UpFront

ENTHUSIASM RUNS HIGH AT JCK SHOW

Jewelers enthusiastically rustled up business at the fourth annual JCK International Jewelry Show. The event, which featured a rodeo theme, was held June 7-12 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nev.

Many jewelry, watch and loose stone vendors reported their best sales in recent memory, indicating retailers expect a good year. “From the second – and I mean from the second – the doors opened, we were busy,” said Babs Albert of JFA Designs, Costa Mesa, Cal.

Added Marcee Feinberg of Lazare Kaplan International, New York City, “Watching the spirit when everybody lined up was phenomenal. They really wanted to get into the show and get to work.”

A few gem dealers went so far as to say they sold more at this show than at the Tucson gem and mineral shows in February. “This has become the meeting place for people in the gemstone industry,” said Nandu Nichani of Temple Trading, Encinitas, Cal.

The show expanded to two levels this year, allowing room for 2,200 suppliers in 3,550 exhibit spaces. Buyer attendance was verified at 14,534 as of Sunday (with one day remaining). That’s up from 1,600 exhibitors, 2,450 exhibit spaces and 14,250 verified buyers (not counting the last day) at last year’s show.

The show’s conference program featured a keynote address by J. Richard Blickstead, president of Wal-Mart’s Fine Jewelry Division; a forum on ethics in the family business; and 31 seminars.

The Great Jewelers’ Jamboree and Rodeo, sponsored by the Plumb Club and JCK, highlighted the social program and complemented the show theme. Many other industry associations and vendors also sponsored events. But first, a look at business.

Upbeat mood: Many exhibitors said retailers were in good moods, though with varying degrees of caution in this sensitive economy.

“Buying patterns are erratic without reason,” said Tod Michel of Leslie’s in Greenwich, Conn. “The first two months of the year were very good,” he said. “Then business slowed down even though the economy was good, more people had jobs and inflation was under control. It’ll be an interesting year.”

But there was a strong underlying sense of optimism. “We’ve noticed some caution,” said Eve Goldberg of William Goldberg Diamond Co., one of New York City’s largest diamond houses. “But in talking with people here, they believe they’ll have a good year.”

Optimism wasn’t concentrated in any particular area. Traffic was very heavy in the Design Center, where retailers often bumped shoulders in their quest for the best from today’s most creative designers. “Business has been very good,” noted Marty Leibson of Esti/Frederica, New York City.

The Indo-Argyle Diamond Council pavilion of Indian manufacturers was crowded from the start, according to Michelle Silbar, marketing manager. “People were eager to find out about the council and meet our dealers,” she said.

Cal Hager of Swest Inc., Dallas, Tex., said retailers clustered two-deep to see equipment demonstrations at his exhibit, and many of the on-lookers turned into buyers.

Traffic was good in the Gemstones of the World section, said Betty Sue King of King’s Ransom in Sausalito, Cal. “We’ve opened all sorts of new accounts and have met new people,” she said.

Edith Weber of New York City and Doug Lewis of Herz and Lewis in Los Angeles, Cal. – newcomers in the Antique and Estate Jewelry section – were pleased with business in their area.

Numerous vendors in Time Square said retailers were interested in their latest timepiece introductions.

And on Level 1, where a transformer problem the first day shut off about half the ceiling lights, exhibitors kept right on selling. “I was showing rings when some of the lights went out,” said Matt Stuller of Stuller Settings, Lafayette, La. “I just told the customers the rings look even better in the light.” (Booth lights were not affected, and all the ceiling lights were back to normal the next day.)

Some exhibitors and buyers did say the expanded show is too big to cover in four days. “I’m finding some new things, but it’s just too big,” said Mark Green of Lux, Bond & Green, a retailer based in West Hartford, Conn.

Mark Blinderman of Jewelers of Maitland in Maitland, Fla., said he and his associates reviewed the show guide ahead of time and narrowed the list of exhibitors to visit to 160. “We can’t see any more than that in the four days,” he said.

