A return to higher-quality jewelry and an emphasis on value permeated buying trends at the sixth annual JCK International Jewelry Show, held May 30 to June 3 in Las Vegas, Nev.
According to many exhibitors, retailers who attended the show were in a buying mood, encouraged by a strong economy and looking forward to a profitable year. The recurring theme among these transactions was quality. “They want quality with a capital ‘Q,’” said Gall Raiman, president of Diamonds By Design, Los Angeles, Cal. “They want quality workmanship and they want service.”
Exhibitors reported a healthy mix of old and new customers.
Some noticed that long-time customers were buying larger quantities, were buying more for stock than on memo and were more willing to try different things. “My customers feel strong about the future,” said Tina Segal, a designer from Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. “They’re all talking about putting in new lines.”
Taking a cue from spring and summer fashion trends toward lightness and lace, delicate, feminine styles led the way in design trends. Exhibitors’ interpretations of femininity ranged from antique inspirations to airy but starkly modern. Here’s a roundup:
Bigger but not bolder. Proportions are scaling up with delicate designs that feel diminutive instead of dinky.
Platinum. The trend toward white continued but many exhibitors said platinum was more popular than white gold.
A return to the classics. Solitaires with large center stones and smaller side stones grabbed the attention
of companies in all ends of the market, inspiring some, like Town & Country, to base an entire new line on the look.
Antique inspirations. Ancient-
inspired looks are still popular, joined now by designs that hark back to more recent history, including briolette or rose-cut gems, sugarloaf cabochons and substantive filigree.
Shine and texture. In the designer and high-end market, intricate etching added a twinkle, while mid- and mass-market companies introduced new techniques in diamond-cut gold to make their filigree or woven pieces shimmer. Diamond pavé remained popular, but newer was a sprinkling of diamonds for a frosted effect.
Modern feminine look. Three-dimensional designs with cutouts, pendants on silk cords or ribbons, and stark geometric looks in miniature sizes. Wrapped, trellis and other open styles remained popular.
Pearls, big and colorful. More dealers and designers introduced black Tahitian pearls, white and golden South Sea pearls, larger and rounder freshwater pearls, Tahitian keshis and artificially colored akoyas.
Color comes back. More companies are accenting their white-metal designs with pearls or colored gems, particularly aquamarine, peridot and green tourmaline. Blue topaz made
a comeback, especially in darker shades. Yellow gold held its own, with various gems in oranges and yellows lending a new monochromatic touch.
Key looks from recent jewelry shows remained popular: neckwires, message jewelry, convertible or multiuse pieces, hinged-hoop earrings, enamel, spheres, nature and animals, chains or beads with stations and two-tone looks (rose/white gold, yellow/white gold, gold/platinum).
Diamonds, gemstones, pearls
Manufacturers and retailers hope new diamond cuts and “concepts” will counter the effect of price-shopping that has afflicted more standard shapes. Suberi Bros., New York City, introduced the Gabrielle™ cut, a modified round brilliant developed by Gabi Tolkowsky (see “Gem Notes,” p. 44). Also new was the InvisiRound, an invisible setting for round diamonds by D’Oro of Los Angeles, Cal. President Victor Ohanian called it the first round diamond to be invisibly set successfully into jewelry.
Colored gemstone dealers reported strong sales of corundum, especially blue, fancy and phenomenal sapphires. Why the interest in sapphires after months of less than stellar sales? “People always return to sapphires because of the combination of brilliance and color,” said Jacqui Grande of Radiance International, San Diego, Cal.
Tanzanite seemed a little less popular than in the past three years, with exhibitors saying many firms are overstocked. But Eric Braunwart of Columbia Gem House, Vancouver, Wash., predicted a shortage by Christmas because of a substantial decrease in the number of people mining it.
Chandra Raniga of Affro Gems Inc., Dallas, Tex., said other East African gems did very well, including tsavorite, chrome tourmaline and garnets. Other gems that attracted attention included “mocha” zircons; Neu Schwaben tourmalines; and high-quality gems from the Tunduru region of Tanzania, including chrysoberyl, corundum and spinel in many colors.
Cut was also an issue, said Jim Alger of James Alger Co., Manchester, N.H. “People no longer want ‘native-cuts’ [a trade name for gems that are cut to retain weight rather than for visual effect]. We cut and recut everything to get a first-quality make.”
