Rapaport Magazine

Las Vegas Jewelry Week

All eyes were on Las Vegas during the U.S. market’s largest jewelry buying events.

By Shuan Sim; Nancy Pier Sindt; Amber Michelle

The only thing brighter than the lights on the Las Vegas Strip was the array of dazzling diamonds, colored gemstones and jewelry on display at the JCK, Couture and Antique Jewelry & Watch shows held there last month. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimated that some 42,300 people were in town for the various events where designers debuted new collections and diamantaires competed to attract new business. But U.S.–based retailers were reserved in their purchasing, holding out on buying only what is currently needed for their stores and deciding later on what to stock in the fourth quarter. While traffic was steady at all the shows, there was a notable lack of traffic from the Chinese market, held in check by laws banning official gift-giving, and from Europeans and Russians, who were stymied by the high dollar to low euro/ruble conversion rate.

   Exhibitors attending the JCK Las Vegas show set up their wares with high hopes on the first day, but that good mood slipped away not too long into the show. Many sellers felt that the new layout allowed for better traffic flow, but were disappointed that the crowd was not buying as much as was hoped. This year’s show spanned four days and some dealers would have welcomed an extra day of business. JCK Las Vegas, North America’s largest jewelry show, featured 2,300 exhibitors and hosted over 22,000 retail buyers representing 9,400 retail stores, a 4 percent increase in attendance over 2014’s event.
   “It was not a good show this year,” said Ashish Baid from C.M. Diamond Inc., a diamond manufacturer from New York City. Baid, who specializes in loose diamonds, said that, like many other sellers, most of his traffic at the show were returning customers, with a couple of new customers stopping by. However, many exhibitors held reservations over whether these “new customers” would actually translate into new accounts and new sales, as retailers were not stocking as much as they had in previous years.

Slow Market, Slow Show
   “It’s not just JCK; it’s just not a good time in general,” said Ilana Blankitny, who works in sales and marketing at Andre Messika Diamonds, a wholesale diamond supplier based in Israel. She felt that the 2014 show had been a little bit better, a sentiment echoed by many dealers.
   As always, rounds dominated sales, but some sellers noted that ovals and cushions were moving particularly well. Pears also did relatively well at this year’s show, as did matching pairs. Many buyers were interested in SI clarity goods, in colors from G through J. Dealers selling stones 3 carats and up felt the show went well. Overall, yellows and pinks were popular in colored diamonds.
   Puneet Lakhi, vice president of Vishinda, a diamond manufacturer in New York City, said a lot of people were out for deals this year. “Last year, people were willing to look at stuff. People have become even more price sensitive,” he said. He noted that suppliers dealing in smaller stones up to 1 carat are facing a bit of a squeeze in the American market.
   “The show could be better,” said Jose Batista of Rio Diamond Manufacturing Corporation, a wholesale distributor of white and natural fancy color diamonds in New York City. Batista was optimistic on the first day and kept that optimism all the way through, saying that he saw about the same traffic at his booth on the last day as he did on the first. Some other sellers, such as the Niru Group, with offices in New York City and Israel, dealing in both loose diamonds and jewelry, felt that their busiest times were in the first two days of the show.
   Eliyahu Roi, manager at Eliyahu Yona Diamonds, a diamond manufacturer from Israel, said that global conditions have depressed most diamond markets around the world except for the U.S. Roi described the economy as having been “not so good,” and said that businesses have been focusing more on the U.S. than on Hong Kong. He observed that with China clamping down on “black money” — money that might have stemmed from graft — the Asia-Pacific market is drying up. He added that customers from Mainland China used to come to Hong Kong to buy goods for the government. Regardless, Roi had hopes that this year’s JCK show would turn out to be a good one.

Hong Kong Pavilion Steady
   Perhaps because of depressed sentiments about the Asian market, many exhibitors at the Hong Kong/China section of the JCK show, featuring mostly finished jewelry, felt that they did better than expected. “So far, so good,” said Saiman Ng, operating director of Golden Master Jewellery based in Hong Kong. “This year was supposed to be worse, but it has not been too bad,” Ng said. “Before we came, we thought there would be a drop in sales from last year.”
   A lot of Hong Kong diamond and jewelry companies are facing similar problems, according to Ng, affected by the fall of the Russian ruble, among other currency challenges. While the show was good for him, Ng said that moving forward his company, like many others, would probably adopt a conservative approach, cutting down on costs and expenses.
   Asian jewelry companies felt that the U.S. offered plenty of opportunities. “The show is still okay for us,” said Jun Li, import-export manager at Lao Feng Xiang, a jewelry company from Shanghai that opened a retail store in New York City in December 2014. While the brand specializes in gold jewelry, customers have been looking at other goods as well, Li said, adding that she was seeing more traffic at this JCK show than 2014, perhaps as a result of getting the company’s name out in the American market.

