Armadani, whose licensed midprice Armadani Italia Swiss timepieces target men as consumers and independent jewelers as retailers. Bulova Corp.’s Caravelle brand, extending its retail pricing upward, debuted its first diamond watch line (at just under $200), while its upscale Wittnauer brand unveiled its new Warwick diamond watch series.

New York City jewelry maker Avianne & Co. presented its new luxury Imperial Time collection, with skeleton back and 12.00 cts. of diamonds. IceLink premiered limited-edition 18k diamond timepieces (including the Snow line, with loose diamonds in a dial window) in its 6 Time Zone Presidential collection. Elini debuted its Genesis and Square World (with five time zones) collections.

Orient, a major Japanese watchmaker, presented its 1950s camera-inspired square Star diamond watch, and Milus launched its women’s Apiana chrono (336 diamonds on dial and bezel), on a black galuchat strap.

All of these diamond watches are self-winding, underscoring the activity of automatic timepieces in the mid to upscale price range. Among other automatic notables were Croton’s Chronomaster, with wood inserts in its links; Xemex’s 40 mm Piccadilly Hours (with large hour hand); and Festina’s upscale Shockwave chrono (using titanium, carbon fiber, and rose gold).

Eye-catching ceramic watches were also on display, such as Croton’s Chronomaster chronograph, AK Anne Klein watches, the Korean brand Ecco, and LP Italy’s upscale Celano collection.

Technical standouts included Bell & Ross’s BR01 grand complication tourbillon, with its own stand that turns it into a desk clock; Wyler Genève’s tourbillon with its triple-protection system (and 333 diamonds, totaling 3.60 cts.); and Jules Jürgensen’s affordable hammer-tested Invincible and its 1,000-meter Ultimate Deep Sea sport watch.

Also notable are the growing number of watch brands adding or expanding on jewelry collections. Those at Las Vegas included IceLink (stainless steel or ceramic); Montblanc’s tantalum men’s jewelry; Meyers’s new Tattoo watch with matching jewelry; Elle’s sterling silver jewelry, which coordinates with its sterling silver watches; the Giantto diamond jewelry collection, from the owner of Von Dutch watches; Sector Jewels, from the Sector watch group; and Just Cavalli Jewels, an adjunct to Just Cavalli Time watches of fashion designer Roberto Cavalli.

EQUIPMENT AND TECHNOLOGY

The mood in the Equipment, Technology, Services and Supplies Pavilion was largely upbeat, especially for exhibitors offering CAD/CAM products. Their booths were full throughout the show. Even in the rear of the group of ground-level Venetian hotel meeting rooms that make up the ETS pavilion—a constant area of complaints for exhibitors in prior years—the mood was largely positive and business was brisk.

It was the first JCK Show for Darius Vasefi of EyeOnJewels Corp., Aliso, Calif. He introduced a product that allows jewelers to make live, online, private presentations to clients in their homes, offices, or anywhere in the world. E-commerce capabilities allow the transaction to be completed online. During the first day of the show he said he was getting some interest from retailers and had several appointments. Meanwhile, Bernie Hogan, of Australia-based Creative Computing, a software and business program manufacturer, said the show started slow but picked up the second day. It was also his company’s first JCK Show. And Louis Valentine, of GemFind.net, Laguna Nigel, Calif., expressed a great deal of optimism the first day, which was used to introduce the company’s business-to-consumer Web site.

Reports from store fixtures suppliers were largely positive, suggesting that retailers have remodeling on their minds. “This show for us is fantastic,” said Henry Ballester of Miami-based Artco Group, a store design and showcase manufacturer. Other manufacturers, such as Herb Schottland of Store Design and Fixturing, Chapel Hill, N.C., and Bob Norton of Miami-based NK Newlook, had mixed reports of when the business came—early or late—but overall were satisfied. Said Norton, “We’ve done very well. It’s only our second year, but a lot of people who saw us last year are looking at starting their projects.”