Tradeshows

SPRING BUYING SHOW CALLED IJO’S BEST

The Independent Jewelers Organiza-tion’s annual Spring Buying Show was its most successful ever, the organization reports. Despite nasty weather in some parts of the country, about 1,500 people from some 450 firms showed up for the February event in San Diego, a 32% increase over last year’s attendance.

In the buying room, business was brisk for 143 IJO suppliers. Designer jewelry, such as the whimsical pieces by Alexis Barbeau and the eclectic mix of Janet Gabriel, sold well, and white jewelry—platinum, diamonds, white gold, and pearls—also was hot. Other strong sellers included Tahitian pearls, opal, the two-tone yellow and white gold look, and jewelry featuring single colored stones. In watches, IJO’s own Davos line, produced by Belair, and the men’s Engagement Watch by Christian Bernard did well.

Among IJO debuts were Skalet’s IJO-only collection of 20 elegant gold and silver jewelry items from its Smithsonian Collection and Aurafin’s new upscale “Urban Girl” collection.

William Boyajian, president of the Gemological Institute of America, held a seminar on two new General Electric diamond treatments (see box at right), and GIA hosted an evening visit to its world headquarters and campus in Carlsbad, Calif.

The show’s social highlight was a gala dinner with the theme “Sailing into the Future.” During the festivities, IJO owner Richard Swetz gave the Make-a-Wish Foundation of San Diego a check for $5,750. Funds for the gift, an IJO tradition, come from the show’s silent auction.

At the show’s general session, the IJO staff unexpectedly called Swetz to the stage to mark the second anniversary of his acquisition of the organization and to thank him, in the words of membership services manager Penny Palmer, for the “very positive changes” that he’s made to benefit its members. Among those changes:

  • A 1,000-member cap. A few years ago, IJO aimed for a membership of more than 2,000. Today the emphasis is “on quality, not numbers,” says Palmer. The organization has about 900 members (including 77 who signed on at this show) and accepts only the best Jewelers Board of Trade-rated jewelers in a town or region. The policy “enhances the exclusive appeal” of membership without straining IJO’s ability to provide special services, says president Jeff Roberts. “It also keeps the family aspect of the group,” says Swetz. “You lose that when it gets too big.”

  • More stress on education. In addition to its longstanding IJO/GIA title programs, individual store conferences, and “Business College,” IJO now offers a full day of business courses and panels of experts prior to its shows, plus seminars and workshops during the shows.

  • More rewards for IJO VIPs. VIPs are members who buy more than the $25,000 annual minimum from IJO suppliers, attend the buying shows, and use IJO services. For this year’s show, IJO paid the full round-trip fares for 340 jewelers and gave them special all-weather jackets.

  • More IJO exclusives. One of Swetz’s aims is to provide IJO members with business services not available from any other organization or group. Recent IJO exclusives include a four-year financial training program developed by financial expert Steve LeFever; the services of Performance Concepts Inc., a retail jewelry consulting firm; the Masterpiece Jewelry Collection, which adds six pieces every six months; Skalet’s new IJO collection, drawn from its Smithsonian Collection; and the branded “Spirit of Flanders” diamonds from Diamwag (see story on p. 126).

  • An online presence. IJO has an “intranet,” with a free, active “Indie” (independent jeweler) site that IJO members use to exchange ideas, products, and advice. “It’s like an online team clinic,” says Swetz, who’s also studying ways to develop a “click-and-brick” site that would direct jewelry and watch customers to IJO members. His long-term goal is to make the IJO home page one of the top 10 online jewelry sites.

IJO’s Fall 2000 Buying Show will be held July 22-26 at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton, Fla. For information, contact IJO at (800) 624-9252 or visit www.independentjewelers.com.

Boyajian on GE’s New Treatments

At a seminar on diamonds processed by General Electric Co., Gemological Institute of America president William Boyajian had good news and bad news for jewelers attending IJO’s spring show.

The bad news: The GE color-enhanced diamonds distributed by Pegasus Overseas Ltd. (POL), a subsidiary of Lazare Kaplan International, and the new green-yellow fancy diamonds GE may market signal the beginning—not the end—of sophisticated diamond treatments.