Report-Conscious Customers
   Retailers continued their requests for lab-certified diamonds — not just any lab but specifically diamond reports from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). The specific requests for GIA reports came on the heels of the recent challenges faced by some labs regarding the validity of their grading in the diamond industry.
   Retailers are saying customers have become more aware of grading and are requesting triple-Ex graded goods, and that the retailers won’t sell anything that was not GIA-graded, according to Vishinda’s Lakhi. “A lot more customers are wanting more GIA goods, asking for triple-Ex diamonds, etc.,” he said. “This started happening about a year or so ago,” said Lakhi, adding that he was focused more on branding and getting his name out this year than on selling.
   Overall, while dealers have felt that this year’s JCK show was slow, many held onto the belief that a slow show might not necessarily be bad. After all, things could have been worse, some dealers said, and many are glad that at least their familiar customers still made it back. Looking forward, the sellers are hoping that as the economy picks up, so too will their business and that next year’s show will be a more profitable one for them.

   The American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) section of the JCK Las Vegas show was spread out in two substantial-sized ballrooms on the lower level of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. Loose gemstones, beads, pearls and finished jewelry were on offer from an international mix of gem cutters, dealers and manufacturers.
   It was the ideal shopping venue for designers and manufacturers, as well as retailers who produce their own jewelry. This latter mix of buyers is what the show aimed for, but this year, there were some significant shortages in the desired audience. Most notable was the absence of international buyers, particularly Chinese and Russians. Lastly, many small independent jewelers, who make up the majority of AGTA clients, stayed home too.
   As a result, despite what appeared to be moderately good traffic during the final two days of the show, exhibitors said that for the most part, sales were small in size and hard to achieve. “Occasionally, manufacturers from the upstairs jewelry section come down to AGTA looking for a single stone or a handful of gems necessary to complete a design,” said Benjamin Hakimi of Colorline Inc., New York City. “Overall, it’s been a typical Las Vegas show,” he continued. “Most buyers are interested in jewelry and the gem section gets the runoff.”
   These feelings were echoed by other gemstone dealers, who did not approach this show with high expectations. “AGTA is largely secondary. If shoppers have some extra time, they come down; you never know where the customer is going to come from,” said Simon Watt of Mayer & Watt in Maysville, Kentucky. He did make one major sale of rare trapiche emeralds; other sales were in higher-end stones.
   As always, the most in-demand gemstones were the Big Three — rubies, sapphires and emeralds — despite steadily escalating prices and ever-scarcer availability. Untreated stones were at a premium. Continuing to grow in popularity were opals of all colors, tourmalines, particularly paraibas and rubellites, spinels in many shades of the rainbow, but especially red, and morganite. Pearls remained steady sellers in a variety of sizes and shapes, including round and baroque freshwaters, as well as gumball — 14 mm to16 mm — sizes.
   For San Francisco–based Manak, it was better goods that sold, according to Ambrish Sethi. This company, known for rose cuts in both diamonds and colored gemstones, saw increased interest in both. “Buyers at AGTA were looking for finer qualities of gems, but at cheaper prices.” Mozambique has emerged as an important gemstone source, especially for rubies, noted Sailesh Lakhi, Sparkles & Colors, New York City.
   Also citing Mozambique was Andrew S. Rosenblatt, Akiva Gil, New York. One of his company’s best-selling gems was paraiba-like tourmaline with an electric aqua color. Rosenblatt said more consumers are learning about paraiba and asking for it, and it has become one of the market’s rarest gems because the Brazilian mine has closed. New finds are coming out of Mozambique, but the goods are not as clean, he added.
   Overall, despite generally disappointing sales, few gem dealers said they would forgo Las Vegas in the future. Most consider it a midpoint between major fairs in Tucson and Hong Kong and see it as an opportunity to make connections for the future.
Couture Show
   Couture, celebrating its twentieth year, started off strongly, according to exhibitors, with clients enthusiastically entering the ballrooms and heading for their favorite designers. Traffic on the first day was heavy, fell off the second day as the JCK show opened and revved up later as buyers firmed up final selections. Overall, the five-day show provided retailers with the opportunity to view new lines and make plans for both immediate and holiday deliveries.
   Unlike the neighboring JCK Las Vegas, Couture is a different type of trade show, with the intended goal of establishing long-term relationships between buyers and designers. Buyers include a mix of carriage-trade jewelers, upscale department stores and galleries; exhibitors range from ultra high-end lines to less costly artisan collections. Participants review jewelry and watches in a relaxed, friendly environment that includes free meals and refreshments interspersed during show hours, soft music and flattering lighting. It is an opportunity to look over the newest collections of established suppliers and to browse the booths to find new ones. This show is also timed to allow participants to arrange special purchases or schedule future in-store personal appearances.
   “Trunk shows and personal appearances are all about adding extra value to the retail experience,” said Alishan Halebian, the Tustin, California–based designer of an eponymous mixed metals collection. “These events help establish a personal connection and give designers a different relationship with clients,” he said.
   Even at this luxe level, however, most Couture buyers appeared to be holding back a bit, choosing needed fill-ins from regular suppliers and making notes of new sources. Some bought items for immediate sale, but reserved major purchases for August to October deliveries.
   High-end collections, such as those by Paula Crevoshay, Sevan Biçakçi and Jorge Adeler, are aimed at a very specialized clientele, who came to the show to select one-of-a-kind pieces. First-time exhibitor Arman Suciyan, represented by Viewpoint, New York, attracted buyer attention with an imaginative collection of oversized rings with an allegorical theme. The designer, who fabricates each piece by hand, said he was pleased with buyers’ positive reaction to his collection.
   Many established designers said they have expanded and enhanced their output to keep up with changing tastes and times. For example, Canadian fashion firm Anzie added diamonds and higher-priced gemstones to its collection. Others, like Eddie Sakamoto of Torrance, California, and Etienne Perret from Camden, Maine, continued to explore alternative materials, such as bronze and ceramic, respectively, to create contemporary collections that reflect the designers’ artistry, yet maintain more moderate price points. The alternative materials are also aimed at a younger, less traditional customer.
   For many exhibitors, the most positive aspect of any trade show is connecting with new clients, and many participants at Couture said that was the case this year. Jane Taylor, the Amherst, Massachusetts–based creator of dramatic colored-gemstone jewelry, said she established a number of new accounts. Her comment was echoed by Just Jules of Scottsdale, Arizona. Experiencing its first year at Couture was Omi Privé, West Covina, California, known for its rare colored gemstones in diamond and gold settings. “For us, the show has been really busy,” commented Natalie Weisinger, the company’s director of marketing. “In addition to our regular clientele, we scheduled meetings with a few new people.”
   Despite the necessity for novelty each season, designers said it’s important to provide clients with some core classics. “When we started in the business, we concentrated on always creating new, new, new. Now, we still offer new designs, but we also understand the importance of classics,” observed a representative of Anzie.

Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show
   The Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show at the Paris Hotel is a world unto itself in terms of buying and selling. Exhibitors include estate jewelry dealers, gemstone suppliers and jewelry manufacturers, who buy and sell to each other, as well as the attendees. Therefore, even a slow show can yield big sales. Overall, this year’s traffic was fair to good, according to exhibitors, but because of the timing — beginning the day before JCK — the show floor was mobbed on opening day.
   Due to the nature of the merchandise offered, there is a “buy it now” mentality that encourages shoppers to shop early and commit fast, said Michael Goldstein, a dealer in antique diamonds and jewelry based in New York. For him, it meant antique diamonds from 1 carat to 5 carats in size and cushions in matched pairs were selling, mostly purchased by Indian clients, who were “buying aggressively.”
   The wish list of most buyers included the usual: important, signed pieces, loose gems and jewelry of top-quality untreated stones, particularly rubies and sapphires. “People are still highly label-conscious. They want either signed pieces or very unusual designs,” noted Gus Davis of Camilla Dietz Bergeron, Ltd., New York City.
   “Something super? Name the price,” said David McKeone, partner at J.S. Fearnley, Atlanta, who sold a “fabulous and rare Art Deco Cartier brooch on the first day.” While he said there are no specific names that dominate, perennial favorites include Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier and Buccellati.
   John T. Haynes from Dallas, Texas, captured buyers’ attention with a huge diamond-encrusted Papal cross and ring. “Overall, we had a better show this year than 2014. We had a strong start, traffic softened Friday and there was an uptick the following day,” said Christopher Lawson, a principal in the firm. The best sellers? “Very fine special colored gemstones — untreated.”
   To secure part of this top-shelf market, and for better visibility at a smaller show, some diamond and gemstone dealers defected from the oversized JCK to exhibit at this fair. Among them were New York City–based Emsaru and Daniella Design, who both said they had a very good show here. “I switched to this show because I have a better showcase here,” said Ashish Gadwal, in sales at Emsaru. Diamond specialist Nino Scarselli, of Scarselli, New York City, who regularly exhibits at the Antique show, said that while he sold a variety of merchandise, today’s market “remains very uncertain and has no real direction.”
   Similar to the AGTA show, dealers lamented the absence of European and Asian buyers, who are known to snap up the most-wanted rarities. Independents, antique shop owners and other dealers browsed the stands for specific purchases with clients’ tastes in mind.
   Regarding branded jewelry, Patricia Faber of Aaron Faber, New York City, observed that the secondary market is heating up for early pieces from some of today’s recognized brands, such as Munsteiner, Elizabeth Locke and GURHAN. In some cases, these older pieces sell for the same or slightly less than their original prices.

In Summary
   Some vendors reported their best show ever, but others reported only so-so results. The world currently looks to the U.S market for the bulk of sales. While the American economy is on the upswing, consumer-spending power is inhibited by wage stagnation, which caused retailers to be wary in their buying. A pronounced lack of foreign buyers also impacted sales. Now that manufacturers and retailers are back home, the real work starts, as orders are confirmed, cancelled or come in as the undecided make decisions. It is the after-the-show follow-up that truly reflects how well business fared and the answer to that question will be fully revealed over the next few months.
2016 Show Dates: JCK Las Vegas: June 3 – 6, Mandalay Bay; Couture: June 2-6, Wynn; Antique Jewelry & Watch Show: June 2-5, Paris Hotel & Casino.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2015. To subscribe click here.

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