VicenzaOro Exhibitors Adjust to Changing Times

VicenzaOro, the year’s opening trade fair, is usually a good barometer for the jewelry business: a confirmation of holiday sales results, an indicator of buyers’ expectations for the coming year, and a source of new trends and styles. By and large, 2005 was not a great year for jewelry sales in the United States and Europe. It was not as bad as some had feared, but certainly no barn burner. As a result, the international buyers who attended this fair were on the lookout for new items as well as innovative marketing and merchandising strategies to spark consumers’ interest.

The eight-day show started out busy. Traffic dropped off the next few days, and then picked up again later in the week. Despite early grumblings from exhibitors, American buyers did show up, led by the major TV shopping channels and buyers for major chains, larger independents, and wholesalers. According to an exhibitor committee polled by the organizers, manufacturers were generally satisfied with the results of the show, which was attended by almost 20,000 registered professional visitors from 110 countries. Buyers included more than 10,000 Italians and around 9,000 foreigners.

The show itself, now occupying 6,000 square meters and hosting 1,601 exhibitors, continues to expand. Plans are under way for another new pavilion, designated B/One, to be devoted to branded designs from Italian and international designers, possibly including Americans. The new pavilion is slated to open in time for the May 2006 edition of VicenzaOro.

Indicative of the overall uncertainty in international markets, Italian manufacturers are following an evolutionary change in style rather than embracing radical new trends. Most suppliers simply added new elements to established collections, and many said they weren’t planning to unveil new collections until Basel.

Facing increasingly stiffer competition from China, Turkey, and other Asian nations, Italian suppliers are more conscious than ever of the need to establish a brand and advance their marketing thrust. Observed Corrado Facco, secretary general of the fair, “Italian manufacturers need to develop brands and create unique designs, using advertising and marketing in order to progress.”

Concerning the number of small gold manufacturing firms that have closed in recent months, Facco says he believes these unbranded manufacturers may reopen in the future, but as subcontractors for larger branded lines. In overall exports, the past year has not been a great one for Italians. For example, in the first nine months of 2005, exports slipped 5.4 percent, led by a drop of 17.9 percent to the United States and 36 percent to the United Kingdom. The few bright spots were sales to smaller markets, such as Romania, which grew more than 300 percent, and smaller gains in Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and Russia.

In addition to the strong euro/weak dollar syndrome, the rapidly escalating price of gold also has had an effect on the market. Generally, the upscale market is not greatly affected by the price of gold, but for volume users it presents a problem. According to Alessandro Ruzzi, general manager of Rosato, Arezzo, the middle-to-low-price lines have to compete with fashion, flash, and branding, and it has become critical for them to find a way to show added value.

“It used to be about product, delivery, and service. Now, what is most important is the philosophy of the supplier, if he invests in new products,” Ruzzi says. “It’s important to create long-term relationships; buyers need the overall assurance of continuity.”

Rosato is an unusual firm that’s largely run by women and concentrates on producing jewelry that women purchase for themselves. Its signature look is a collection of enamel handbag and shoe charms that are sold by the piece and can be worn on silk cords as necklaces or as charm bracelets. All products are launched in Italy and then expanded to other markets, such as Spain and the United States. The newest collection of upscale white gold and diamond designs features actress Demi Moore as spokeswoman.

Also aiming her collection squarely at female self-purchasers is Rossana Andreozzi, creator of Rossana Oro Fashion, Arezzo. New designs include silk scarves bordered with freshwater pearls and dangling pearl strands that can be worn a variety of ways, crystal flowers with diamond accents, sterling silver with cubic zirconia, and steel and gold designs.

“American buyers are less conservative than in the past,” Andreozzi notes. However, she says edgier designs do better in Italy than in the U.S. market. Her steel collection, for example, has been strong in Italy and is just being requested in the United States.

Torrini, Florence, one of Italy’s oldest jewelry companies, stresses the unique aspect of its goods. “In the United States, buyers look for unique products with a story such as Torrini’s signature handmade gold. The handwork and the distinctive look of the items create an added-value aspect to the jewelry,” says sales manager Zoran Corac.

Another new concept promoted at the fair was the Gold Expressions collection from BelOro, New York, one of the largest importers of Italian gold. Created in partnership with the World Gold Council, VicenzaOro, and AngloGold Ashanti, BelOro has taken exclusive styles from about 48 Italian firms and customized them for the American market. It’s offering the jewelry, along with a display and a marketing and advertising package, to all types of outlets from small independents to large chains.

Perhaps the strongest trends at VicenzaOro were aimed at two distinct market segments: the youth market and female self- purchasers. Jewelry for young consumers featured unique, nonprecious materials, used more for sporty or casual designs. Jewelry for female self-purchasers was detailed with more color (enamel and stones), touches of whimsy (fringes, chains, mesh, and fabriclike designs), playful designs (sliding pieces that conform to the neckline of an outfit), modular pieces with interchangeable elements, charm bracelets, and necklaces with seasonal themes.

Other fashion directions included black-and-white designs in diamonds, enamel, metals, pearls, and gemstones such as black onyx, mother-of-pearl, ebony, and white agate; cultural elements for design and color, including Chinese, Indian, and African; more silver and steel mixed with mother-of-pearl, cords, rubber, Venetian glass, and gold; tonal designs using gradations of similar colors, most often red, blue, and yellow; amulets, coins, and other symbolic motifs as pendants, charms, or repeating links; and sinuous designs with curling elements, serpents, spirals, and wrapped designs.

Among the continuing trends at this show were necklaces and bracelets with large openwork links in round, oval, and square shapes in single, double, and multiple combinations; fringed designs using wires, chains, or flat stampings; necklaces and bracelets of fancy-shape gemstone beads; and bubbles, balls, clusters, and combinations of spherical shapes. Flowers and hearts remained popular themes, including the ubiquitous cutout flower designs in all-gold or studded with pavé; flowers and petals with actual, nature-related forms; or cartoonlike, exaggerated silhouettes.