To Market, to Market



After two decades at the sands, the JCK show has moved to a sunnier spot on the ­southern end of the strip. Herewith, five ­“itineraries” to help you survive—and thrive—during the ­industry’s biggest week of the year.

Inside Info

From May 31 to June 7, the Mandalay Bay Events Center hosts a confluence of jewelry shows across nearly 1 million square feet of exhibit space divided between two levels.

There’s nothing same-same about Las Vegas this year. Whether you’re a 20-year veteran of the JCK show or a newbie to the constellation of trade fairs taking place in the Nevada desert this month, you’re about to discover what the largest jewelry show in the nation looks like at its new venue, Mandalay Bay, where a new floor plan, arranged by product categories, promises to make the buying experience for retailers easier and more intuitive.

That’s a good thing. As you well know, your experiences in Vegas will set the stage for the crucial holiday season. For some of you, meetings on the show floor will evoke surgical procedures in their organization and intensity. For others, the real business takes place at the blackjack tables, where bottomless glasses of ­bourbon help grease the deals struck well into the wee hours.

No matter where you like to bargain, you’ll want to employ your best buying strategies. Laid out across the following pages are tips for shopping the shows in five categories, including sneak peeks of the products your peers are coveting. All you need to bring are your wish lists, your walking shoes, and a generous supply of aspirin. (Trust us.) Let the schmoozing begin!

DESIGNER JEWELRY

Inside Info

JCK’s Design Center is a natural place to start your search for new designer jewelry, but don’t miss the Prestige Promenade, home to 68 leading talents, at its new pavilion on the main aisle.

You know the drill: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But for William Travis Kukovich, that oft-invoked phrase pertains, most acutely, to the contents of his wallet. “I spend all of my money there!” he jokes. The president (Kukovich’s business cards actually read el presidente) of William Travis Jewelry in Chapel Hill, N.C., has a laser-focused mission to find great new designs when he gets to Sin City. “It’s my biggest shop of the year,” he says of the campaign to stock his 2,000-square-foot, 10-year-old store with pieces from such designers as Suzy Landa and Amrapali.

Small Whisper Cascade earrings in 18k gold with chain accents and freshwater pearls; $845; Amáli Jewelry Design, New York City; 718-789-8976; amalijewelry.com

Gerber rings in 18k gold with 0.12 ct. t.w. diamonds and amethyst, brown topaz, blue topaz, or citrine; $1,100; Lauren Sigman, Winter Park, Fla.; 407-256-4011; laurensigmanjewelry.com

Like many retailers, Kukovich finds it overwhelming to grapple with 2,500-plus vendors, so he abandoned his strategy of walking the entire floor plan before committing to any vendors in particular. “By the time I returned, the one-of-a-kinds had already sold,” he says. Now, he divides six days’ coverage of JCK Las Vegas into three parts, committing one day each to window-shop vendors of colored stones, designer lines, and everything else, returning on the second day to buy.

Nancy Markoe approaches her show plan with a Sharpie and an exhibitor map; she makes notes like “go back here” to remember the better finds. The owner of Nancy Markoe Gallery in St. Pete Beach, Fla.—purveyor of such lines as Ed Levin Jewelry, Donna Chambers, and Misha—also makes note of collections with ­similar looks. She then investigates price points to determine the best deals, with an eye to avoiding design repetition. Markoe sets aside her last day to shop with a buddy—a noncompeting store owner with a different aesthetic than hers. “Your buddy can point out things you never even saw,” she notes. This year she’s also doing more preplanning, including online research to determine what exhibitors might be worth her attention.

Keeping some flexibility in your schedule is always advisable, say show veterans, given that you frequently need to seize unique opportunities on the spot. “We wing it more than others—we don’t set appointments,” says Jeremy Oster, co-owner of Oster Jewelers in Denver.

This year’s move to the Mandalay Bay Events Center brings with it a new floor plan and some lingering anxiety about how to find long-established vendors in unfamiliar locations. However, many buyers are looking forward to the change and think it may inadvertently help them make some discoveries.