Pearl dealers reveled in the effects of fashion and the strength of the dollar against the Japanese yen. “We’ve had possibly our best show ever,” said Lloyd Berger of Honora, New York City. He said buyers were very interested in freshwater pearls and his company’s gem-quality Chinese akoya pearls, which have reached 61/2 mm to 7mm and are still less expensive than their Japanese counterparts.
Isaac Baum of Baumell Pearl Co., San Francisco, Cal., saw the opposite with his customers. “People prefer Japanese akoyas,” he said. “But Chinese akoyas are a good value.” Both kinds of pearls are 30%-40% less expensive than last year because of the dollar/yen exchange rate, he said.
South Sea pearls were very popular, especially Tahitian black pearls. “Customers who always order on memo bought for stock this year,” said Sonny Sethi of Tara & Sons, New York City. So many dealers offered the black pearls, that there was concern about flooding the market. “There are people exhibiting here who have tried to sell them to me and are now selling to my customers,” said Avi Raz of A&Z Pearls, Los Angeles, Cal. “People may lose confidence in prices.”
Bright red, honey mustard yellow and sky blue dials and straps competed with the sheen of all-steel watches and the sparkle of diamonds and crystal for attention in timepiece exhibits. More rectangular and tonneau (barrel) shaped cases were shown, indicating increased demand for dressier men’s watches. And several watch companies introduced small jewelry lines.
New products ranged from brand-new technology to one-of-a-kind art:
The first radio-controlled watches in the U.S. were introduced by LaCrosse-McCormick, LaCrescent, Minn. The watches, made by Junghans of Germany, are reset each night via a radio signal sent from the atomic clock in Boulder, Colo. The antenna is imbedded in the Hirsch leather strap.
Radio-control is also the center of the MessageWatch by Seiko Communications of America Inc., Beaverton, Ore. The watch, which receive signals in the Western and Northeastern U.S., also offers paging, sports scores and financial and weather information.
Several companies advanced their lines of battery-free quartz watches. Seiko Corp. of America, Mahwah, N.J., showed its Arctura in the U.S. for the first time. Featuring refined kinetic technology in a futuristic case, it has bright silicone straps for younger buyers or metal and urethane bracelets. Pulsar introduced 17 models of its light-powered Pulsar Solar watch (see “Watch Watch,” JCK, June 1997, pp. 68-69). Citizen showed 18 new Eco-Drive light-powered models, including one that displays time for 23 cities. And the Tissot, Omega and Longines brands of SMH Inc., Weehawken, N.J., each featured a battery-free line.
Rado, another SMH division, debuted Vision 1, described as the world’s hardest watch. It’s made of diamonds that are ground into a powder and pressurized to create the scratch-resistant case and bracelet.
Longines debuted the Lindbergh Spirit Line of automatic chronographs to commemorate Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. A group of Elvis-suited parachutists promoted the collection with two group jumps during the show.
Baume & Mercier’s warm-toned wooden booth, specially made for the company’s first U.S. show in years, displayed the Classima (now in stainless steel and featuring an automatic chronograph), Ilea, Linea and Hampton lines. A British Retro Hampton, in quartz, dual-time zone or automatic, was debuted in the U.S., as was the mini-Epi, mini-Byzance and the square-faced Carree.
A.T. Cross showed its first-ever watch collection, featuring round and tank styles, each Swiss-made in steel, steel/goldplate, 14k and 18k goldplate or leather strap versions.
Franck Muller, a first-time exhibitor at the show, displayed a limited-edition Wall Street version of his automatic Master Banker.
Cyma debuted several sets of 18k jewelry to complement one of its women’s watches. The initial venture features a bamboo-style, gold-linked necklace, earrings and a watch using the same link style. Brokoe Mfg. Co. debuted a line of 14k jewelry that features mesh and rope styles with diamond accents or diamond pendants.
In addition to new cushion-shaped dress watches, Roven Dino Swiss showed the Mariana Diver, certi-fied to operate 26,400 feet under water.
Most people go to Las Vegas to spin the wheel of for-tune, but keynote speaker Thomas Andruskevich, chief executive of Canada’s largest jewelry chain, Henry Birks & Sons Inc., encouraged jewelers to minimize their risks.