Hot-sellers: Colored gems – set in jewelry and loose – were in the spotlight.

Demand for tanzanite is growing even stronger, although prices have passed $400 per carat for larger, high-quality goods. Rubies from Myanmar were plentiful, and dealers said buyers were snapping them up at bargain prices well below $1,000 per carat for good-quality 1-ct. gems. Dealer Ray Zajicek of Equatorian Imports in Dallas, Tex., said business in emeralds was strong also.

One-of-a-kind pieces such as unusual agates, carvings, gem combinations and finely faceted stones were in demand, said dealers. Examples include sunstone, “strawberry” quartz and gem silica chrysocolla, said Mike Randall of Gem Reflections of California in San Anselmo.

“Our customers want to take something back to their customers that is totally unique – something to make customers feel that a piece is made just for them,” added Betty Sue King of King’s Ransom.

Color was popular also in finished jewelry, said many manufacturers and designers. For example, Steven Lagos of Lagos, Philadelphia, Pa., said his Caviar line of sterling silver – much of it featuring colored gems – sold particularly well. And Judith Turi of Charles Turi, New York City, said interest was high in the company’s new collection – tentatively called the de’ Medici Collection – of 18k gold with chrome diopside, pink tourmaline, rubellite and iolite.

That’s not to say diamonds didn’t do well. Two other new Turi lines – the Rivers Collection of 18k jewelry with diamonds meandering through the design and the Marc Jacobs Scatter Star platinum and diamond collection – also did well.

Loose diamonds were no exception. “Although price is still an issue with many buyers, they’re looking for something new and different,” said Itchy Hetchel of J. Kleinhaus Diamonds, New York City. “They’re asking us for new diamond cuts such as half-moons and trillion cuts.”

Retailers looking for the unique didn’t have to rely solely on stones. At Reller Inc.’s exhibit, for example, Bernard Reller and Jim Willsey offered history lessons on the Gainesville, Fla., company’s line of gold and ancient coin jewelry. Reller offers jewelry made with coins recovered from the Atocha and Miguel d’Archangel galleons, both of which sunk in the 1600s. The latter was discovered off the coast of Jupiter, Fla., in the late 1980s and its treasures are now being recovered.

Other trends: soft flowing lines and feminine detailing, convertible pieces, bright finishes, collar and very long necklaces and platinum. (See the August issue for more details on jewelry and watch design trends.)

Conference program: Jewelers must focus not on how things are, but on how they can and should be, said keynote speaker J. Richard Blickstead, president of Wal-Mart’s Fine Jewelry Division. This means focusing on what the customer wants, low costs, value and making shopping fun. “We need more merchants, not more computer jockeys,” he said.

Blickstead, whose company is the No. 1 retailer of jewelry in the U.S., said the industry’s strengths – history and tradition – are also its weaknesses when jewelers refuse to change with the times. “Learn from the past, but plan for the future,” he said. “[Mass merchants] sell a substantial amount of jewelry today. To ignore that is to hide your head in the sand.”

He urged jewelers to:

  • Offer quality products/value.

  • Listen to what customers say they want.

  • Put fun back into retailing. Customers enjoy promotional gimmicks and events, he said.

  • Set high expectations. “Don’t set a goal of 5% growth in the next year,” he said. “Set a 50% goal.”

The Industry Issues Forum posed questions on ethical situations that arise in family businesses. Should spouses who work in jewelry stores be paid the same as non-family employees? Who’s in charge – non-participating family member or longtime employee – when the boss is incapacitated? Should family members who don’t work in the store go to trade shows when employees have been told they can’t?

Generally, panelists agreed that “fairness” should govern the running of a family business. However, they didn’t resolve the question of who is in charge – family member or employee – when the boss is temporarily incapacitated.

The conference program also included 31 seminars in three tracks (staffing/sales training, management and product).