“The mix-up might be good to get people out of their ruts,” Kukovich says.

Necklace with 31.33 ct. fire opal, 1.8 cts. t.w. orange sapphires, and 0.04 ct. t.w. diamonds; $12,250; Suzy Landa, New York City; 212-874-2346; suzylanda.com

To be sure, the JCK show’s new location—at the opposite end of the Las Vegas Strip from the Wynn, where the Couture show is taking place—will require a more thoughtful approach to ­scheduling. “There’s more travel time involved, so we’ll have to be more focused,” Oster says.

William Travis Kukovich, el presidente at his eponymous store in Chapel Hill, N.C., divvies up his time in Las Vegas carefully.

There is, however, no denying the relief many JCK veterans feel over not having to navigate the lower level of the show’s former home at the Sands Convention Center.

Instead, attendees can look forward to poolside views and plenty of sunshine at the new location—all the better to help assess the true color of various stones. For those in the market for fashionably colorful jewels, show veterans suggest carting along stones from your store to gauge color differences under convention center lights, or asking vendors to escort you outside to view stones in natural light. “I’ve been burned on stone-­buying before at shows,” says B.J. Foreman, president of Boris Litwin Jewelers in Cincinnati.

Also important, if somewhat obvious, advice: “Don’t go hung over!” says Kukovich, who admits he did just that three years ago—and literally paid the price. After a late night of gin and tonics at the Tryst bar in the Wynn, he forced himself to get up the next morning for a 10 a.m. appointment with a silver vendor whose work was not a good match for his store. “The employees were very high-energy, and I wrote them a check for $3,500 just to get out of there.” —Jennifer Heebner

DIAMONDS

Inside Info

Seeking answers to your burning questions about the diamond market? Get thee to the Diamond Plaza at the JCK show, where dealers from all over the world congregate.

With diamond prices rapidly increasing and availability sporadic, the JCK show has become as important for learning about the market for gems as it is for buying them.

“We live in a world that now changes daily,” says Terry Chandler, president and chief executive officer of the Diamond Council of America. “To understand what is happening, there is no substitute for being face-to-face with your vendors, having a conversation with your peers.”
Rob May, executive director of the Natural Color Diamond Association (NCDIA), adds that if he were a retailer, he “would make contact with some of the big diamond dealers and talk to them about what’s really happening in the market.


Courtesy of NCDIA

Martin Rapaport, chairman of Rapaport Corp., will deliver his customary “State of the Diamond Industry” presentation at 8 a.m. on June 5 in the Banyan Ballrooms at Mandalay Bay. Meanwhile, the Natural Color Diamond Association will unveil its new “Color Palette” promotion at the show, featuring a rotating cast of rings with natural color pink, yellow, and green diamonds.

“Find out what pricing is,” he says. “What they are expecting shortages of. Why it’s so hard to find melee. Why an engagement ring that used to be $20,000 is now $26,000. Retailers really need to understand what is going on in the market so they can explain it to their customers.”

Another useful way to learn about the market is, of course, through the show’s seminar program. As a longtime diamond editor for JCK, this reporter will discuss the “Top 10 Issues Facing Our Industry” on June 4 at 3 p.m. in Tradewinds CD. At 8 a.m. the following day, June 5, in the Banyan Ballrooms, Rapaport Corp. chairman Martin Rapaport will again raise the rafters with his popular talk on the “State of the Diamond Industry.” That will be followed by two Rapaport-sponsored events at the same locale: A forum on diamond certification at 10 a.m., and another on fair trade jewelry at 2 p.m. For information on the Kimberley Process and related conflict diamond issues, the World Diamond Council will be holding a special meeting on Thursday, June 2, at 1:30 p.m. in Tradewinds AB. The keynote speaker is KP chairman Mathieu Yamba.

Once you’ve educated yourself, you’re all set for the buy. The best place to start is, naturally, the show’s Diamond Plaza, which is located in the Bayside Exhibit Hall and features literally dozens of diamond vendors offering both loose and mounted gems, including many of the biggest names in the industry. The Israeli Pavilion, which will be raffling off a free trip to Israel, is another place to find many leading diamantaires.

