Rapaport Magazine

Vegas… Win, Lose or Draw?

The industry converged on Las Vegas for the biggest U.S. jewelry buying event.

By Shuan Sim and Nancy Sindt with contributions by Amber Michelle

The industry made its annual week-long trek to Las Vegas the first week of June. Dealers, manufacturers and designers highlighted their wares as buyers came from all over the U.S. and as far away as Australia to attend the JCK, Couture and Antique Jewelry & Watch shows. All eyes were on the ever-important U.S. market, which seems to be the place where people are still buying jewelry, although the competition for dollars from other categories is fierce.
   It was a scorching 109 degrees as buyers faced some of the same challenges as 2015 — a low euro-to-dollar rate stymied European buyers and the Asian markets were facing their own economic turmoil, with both factors contributing to much less buying from those areas. Low oil prices also put a dent in spending from nations who have oil-dependent economies. And, of course, the uncertainty of an election year in the U.S. also cast a shadow on sales.

   Diamantaires used “slow,” “so-so” and “okay” most often to describe the 2016 JCK Las Vegas show, which spanned four days. The show had 2,500 exhibitors and 22,300 buyers representing 9,000 storefronts, on par with 2015. Most vendors felt traffic was down from last year and for those who had been longtime exhibitors at North America’s largest jewelry show, the diminishing traffic has been an ongoing issue for many years.
   Many sellers also felt that this year’s JCK layout was confusing and an impediment to buyers trying to find their booths. Diamond wholesalers were situated in the L-shaped diamond plaza. “It is a weird layout, and it seems like there might have been customers who thought the diamond section ended right before the plaza bends,” pointed out Dhruvin Shah, director of Vaibhav Gems, a diamond manufacturer based in Mumbai, India.
   “JCK just doesn’t have the same intense feel it used to have,” said Arlon Mason, a sales representative at Suncrest Diamonds, a producer of high pressure-high temperature (HPHT) lab-grown and treated diamonds in Utah. While Mason believes that JCK is still the best jewelry show in the world, his company has seen weaker results each year, largely due to the change in buying climate.
Buyers Conservative
   As retailers have increasingly shied away from holding excessive inventory in recent years, their browsing patterns at JCK reflected that mentality — exhibitors described buyers stopping by but not buying, and those who inquired about goods wanted either very specific diamonds or were out for steep discounts. “Traffic’s just down in general, but the ones who are stopping by are looking for very specific things,” noted David Lasher, managing director at the Diamond Dealers Club (DDC) in New York. DDC had its own pavilion at the JCK show this year in hopes of helping retailers find their suppliers more easily, but vendors were iffy at best as to how much the pavilion helped. “People simply aren’t buying for stock,” Lasher said. Meyer Tessler, manager at J.I.B. Fine Diamonds, a diamond wholesaler in New York City, felt that the first day of the show was the busiest for him — as it was for many other vendors as well. But he noted that the subsequent days were a slow slide into quietude.
   Exhibitors felt that JCK shows have become less about selling goods and more about networking and a way for buyers to reacquaint themselves with the sellers. Many confided that the traffic that stopped by was comprised half of returning clients and half new customers, but that did not necessarily spell sales at the show. “We made some sales but really it’s to meet new people and hope they will become new accounts later in the year,” said Puneet Lakhi, vice president of Vishinda, a diamond manufacturer in New York City. Saloni Sanghvi, marketing manager at Diambel N.V., a wholesaler in Antwerp, agreed with that sentiment, adding that they had mostly seen buyers from outside the U.S. who made sales on the spot. Sanghvi pointed out that traveling to Las Vegas for the show is expensive, and the lack of sales has led her to doubt whether her company would return for next year’s JCK.

Hope for JCK
   Vendors felt that adding an extra day might have improved the show. Herbert Livi, a partner at Livi Fancies, a wholesaler of fancy-shaped diamonds in New York City, thought that four days of JCK were just fine, but might have worked better had it not overlapped with Shabbat, when observant Jews did not work. David Hamou, vice president of operations at Ovadia Diamonds, a wholesaler in New York City, yearned for the days when JCK was held back at the Venetian hotel and called for the show, currently hosted at the Mandalay Bay, to be smaller. Yet despite the slow and disappointing results this year, nearly all of the sellers said that they would probably return for next year’s show, simply because that is what is needed for them to survive in the industry.