Auctions: Jewelers had a chance to bid on jewelry in two fund-raising auctions held during the show. Pieces created and donated by members of the American Jewelry Design Council raised $35,000 for the council and the Future of Design Foundation. Simon Teakle of Christie’s in New York City served as auctioneer, and jewelry designer Anthony Gerard of Lathrup Village, Mich., designed the display cases for the jewelry.

A silent auction raised $14,735 for the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Jewelers’ Security Alliance, Jewelry Industry Council and Jewelry Education Foundation of the American Gem Society.

Awards: JCK honored 12 retail jewelers for outstanding efforts in marketing, jewelry design and management study.

Winners of the JCK Excellence in Marketing Awards are shown above; Retail Design Contest winners were listed in the June issue.

JCK also honored the top-scoring jewelers in the 1994 JCK Management Study Center series of management-related articles and quizzes appearing in the magazine. The study series was developed in conjunction with the Jewelers Education Foundation of the American Gem Society. Receiving awards were Jeanie Barr Wengeler and William Charles Barr Wengeler of Charles H. Barr Jewelers in Newport Beach, Cal.; John Davis and Jacqueline Lever of Jacqueline Personal Jewelers in Shillington, Pa.; and George L. Blair of Sweeney’s in Houston, Tex.

Other events: The Great Jewelers’ Jamboree and Rodeo included country music and dancing, food and a real-life rodeo featuring the best steer wrestlers, bronco riders, calf ropers and bareback riders in the U.S. Participants competed for $50,000 in prize money. About 10,000 jewelers attended the event, sponsored by the Plumb Club and JCK, held in the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Here’s a brief look at some other events held during the show:

  • JCK’s consumer magazine, Gem, hosted a reception featuring an exhibit of ancient jewelry called “20,000 Years of Human Adornment.”

  • The World Gold Council, the Vicenza Trade Fair Board, the Italian Trade Commission and JCK sponsored a forum titled “Fulfilling America’s Love Affair with Italian Gold Jewelry.” About 300 invited guests heard speakers discuss Italian gold jewelry, the affluent niches most likely to buy it, branded and designer collections and how they can be positioned in stores to attract more customers and raise the stores’ image.

  • The Party With a Purpose, sponsored by Sterling Inc., Akron, Ohio, raised about $1.45 million for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, Mothers’ Voices and the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

  • The Platinum Guild International presented a breakfast and fashion show for about 1,700 retailers. PGI-USA President Laurie Hudson discussed platinum’s rapidly rising sales statistics and outlined programs PGI offers to support platinum jewelry retailers.

  • The Diamond Promotion Service hosted a reception featuring a videotaped presentation in which De Beers Vice Chairman Nicholas Oppenheimer said the cartel will spend $54 million in advertising in the U.S. this year. He also announced that diamond jewelry sales totaled a record $13 billion in the U.S. last year. Oppenheimer also addressed the issue of Russia selling diamonds on the open market. He called the situation “a shadow hanging over the industry” and said he hopes the Russians will continue their successful 30-year relationship with De Beers when the current contract between the two expires.

  • The Women’s Jewelry Association held its third annual Las Vegas Bash for about 325 members and guests.

  • The second annual JCK Keystone Classic Golf Tournament attracted 144 players. Winners were Harry Aureli, low gross; Avron Cohen, closest to the pin; Carl Christensen, low net (men’s division); Bernita Weber, low net (women’s division); and Jay Rogers, longest drive.

The 1996 Show dates are June 3 through 6.

JEWELERS PLEAD GUILTY IN SALES TAX CASE

A judge in Denver, Colo., ordered the owners of Hyde Park Jewelers of Denver to pay $73,000 in fines and perform community service after the owners pleaded guilty to failing to collect $23,000 in sales taxes. A plea bargain approved May 15 followed a seven-count indictment the city filed against the owners in January.

