Vicenza Goes Rainbow Bright

A blazing return to color was the biggest design trend seen at VicenzaOro I, held Jan. 11-18 in Vicenza, Italy. After seasons of white-on-white looks in diamonds, pearls, gold and platinum, the pendulum is swinging a natural course back to color. White- on-white is far from gone; it’s as prevalent and popular as ever, but now is augmented by a rainbow of color.

Each time the pendulum swings, the resulting look is just a little different. Today’s trend calls for colored gems set in white metal. The Italians have been pairing white gold with pastel-colored gems such as aquamarine and peridot for a few years and this look continues, but now the palette has expanded to include deep, vivid gems such as rubellite, chrome tourmaline, amethyst and even the Big Three.

These pieces looked fresh, crisp and very new, as the contrast with white gives many gem colors a sharp clarity. An interesting variant was gemstones with a sandblasted, frosted finish, seen most often in silver jewelry with stones like carnelian or agate.

The use of yellow gold with colored gems was also notable. Satiny or florentine finishes in yellow gold gave colored stones a softer edge. This worked especially well with the pastel shades, where aquamarine remains the favorite gem choice.

The standout new product trend was big, bold, dome-shaped rings with a single big colored gemstone, usually cabochon cut and bezel set. While much jewelry retained the airy, delicate proportions of recent favor, bigger obviously was better in rings. The look is clean but serious and substantial – sort of statement-making, in-your-face minimalism.

Jewelry shapes overall were three-dimensional, puffy, fluid and organic, especially for earrings. An outstanding necklace shape was the circle, expressed either in a single donut-style pendant with the cord passed through the hole or in loosely linked chains of open circles, á là the Olympic logo. Mixes of texture, thickness, color and the addition of diamond pavé made these especially attractive, and an interesting trend to watch.

Diamond jewelry was usually done in pavé, or with multiple small stones (.20 ct. or less) bezel set in white gold. Rows or cascades of these small stones made for an interesting style trend. Notably absent were large stones, even at the most upscale manufacturers.

Egyptian influences, a new motif to watch, show up as a design theme, and in necklaces and bracelets in a draped, fluid Cleopatra style. For mass market, a few companies showed photo-etching, where a customer’s snapshot is etched onto a gold medallion.

Platinum jewelry was in evidence, but gold seemed more often the white metal of choice. Wilma Viganó, head of the Italian office of the Platinum Guild International, said plans are underway for a major consumer campaign promoting platinum jewelry for everyday wear. “Platinum, Pure and Simple,” will break this month, and a full collection will be available by September. The idea, she says, is to show Italian consumers how well platinum complements minimalist clothing, that it can be affordable, and that it’s more than just a metal for holding gemstones in place. At this fair, PGI Italy launched a catalog of Italian platinum jewelry, to be used as a resource for jewelers, just as PGI-USA does with its catalog of American designs.

Some trends of the past few years continued, though with subtle adjustments. These included:

  • Pearls. The worldwide love affair with this gem of the sea continues as strong as ever. New treatments included pearls studded with tiny, bezel-set diamonds, like little moon craters. When pearls were combined with metal, it remained white or white with diamond pavé.

  • Message jewelry. Many pieces had messages secreted on the inside or cut out around the bezel. Double chain bracelets held diamond pavé letters in white gold, styled similarly to Victorian slide bracelets.

  • Pink and white gold combined.

  • Surface texture, particularly fine engraving in the style of Buccellati.

  • Cutout designs, especially around bezels or in puffy, three-dimensional shapes.

  • Flowers and bugs, both in whimsical and literal interpretations.

Vicenza business. Traffic at the fair was brisk, and Americans were out in force. The number of foreign visitors overall has increased, said Andrea Turcato, executive director of the Vicenza Trade Fair Board.

The domestic economy seems to be turning around and the Italian market was good for Christmas 1997. Turcato thinks, however, that with the U.S. economy robust and last Christmas ripe for luxury goods, the American market will remain a primary focus for Italian manufacturers through 1998. He said payment problems with American retailers have lessened and that a consumer shift toward better quality and value is good for Italian manufacturers, who concentrate on that end of the market.

He noted that Italian interest in Central and South American markets is growing. Italian jewelry is much in demand there, but much of it reaches Latin American countries via alternate channels such as Switzerland or Panama. Italian manufacturers currently are targeting Brazil, Chile and Argentina, while closely watching the economic recovery in Mexico. Like Italians, Latin Americans have a strong tradition of acquiring gold jewelry.

Italians are keeping a wary eye on Asian economic problems. Turcato said hard-hit Japanese manufacturers have turned to importing jewelry rather than creating it. The yen is strong against the lira, and Japanese consumers love all things Italian. But market contraction does seem serious, he said, and could spell big trouble if things don’t smooth out soon.