Experts say that trends at the show will likely include colored ­diamonds, which retailers are turning to as “something different.” The best clearinghouse of information on the gems is the NCDIA, which this year is debuting its “Color Palette” promotion for jewelers. The program rotates four different color-focused trays, each featuring more than 24 pieces of colored diamonds, both loose and mounted, among its retail members. The stores hang on to the trays for six to eight weeks before passing them on. The association also provides point-of-sale materials, countercards, postcards, a social media and website package as well as facts, tips, and links on natural color diamonds. “The retailers can tell a new story every month,” May says. “Many do not carry this many pieces in their store.”

Colored diamonds feature prominently in the latest creations from Royal Asscher of America, an exhibitor at LUXURY at JCK. To celebrate its new “royal” title from the Queen of the Netherlands, the company has released a special Stars of Africa ring with orange floating diamonds (orange is the official color of the Netherlands).

Among the more unusual colored diamond vendors coming to the show is Utah’s Suncrest, which will be premiering its line of HPHT-treated pink stones at the fair. (For more on Suncrest, see “The ABCs of HPHT.”

Another notable first-time exhibitor is Rio Tinto Diamonds, also showing at LUXURY. The miner—which markets goods produced by the Argyle, Diavik, and Murowa mines in Australia, Canada, and ­Zimbabwe, respectively—plans a “museum-type ­presentation” that will include information on its mines, “select ­diamantaires,” as well as a display featuring the company’s famed Argyle pinks, says Rebecca Foerster, manager of its U.S. office. Mining rival De Beers also promises to host events built around its much-talked-about ­Forevermark (details were not available at press time).

Buying, however, is only half the equation. For savvy selling strategies, look again to the show’s seminar schedule. Expect sales trainer Shane Decker to deliver his standard high-energy mix of inspiration and exhortation at his seminar, “Closing Techniques: Are You Up to the Challenge?” on June 2 at 9:45 a.m. in Tradewinds AB.

Finally, for a little diamond-themed fun, one of the show’s marquee events is the Indian Diamond & Colorstone Association’s 27th annual gala dinner, which takes place June 4 at 6 p.m., at the South Seas CDF Ballroom. —Rob Bates

BRIDAL JEWELRY

Inside Info

In keeping with its expanded product focus, JCK will feature a Bridal area, home to dozens of dedicated manufacturers. LUXURY at JCK will also host its share of bridal specialists.

Two retailers from opposite sides of the country—Hummingbird Jewelers in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and the Meadowlark Gallery in Corte Madera, Calif.—are marking similar firsts this year: shopping for bridal jewelry at JCK Las Vegas. For years, Bruce Lubman, co-owner of the New York store, shopped the shows located closer to home because they sufficiently met his needs…until now: “The East Coast trade shows have become so pathetic that I’ll probably go to Las Vegas,” he says.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Cohn, general manager of the California store, is looking to launch a bridal department within Meadowlark’s longtime American craft gallery. “We are selling less on the craft end of the business—fewer glass and wood items—and more jewelry,” he says. “We live in a community that’s underserved in bridal.”

Above: David Liu, cofounder and chief executive officer of The Knot Inc., will present a seminar titled “The Ring and the Digital Bride”; right: Kirk Kara Charlotte engagement set—bridal mounting with 0.87 ct. t.w. diamonds, matching wedding band (sold separately) with 0.50 ct. t.w. diamonds—in platinum or 18k white, yellow, or rose gold; price on request; Kirk Kara, Northridge, Calif.; 800-874-0181; kirkkara.com

Located north of San Francisco, the store caters to a number of second-time brides and older first-time married couples. Cohn speculates that well-known names like Tacori and Verragio could help draw them into the store, thanks in no small part to their significant online marketing campaigns. “People who are ages 26 to 32 are constantly on the Internet,” Cohn says.