Hyde Park Jewelers, which operates two stores in the area, was ordered to pay $60,000 in fines. Co-owner Michael Pollack was fined $5,000 and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. His wife, Shareen, was fined $5,000 and ordered to perform 50 hours of service. Co-owner Steve Rosdal was fined $3,000 and ordered to do 50 hours of community service. The company itself paid Colorado $90,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest.

A court date for a fourth defendant, employee Robert Snyder, had not been scheduled at press time.

Pollack and Rosdal accepted responsibility for the failure to pay the taxes and, in a statement, added that procedures have been changed to ensure that tax collection is monitored more closely. “To put this matter into perspective, this case was about 140 problematic invoices out of 40,000 during a four-year period, equaling one-third of 1% of all our transactions,” according to the statement. “Over $1.2 million in sales tax was collected and paid by our company during this time period.”

Judge Jeffrey Bayless gave the owners lighter sentences than prosecutors sought because wrong doing could not be determined without a trial, according to the Rocky Mountain News. The judge also considered supportive letters from customers and associates.

KIRCHNER, ZALE SETTLE LAWSUIT

Kirchner Corp. of Minneapolis, Minn., and Zale Corp. of Irving, Tex., have settled by mutual agreement all issues in a trademark infringement lawsuit. No terms were made public.

Kirchner brought the suit against Zale and its Gordon’s Jewelers division in November 1994. It alleged infringement on the registered “Mother and Child” trademark Kirchner has used to identify its rings and pendants since 1981.

The suit said that Zale and Gordon’s use of the term “Mother and Child” in association with gold pendants caused a likelihood of confusion, deception and mistake and falsely designated Kirchner as the origin of the jewelry sold by Zale and Gordon’s.

GIA BREAKS GROUND FOR NEW HEADQUARTERS

The Gemological Institute of America broke ground in June for a new international headquarters in Carlsbad, Cal.

The $40 million project is designed to meet the educational needs of the international gem and jewelry industry into the next century. Upon completion, the new headquarters will include classrooms, administrative offices, a research laboratory, book store, gemological museum and housing for GIA’s full-time student body of about 500. The headquarters also will service a home-study student population of about 10,000.

The first phase of the project is expected to be completed next summer, occupying about 230,000 sq. ft. of developed space on 18 acres of land purchased from the Carltas Ranch.

Carlsbad was chosen for the new, larger headquarters after an eight-year search for a successor to the current headquarters in Santa Monica, Cal.

“GIA selected Carlsbad because of the quality of the community, the ideal climate and the overall environment,” says President William E. Boyajian. “It’s a setting that will inspire excellence in the industry for GIA staff and students alike.”

OJA DESIGN CONTEST DEADLINE THIS MONTH

The Ohio Jewelers Association will accept last-minute entries in its first jewelry design contest until July 15. Any OJA retail member or employee of an OJA retail member is eligible to enter.

The entry fee is $15, with a limit of three entries per category. Applications and entry fees must arrive at OJA headquarters no later than July 15, and the finished design must arrive by Aug. 1. Judging will be held at the 1995 Columbus Jewelry Show, scheduled for Aug. 25-27 in the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

OJA, 50 W. Broad St., Columbus, Ohio 43215; (614) 221-7833.

BLENHEIM, MILLER FREEMAN PLAN JOINT LAS VEGAS SHOW

Consolidation of West Coast winter jewelry shows took another step forward in June when Blenheim Group USA and Miller Freeman Jewelry Group signed an agreement to jointly produce a show Jan. 10-12 in Las Vegas. The show – called JA Las Vegas! The International Jewelry Marketplace – will be held in the Sands Expo & Convention Center.

Earlier this year, Blenheim, which produces the JA International Jewelry Shows in New York City, bought the United Jewelers Expo in Las Vegas and the California Jewelers Association’s Spring Pacific Jewelry Show in San Francisco and announced plans to merge them into one show in January 1996.

Miller Freeman, which publishes National Jeweler magazine, announced late last year it would launch its own show in Las Vegas in January 1996.