The good news: Despite concern that GE’s new process would hurt the market, jewelers and the diamond industry had record sales last year and their best holiday season in years. The future for diamond sales also looks bright.

Boyajian warned against overreacting to announcements of new gem treatments and synthetics. “They don’t destroy markets, they add to them,” he said. The key is identification and disclosure through support of research, intelligent cooperation with producers of gem materials to develop detection methods, and “thoughtful control of information and communication” to prevent unnecessary panic among the public or the trade.

“Don’t hide from the new technologies, be ready for them,” he said. “Be committed to learning what’s going on in the marketplace. Become more knowledgeable and gemologically alert and astute.”

HIGH-TECH WATCHES UNVEILED AT BIG GERMAN SHOW

Some 26,000 buyers from all over the world came to Inhorgenta in Munich in late February. The four-day show—Europe’s second largest jewelry exhibition after the Basel Fair—attracted more than 120 retailers from the United States.

Held in the spacious new $1 billion Trade Fair Center about 8 miles from downtown Munich, Inhorgenta featured 1,322 exhibitors from 40 countries. New products and highlights included:

A radio watch in a steel case. German watchmaker Junghans Uhren fit a radio mechanism with integrated antenna into a stainless-steel case. Until now, it had not been possible for radio waves to penetrate into a space surrounded by metal.

A watch with integrated camera. Casio showed a watch containing a 32-gram camera whose digital pictures can be transferred to a computer.

A watch that records and plays back music. Another Casio product, this watch contains a miniature audio player with capacity for 33 to 66 minutes of music, listened to via stereo headphones that come with the watch.

A DKNY watch collection. New York fashion designer Donna Karan showed 70 models for men and women.

A watch that lets you on a subway. It’s the Hong Kong subway, but there’s no reason that the Junghans Uhren technology shown at Munich can’t be applied to other transportation systems. When the watch is held in front of an electronic reading device, station gates open automatically while the ticket price is debited.

The world’s only platinum toy train. The House of Marklin, renowned model train builders in Goppingen, Germany, marked the new millennium by crafting a $35,000 platinum replica of the “Crocodile” locomotive. It comes equipped with functioning motor and wheels. The little train was a centerpiece in the fair’s popular Platinum Forum, which contained exhibits by 60 jewelry designers from throughout Europe. Platinum jewelry is exploding in popularity in Germany and several other European countries.

This was Inhorgenta’s second year in its sleek new Trade Fair Center quarters, a cluster of 14 interconnected column-free halls covering 140,000 square meters, all on one level. (Inhorgenta occupied about half the space.) Fair officials announced that they will build a similar facility in Shanghai, China, with the first jewelry show planned for 2002.

IJO, NJA Join Forces

The Independent Jewelers Organization has formed an alliance with the Nationwide Jewelers Association to exchange ideas and share some services. IJO has included NJA members on its Antwerp diamond buying trips, and NJA has offered IJO ideas on how to improve its Web site. IJO, with about 900 member retail firms in the United States and Canada, is the world’s largest jewelers’ buying group. NJA, with 541 members in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, is the world’s second largest.

The partnership was announced by IJO owner Richard Swetz during the organization’s annual spring buying show in San Diego.

THE HONG KONG SHOW: PEARL OF THE ORIENT

Jewelry made in mainland China is improving dramatically, and its distribution is expanding to markets everywhere, including here. Those two trends, hinted at in recent shows in the United States, were soundly confirmed at the 17th Hong Kong International Jewellery Show in March.

The four-day fair drew more than 17,000 visitors. It showcased the product lines of 880 exhibitors from 31 countries and garnered impressive double-digit increases in sales. Buyers from the United States, Europe, and Japan led the way. Americans in particular made a strong showing, and show officials happily noted the return of Japanese and Middle Eastern buyers.

Big news in pearls. Hong Kong lived up to its reputation as the “Pearl of the Orient,” with an entire floor of the convention center devoted to pearls and pearl jewelry. In addition, two major pearl auctions took place simultaneously with the show. While the auctions were about top-end South Seas and Tahitian black pearls, which were popular in upscale lines, the really big news was at the lower end of the market: in Chinese freshwater pearls.