Internet-based diamond sales are a big preoccupation for retailers, which is why JCK Las Vegas will feature “The Ring and the Digital Bride,” presented by David Liu, cofounder and CEO of The Knot Inc., on Saturday, June 4, at 11:15 a.m. He’ll discuss how retailers can effectively market themselves to today’s brides and grooms. He’ll also share recent results from The Knot’s Jewelry Study, including key demographics, wedding jewelry buys, and shopping and style trends. That same day at 3 p.m., “How to Dominate the Engagement Business in Your Market: Connect With Gen X and Y,” presented by Andy Malis, president and founder of Baltimore PR and marketing firm MGH, promises to deliver even more insight into this crucial ­category. Malis, whose client roster includes the Timonium, Md.–based Smyth Jewelers and Pennsylvania’s Mountz ­Jewelers, is a popular speaker at industry trade shows and instructs retailers on how to attract technologically savvy customers to their stores. (All bridal seminars take place in Tradewinds AB.)

Traffic, however, isn’t everything. Between offering brands that are guaranteed to draw people to the store and those that offer a real measure of exclusivity, Scott Mathis, owner of K.S. Mathis Jewelers in Downers Grove, Ill., prefers the latter. This year, he’s looking for a bridal line full of romantic styles but not one as widely available as Tacori. “I like companies to have a national presence, but not so saturated in a market that you can find them everywhere,” says Mathis. “If everybody else has it, you start competing on price and not quality.”

Mathis plans to check out Kirk Kara of Los Angeles because it has a nationwide presence—some of its SKUs are evident in an online jewelry gallery at TheKnot.com—yet is still in the process of gaining momentum and recognition among bridal shoppers. He’ll also make time to see new styles from New York City–based H.J. Namdar, which he already carries.

A distinct advantage that brick-and-mortar retailers like Mathis have over their Internet competition, says Shane Decker, president of Ex-Sell-Ence in Greenwood, Ind., is that a bride doesn’t want to tell her friends “that her bridal set came from CheapDiamonds.com.” To expand on that idea, Decker is presenting a seminar on “Becoming Your Area’s Bridal Headquarters” at 1:30 p.m. on June 4.

One topic he’s sure to touch on: the need to offer bridal shoppers a wide selection of styles and price points, including entry-level pieces in platinum. With a now negligible price-per-ounce difference between gold and platinum, the latter has become even more appealing to shoppers. “It doesn’t make sense to sell an 18 karat gold customer anything less than platinum,” says Huw Daniel, president of Platinum Guild International USA.

To make it easier to find manufacturers with platinum selections at the JCK show, PGI-USA is outlining a trail on the show floor map—platinum destinations will be highlighted in blue—and is listing them in the show guide. Plus, attendees can find them using a free downloadable mobile app for the show; with GPS navigation technology, buyers can click on the name of a platinum destination from the list and then be virtually guided to the booth.

Seasoned show shoppers suggest bridal buyers preselect vendors to visit and narrow down their shopping lists as much as possible. For example, do you need semi-mountings that retail between $2,500 and $5,000, or mountings that accommodate specific center-stone sizes?

Whatever you do, “don’t overschedule yourself,” urges Daniel. “Leave some room for exploring the show floor—especially this year since it’s all new.”

If the show experience seems daunting, take heart—you’re not alone. Plenty of retailers have a complicated relationship with market week. “It’s overwhelming,” says Mathis of the selection on offer in Vegas. “And it’s too long—but it needs to be longer.” —JH

COLORED STONES

Inside Info

The AGTA GemFair will remain open June 2–7, a day after the main JCK show closes. Find your favorite dealers in the South Pacific and Islander Ballrooms at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Maximizing your colored stone purchases during market week starts with knowing what’s hot among buyers and sellers. For retailers who plan to buy loose gemstones at the JCK show this year, the top color choice is—no surprise—blue, with sapphire leading the pack. One reason the stone has maintained its top-dog position in the trade is its recession-proof reputation, says Richard Drucker, president of Gemworld International in Glenview, Ill. With demand on the rise, prices for better natural colors are inching upward, according to the gem market researcher.