In February, the two groups began talks to combine their Las Vegas shows “to work together to avoid the major industry inconvenience of two early spring selling season trade shows in Las Vegas,” says Blenheim. The agreement signed in June calls for the Las Vegas show to be produced by Blenheim and Miller Freeman and sponsored by Jewelers of America and the California Jewelers Association. (These shows are not related to the JCK International Jewelry Show, which is held at the Sands Expo & Convention Center in June.)

While the first JA Las Vegas! is scheduled in mid-January, it will move to late January or early February beginning in 1997.

As a footnote to the consolidation of shows, the new name eliminates possible confusion arising from the original name of the Miller Freeman show – Jewelry World – and the Canadian Jewellers Association‘s show in Toronto – Jewellery World Expo. For information on the Canadian show, scheduled for Aug. 27-29, call (800) 580-0942. For information on JA Las Vegas!, call (800) 950-1314.

SOTHEBY’S GENEVA AUCTION YIELDS RECORD GEM PRICE

Saudi jeweler Ahmed H. Fitaihi paid the highest price ever for a precious stone – $16.55 million for a 100.1-ct. D flawless diamond – May 17 at Sotheby’s auction in Geneva, Switzerland.

Fitaihi, who has bought many of the most important gems to be auctioned in recent years, named his new acquisition “Star of the Season.” The pear-shaped diamond weighs just eight carats less than the legendary Koh-I-Noor in the British Crown Jewels and is one of only three D flawless diamonds over 100 carats to be sold at auction in the past decade.

The previous record price paid for a precious stone was $12.76 million, which gem dealer Robert Mouawad paid at a Sotheby’s auction in 1990 for the 101.84-ct. “Mouawad Star.” The sale of the “Star of the Season” was the finale to Sotheby’s auction and helped to boost total sales to $49.2 million.

Other top gems also did well at the auction. A 27.34-ct. Burmese ruby mounted in a ring brought $4 million, and a 30-ct. heart-shaped diamond brought $2 million; neither buyer was identified.

At Christie’s auction in Geneva the following day, Mouawad paid nearly $2.13 million for an 18.85-ct. orange pink diamond. European dealers vied for the other top lots, including a “Tutti-Frutti” Cartier bracelet that brought $548,319 – twice its presale estimate – and a Cartier Mystery Clock that brought $311,000 – about 35% over its presale estimate.

Another highlight was the jewelry collection of heiress Vera Hue-Williams, who was noted for her Art Deco jewels from the top houses. The top lots of her collection were a large necklace fashioned from Burmese rubies, which a European dealer bought for $1.1 million, and a 23.79-ct. D VS1 rectangular-cut diamond, which London jeweler Laurence Graff bought for $881,092. All but one of the pieces from her collection sold, for a total of $6.144 million.

Christie’s sale totaled $33.7 million; 79% of the pieces sold.

DE BEERS PLANS SECOND CANADIAN VENTURE

De Beers will try again to make a go of diamond mining in Canada by funding an exploration project of Gerle Gold Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Gerle is exploring a claim in the Lac de Gras area in Canada’s Northwest Territories, site of at least one other potential diamond mine. An agreement between the two companies obliges De Beers to finance all development costs if the project uncovers a deposit that is economical to mine.

The remote location and small diameters of most kimberlite pipes in the regain make mine development costs very high. For example, a BHP/Diamet project in the same area (see JCK, March 1995, page 54) has development costs estimated at $400 million to $500 million.

Gerle says De Beers has agreed to spend $500,000 this year and has the right to earn a 60% interest in the venture by spending some $4 million by June 1999. De Beers also made a small equity investment in Gerle.

De Beers’ first Canadian venture ended in disappointment. It had forged an agreement with a different exploration company to fund a bulk sample and development, if warranted, but the deposit was deemed uneconomical to develop.