To reach the time-starved, value-conscious Baby Boom generation, he said, offer value, consistent prices, a variety of products in focused categories and fun, hassle-free shopping. He encouraged jewelers to change with the times, listen to customers, treat their staffs with respect and watch fashion and consumer trends.
Keep in mind that sales of luxury goods rose 31% in the last quarter of 1996, he noted, while mass merchandise sales rose only 5%. And more than half of consumers who spent more than $1,500 on jewelry in 1995 increased their spending in 1996.
The show’s conference program featured two full days of seminars covering computer technology, estate jewelry, gemology, marketing to specific cultural groups, motivating staff, selling diamonds and more.
In one highlight of the program, the Diamond Debates, Eli Haas, president of ENH International and president of the Diamond Dealers Club of New York City; Martin Rapaport, a dealer and publisher of the Rapaport Diamond Report; and Mark Moeller of R.F. Moeller Jeweler, St. Paul, Minn., debated price lists and grading reports. Hertz Hasenfeld of Hasenfeld and Stein, New York City, was moderator.
Haas said price lists and grading reports have pressured the trade and retailers to devise new marketing methods, especially because prices for polished diamonds haven’t kept pace with those of rough diamonds. He also said price lists have given the public unrealistic notions about prices. “People think they should pay the same prices as 47th St.,” he said. He challenged retailers to get out of the price competition, which has eroded margins in the past decade: “If you don’t think diamonds are a commodity, don’t sell them as one.”
Rapaport acknowledged that information is changing the market. But he said price reports are the byproduct of economic forces, that the U.S. has too many retailers and that De Beers wants to reduce the quantity of goods on the market to firm up prices. “This will result in fewer jewelers, fewer diamond manufacturers and fewer diamond dealers,” he said.
Moeller had a word of advice for fellow retailers: “Anyone who doesn’t make 50% margin on their diamonds is an idiot.” He said solid salesmanship can overcome the challenges. He also said retailers created the problems: “We did it to ourselves with $99 tennis bracelets. It’s not De Beers’ fault. It’s not Rapaport’s fault. If we’re not making acceptable margins, it’s our fault.”
The vigilance of police and security personnel all around Las Vegas, as well as exhibitors and buyers at the show, kept crime to a minimum. The number of incidents was “way, way down” from last year, said John Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance.
Nevertheless, an exhibitor from Los Angeles reported a tray of diamonds worth $350,000 was stolen on the show floor. Another exhibitor reported a theft of $40,000 in jewelry, and a third lost $20,000 in unidentified “mixed goods.” Five other exhibitors reported missing watches, rings and bracelets.
Outside the show, one exhibitor checked his jewelry line into baggage at the Los Angeles airport and found the bag opened and the jewelry missing when he picked it up in Las Vegas. Other incidents involved exhibitors from the nine secondary jewelry shows coinciding with the JCK Show. Six illegal immigrants from South America were arrested for suspicious behavior during the shows and taken into custody by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Buyers, exhibitors and press were entertained before and after each show day with breakfasts and receptions sponsored by industry organizations. The Diamond Promotion Service hosted a poolside reception at the Egyptian-themed Luxor hotel to kick off its new Diamond Quality Pyramid Program. The multimedia event was narrated on video by actress/comedienne Whoopi Goldberg. The Cultured Pearl Information Center hosted a runway pearl fashion show, complete with funky music, strutting models in fall fashions and the latest in cultured pearl jewelry. Platinum Guild International introduced its Retail Starter Kit and new promotional materials at its annual fashion show and breakfast, featuring a fashion show of platinum jewelry for the four seasons. The Jewelry Information Center gave away business-related prizes and paid trips to Basel, Vicenza and JCK Orlando at its membership drive breakfast, where President Lynn Ramsey accepted a check for $15,000 from Charles Bond, JCK Jewelry Group publisher, to match funds raised during the drive.
JCK welcomed all show attendees with a preview of exhibited products at its “Flight of Fancy” Welcome Reception on the eve of the show. Industry members also flocked to the Designers’ Live Auction, which featured jewelry from more than 70 designers and raised proceeds for the educational efforts of the American Jewelry Design Council and the new Future of Design Educational Foundation.