There’s also the matter of some rather unbeatable publicity: With the late Princess Diana’s 18 ct. oval sapphire and diamond engagement ring back in the news thanks to the recent nuptials of Prince William and his bride, Kate Middleton, blue sapphire is enjoying a honeymoon all its own.



Courtesy of AGTA

Color your world with stones such as aquamarine (middle), blue zircon (right), and red-and-green tourmaline (above); limited-edition necklace with bicolor tourmaline, pavé and rose-cut diamonds, $4,800, Jemma Wynne, New York City, 212-980-8500; jemmawynne.com


Courtesy of AGTA

Bret Dougherty, vice president of estate buying for Studio 2015 Jewelry in Woodstock, Ill., is, like most retailers, trying to get his hands on blue in a variety of gemstones. “I’ll be looking for everything from aquamarines on the lighter end to the rich ‘Windex blue’ of the Cambodian [zircon] material on up to the saturated blue of sapphires,” Dougherty says. “The whole blue range has been doing well for us.”

David Friedman, president and co-owner of Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers in Los Angeles, is also singing the blues. “I’m looking for blue in everything from benitoite to sapphire,” says Friedman. “We’ll be going heavy into tourmalines for blues and green as well, as our market runs the gamut from affordable earrings for nearby college students on up to the Beverly Hills shoppers. And for us, tourmaline is the state stone for California.”

Tourmaline is finding favor among retailers well beyond the Golden State because of both its price and its versatility; the ­traditional variety of the gem comes in blue, green, and bluish-green, while the rubellite variety will satisfy buyers in search of reds and pinks—both trending colors for the fall fashion palette.

Buyers should be pleased to learn that this year they’ll have extra time to shop around. For the first time in the history of the JCK show, the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) GemFair that runs adjacent and concurrent to the main show will remain open the day after the main show closes. “This will give buyers and exhibitors at the JCK show a full extra day to buy colored stones and pearls at the GemFair,” says Adam Graham, marketing manager for the AGTA.

For everyone attending JCK Las Vegas this year, the new venue at Mandalay Bay promises more adventure than usual. The easiest way to find the GemFair is to hit the beach. “All the AGTA colored stone and pearl vendors will be concentrated at the Beach Level,” says Graham. “This should make it easy to find us.”

To overcome any potential snags that come with navigating a new venue, Graham suggests not stacking vendor appointments back-to-back. He also encourages buyers to use the JCK show’s GPS app and to make use of “My Show Planner” to quickly locate favorite exhibitors and make it to appointments on time.

Also, before leaving, be sure to promote the event to customers and pay attention to their reactions. Do your due diligence, and you’ll come to the show with a list of goods that have elicited the best reactions from your sales staff and customers.

Mark Clodius, co-owner of Clodius & Co. Jewelers in Rockford, Ill., will, for example, have his eye on out-of-the-ordinary material in Las Vegas: namely, rose-colored zircon. The retailer purchased a few samples at the recent Smart Show in Chicago. “My staff and many customers just loved the color,” Clodius says.

In addition to the rose zircon, Clodius has very specific colored stones on his wish list, including red-to-green color-change alexandrite demonstrating “stoplight” intensity; rare trapiche emeralds, named after the Spanish word for a spoked wheel due to the six-pointed pattern found on crystals; and red and pink tourmalines “in the brighter material that has been entering the market for many years.”

Graham says unique gem materials, such as the items on ­Clodius’ shopping list, can serve as good differentiators in a crowded marketplace. Follow the lead set by Nancy Schuring, owner of Devon Fine Jewelry in Wyckoff, N.J. At the February AGTA GemFair in Tucson, Ariz., she discovered a new supply of Ethiopian opal. Prices were reasonable—they ranged from $50 to $100 per carat—and because it is an unusual gemstone variety, competitors in her market don’t yet carry it. Customers have reacted very positively to the material, which, at its best, features a painterly palette of opal’s trademark swirls.  

“The Ethiopian opal has a mainly bluish-green color and a luminous quality to it that requires most of the material to be made into doublets,” Schuring says. “But the orange-green material has more body color, which stands well on its own.” —Paul Holewa

Equipment, Supplies & Services

Inside Info

Equipment, Technology and Supplies (ETS)—the premier gathering of service providers to the trade—will run June 3–7 at Mandalay Bay’s Bayside Exhibit Hall.