Northwestern Canada is abuzz with numerous potential diamond mining ventures. Thus far, however, only the BHP deposit shows economic potential.

RUSSIA TO MARKET SYNTHETIC GEMSTONES

The Russian Federation plans to market a broad array of synthetic and treated gemstones produced in its huge Russian Research Institute for the Synthesis of Materials.

Synthetic quartz, garnet and cubic zirconia in most colors will be available, according to Boris A. Dorogovin, general director of the Russian Institute for the Synthesis of Materials, who spoke in June at the Russian Consulate in New York City.

The quartz is made to resemble colors of emerald, sapphire and demantoid garnet, in addition to the traditional amethyst and citrine colors, he said.

The agency also produces synthetic opal and malachite. Dorogovin said the opal is virtually indistinguishable from natural Australian opals (“they greatly resemble Australian ‘Arlechinos’ with their play of at least two colors against a dark background”) and are durable enough to withstand detergents.

The synthetic malachite is made to resemble natural material found in Russia’s Ural mountains.

Treated material now available from the research center includes jadeite, amethyst and lapis. Dorogovin didn’t explain what treatments are involved.

Later, Russia plans to market treated emeralds and rubies from deposits in the Ural mountains, said gem dealer Gregory Kass of AMB International, New York City. “The color and clarity of these gemstones are generally dull when they come out of the ground,” he said. “But they improve quite markedly with treatment.”

Dorogovin said all the material will be marketed through U.S. dealers appointed as exclusive agents for various products.

Kass, the agent for gem-quality synthetics, said some red quartz polished in Thailand is available now. “This red quartz is the same material the Soviet Union used to fashion the giant Red Star over Red Square. It’s very attractive,” he said.

Industrial or technical synthetics will include diamond powders and larger, flat, yellow pieces of diamond crystal up to 5mm in diameter to be used for thermal conductivity.

The research center has been working on gem synthetics and treatment since 1954. Much of its technology was developed for industrial or military purposes.

Today, the synthetic gem effort is part of a program designed to increase U.S. and Russian business ties, said Ivan Kouznetsov, counsel general in New York. In addition, the consulate at 9 E. 91 St. plans to host more gatherings designed to attract U.S. businesses to Russian products and industries.

WJA SCHEDULES AWARDS DINNER

The Women’s Jewelry Association will holds its annual Awards of Excellence Dinner July 23 in Tavern on the Green in New York City. The event will include a preview of the silent auction to raise money for the WJA Scholarship Fund, followed by dinner for 350 invited guests and honorees.

Awards will be presented in six categories: design, manufacturer/-dealer/supplier, sales, retail, marketing and editorial/reporting/publishing. Tickets are $160 for members, $175 for non-members and $1,600 for tables of 10. Call Peggy Grosz at (212) 333-3111 or Linda Zimmer at (212) 794-2118.

Two days later, July 25, futurist Edith Weiner will speak at the association’s semiannual breakfast. The event, sponsored by WJA and Allure magazine, will be held 8-10 a.m. in the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. For reservations, call (201) 575-1444.

GIA ANNOUNCES NEW VICE PRESIDENTS

Robert Kammerling was promoted to vice president of research and development at the Gemological Institute of America’s Gem Trade Laboratory in Santa Monica, Cal. He was formerly director of education and research.

Kammerling started at GIA 14 years ago as an instructor. He went on to develop course material and conduct research for GIA Gem Instruments and serve as marketing manager and liaison with the jewelry trade press. He has written and cowritten more than 200 articles and columns and has served as section editor for Gems & Gemology, GIA’s quarterly magazine.

GIA also promoted Thomas M. Moses to vice president of identification services at GIA-GTL. He was formerly director of identification and research.

J.F. (Brook) Ellis was named vice president of operations. Ellis is a 12-year veteran of the GIA Board of Governors and a former vice president of jewelry operations at Henry Birks of Cana da. He will coordinate activities among GIA’s various divisions, with an emphasis on multinational education operations.