Thanks to continued improvements in farming among Chinese freshwater pearl suppliers, the range of sizes, colors, and shapes was astounding. Forget about those rice-shaped pearls of the past—this season’s output included coin pearls, baroques, and rounds as well as some lustrous off-rounds in sizes up to 9.5 mm.

Colors were luscious, ranging from subtle natural tints to natural-looking dyed gray, black, and bronze colorations. Destined to be strong sellers in the United States and Europe were collections of brooches, earrings, and necklaces set with subtle rainbows of freshwater pearls. Using a mixture of pink, peach, lavender, gray, and white pearls, these understated but highly wearable designs were shown in sterling silver and 14k and 18k gold at moderate price levels of $30 to $150.

In neckwear, there were filament and colored-wire illusion necklaces with different-sized pearls, interesting opera-length necklaces with stations of different-sized and -shaped pearls, and traditional multistrand designs of fancy-shaped freshwaters. While clusters and combinations of pearls were a strong fashion look, the single pearl in a pendant or ring also got an updated look when set in twisted and textured gold or accented with diamonds.

Shades of white. Following the pattern set by Europe and the United States, the color trend in Hong Kong was weighted toward white metals and gemstones. Even the tried and true color specialists devoted half their showcase space to white collections. Not all were pearls and diamonds, however. Several top manufacturers showed rubies, sapphires, and emeralds in platinum and white gold settings, while others chose tanzanite, amethyst, and fancy colored sapphires to make their point.

The strong emphasis on platinum at this fair is explained in part by a unique phenomenon of the Chinese jewelry market: China levies severe tariffs and taxes on gold but none on platinum. The result has been a sharp upswing in sales of platinum engagement and wedding rings as well as everyday fashion jewelry. In a survey of mainland buyers conducted during the show, 95% said platinum jewelry has become more popular among Chinese consumers, and 87% indicated that platinum will be China’s major product trend this year.

The neo-Edwardian looks of delicate filigree, pierced, and openwork designs in platinum studded with tiny diamonds are traditionally popular with Asian customers, particularly Japanese buyers, and examples were abundant at the show. Especially beautiful in this category were chokers with gentle scalloped designs, the hinged sections featuring drops of diamonds or pearls. In keeping with the mood of the Edwardian period’s garland designs, most of these pieces used floral, ribbon, and swirling motifs. Bolder styles capturing this same mood included fabulous flowers of carved rock crystal and mother-of-pearl with diamond centers in white gold settings. In addition to flowers, dragonflies and butterflies were strong design themes.

The white metal trend gave a strong boost to sterling silver. Several manufacturers offered collections featuring this metal mixed with pearls and gemstones—real and faux. Hang Fung Jewellery Co. displayed a new line of colored CZ in silver bracelets, earrings, rings and pendants; Superior Jewellery Co. chose freshwater pearls in a range of colors in silver and CZ settings for its new pendant and ring collection.

Enter gold and color. Gold jewelry, for most Chinese, means chuk kam, traditional designs in pure 24k fineness. Typically sold at a small premium over the daily gold price, these pieces are targeted more for investment or ceremonial purposes than fashion appeal. However, in an effort to expand this market beyond China’s borders, many top chuk kam manufacturers are offering higher-fashion pieces with modern, contemporary designs. A design competition aimed at adding style innovation to chuk kam was held prior to the show, and winning designs were featured in a special showcase and modeled during the opening night fashion show.

Other important directions at this show included a general upscaling in the size of rings and earrings—not to the oversized shapes of a decade ago but definitely bolder and rounder than the diminutive offerings of the past few years. Wide-band rings set with pavé diamonds and colored sapphires and colored gemstone styles with several stones set in a single bezel were strongest.

Fashion’s continuing paradox of softer, rounder shapes on jewelry and a preference for square stone shapes continued. Displayed in the same showcases as the romantic, leafy, amorphous designs were sleek pieces with square center motifs of pavé or invisibly set princess diamonds and larger, square-cut blue topaz, amethyst, and tourmaline.

Finally, in a refreshing change from the past, there was far greater emphasis on designer collections and innovative designs from Hong Kong suppliers. A featured section of 10 international designers was highlighted in a separate display area, and several top branded houses showcased new collections with fashion or designer themes.