As gold prices continue their upward trajectory, it’s no surprise that retail jewelers heading to JCK Las Vegas are searching for the latest and greatest gold weighing and testing equipment. Point-of-sale (POS) software solutions, diamond scanning equipment, and the new must-have gadgets are other items competing for open-to-buy dollars.

Before hitting the show floor, however, retailers are advised to consult with their bench jewelers and the heads of their repair and custom departments to review online and print catalogs from manufacturers and suppliers, says Joel Deming, manager of tools and supplies for Cincinnati supplier Cas-Ker Co.


Courtesy of Cas-Ker Co.

Courtesy of Pepetools

Left: a legal-for-trade gold scale, which can weigh up to 1,200 grams, $309, Cas-Ker Co., Cincinnati, 513-674-7700, casker.com; right: an 8-inch precision bench shears, $490, Pepetools, Oklahoma City, 405-745-4054, pepetools.com

Deming also encourages retailers to contact familiar suppliers before the show to determine their show specials. “We typically give retailers 10 percent off for orders sealed at the show,” Deming says. “Depending on the dollar value of the items a retailer wants to purchase, that discount amount could mean a noticeable adjustment to what they planned on buying.”

In the equipment arena, many retailers would agree you can’t go wrong with gold testing or analyzing equipment. For Rex Solomon, president of Houston Jewelry, gold and silver buying have become significant profit centers for his store. The retailer currently has a displacement scale that helps weigh solid gold pieces with the aid of specific gravity measurements, but he’s hoping to find scales that help weigh hollow pieces and jewelry set with gemstones as good complements to his current displacement technology.

“I’ve heard about sonic resonators that allow the user to determine if a silver or gold bar is pure based on how sound travels through it,” Solomon says. “This is breaking technology that would save a lot of time, especially with silver bars.”

At Nelson Coleman Jewelers in Towson, Md., co-owner Chris Coleman will be on the lookout for small, portable scales to facilitate gold buying as part of his store’s technological evolution to a wireless POS system. “We’ll be looking for small, accurate scales that will allow sales associates using iPads to work with gold-­buying customers online,” says Coleman. “This will greatly improve the speed and efficiency for taking in gold using our online form.”

Susan Eisen, president and founder of Susan Eisen Fine Jewelry and Watches, will also be searching for testing equipment but with a high-tech edge: a laser gold-testing machine. “We already have a laser welder and a laser engraving machine,” says the El Paso, Texas, store owner. “So this type of technology would be a good fit with our current level of technology.”

One of the unintended consequences of rising gold prices is the interest they have spurred in alternative, less expensive metals. These, however, often come with distinct tool and equipment needs that can easily be researched and sourced in Las Vegas.

“The challenge for retailers is to find the proper tools to work with harder metals such as stainless steel and titanium and other alternative metals being used today,” says Tony Aizenman, president of Pepetools in Oklahoma City. “Be sure to ask exhibitors about replacement parts or new equipment that’s up to the task of working with these metals.”

Another reason the tech side is booming: Custom and repair work is good business. Lasers, for example, are high on Mark Enix’s list. The owner of Knoxville, Tenn.–based Fountain City ­Jewelers purchased a top-end, heavy-duty laser welder seven years ago and is looking for the latest tabletop unit to complement his larger machine. The compact unit would double output while serving as a backup during repairs or function as a stopgap should the older laser need to be replaced (laser welders last 15 years on average).

Perhaps the thing JCK does best is meetings: coffee meetings, breakfast meetings, and, of course, happy-hour meetings. Nothing beats the power of these face-to-face interactions for crucial information gathering and cool-eyed assessments of what it would be like to work with a vendor.

Eisen, for one, will be on the hunt for display cases—but she’s intent on finding a domestic manufacturer. “I hear a lot of stories from other retailers about working with U.S. display companies only to wait six months for their Chinese manufacturers to deliver,” she says. —PH