   Rare and natural was the buying plan of most attendees for this year’s AGTA show, where the most in-demand items were untreated colored gemstones as well as rare and unusual gems of all types.
Buyers at this show represent a large cross section of the industry: designers, manufacturers, retailers, gallery owners and dealers. What they wanted was top quality, at, of course, the best prices. However, according to exhibitors, when buyers found what they wanted, they brought out sharpened pencils and wrote orders.

Traffic Off
   Exhibitors said they didn’t come to the show with high expectations and foot traffic was decidedly “off,” but many were gratified to see regular clients who came by to fill inventories. Overall, prices have steadily escalated for the costliest of gemstones, such as rubies, emeralds and sapphires — particularly untreated stones — but in some cases, buyers showed no marked hesitation about purchasing enhanced gems.
   Dealing with this issue head on is Arthur Groom and Co., Ridgewood, New Jersey, a retailer, emerald dealer and partner of ExCel Labs emerald enhancement. “Ninety-nine point nine percent of emeralds are enhanced,” said Arthur Groom, principal. “The big issue is disclosure on the certificates.” This company showed large Colombian emeralds as well as a selection of emeralds from the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan. It was the Afghan goods that sold most in Las Vegas. “People who know what they’re looking for buy a lot,” Groom said.

Sweet Spot
   Apparently the world’s new sweet spot is Mozambique, supplier of vivid Paraiba-like tourmalines and garnets as well as a rainbow of other gems. Akiva Gil, New York City, is sought-after for its broad selection of Paraibas and offers two different sources for the gems: Brazil and Mozambique. According to Andrew Rosenblatt, company spokesman, the Mozambique material is not as bright and slightly included compared to the Brazilian variety, but buyers are snapping it up because of the scarcity of the Brazilian variety. He also noted that sapphires were especially strong this year — both heated and unheated — in smaller sizes because “designers want to experiment
with the stone.”
   Gem dealers Mayer & Watt, Maysville, Kentucky, attracted many buyers with its luscious, purple garnets from Mozambique. “They are generally available only in small sizes,” explained Laurie Watt, co-owner. “Anything over 3 carats is rare.” Prices ranged from $55 up to $850 per carat. Another new find was a purplish-pink garnet from Tanzania, with subtle color shifts in each stone. The dealers learned about the gems’ availability just before the show and stocked up. Prices here ranged from $175 to $350 per carat.

   Gem cutter John Dyer of John Dyer and Co., Edina, Minnesota, has a following for his one-of-a-kind collection. This year, he noted a strong trend toward colored gemstone engagement rings. “Some young people don’t care for diamonds, are on a budget or are just artistic types or gem lovers,” he said. Multicolored sapphires, especially Montana sapphires, are popular as engagement ring centerpieces.
   International buyer Lesley Schiff, owner of Talisman, London, said she never misses the Las Vegas AGTA show and looks to it for “some inspiration.” While her London gallery “specializes in goldsmiths and artist jewelry,” she loves stones and comes to the show to select special gemstones and other items that she commissions to her designers. “I love colorful jewelry and unusual stones,” she says, “When I come here, I buy what I want, not what I think others will like.”

   The Couture show featured a relaxed pace and fairly steady traffic. For many it was a successful show; others deemed it “just okay.” At this five-day event at the Wynn, close to 300 designers previewed their collections to an audience of upscale, carriage-trade retailers. The show’s typical setup: wide aisles, spacious stands and regular amenities such as refreshments, lunch and snacks, make it an easy-to-work environment. Buyers typically keep preshow appointments with regular suppliers then leisurely browse the stands for new talent.

Modern Style
   Style wise, there was inspiration from antiquity to early-to-mid-twentieth century, but overall the best-selling designs were contemporary. The current mood is feminine and wearable, with versatility an important factor, say designers, making oversized bracelets, heavy collars and chandelier earrings look a bit dated. Top details included layering, fringes, moving pieces and adaptability — characteristics wanted by modern women. In fact, many of the best-selling designs were targeted directly toward this audience.
   Kismet by Milka, a Turkish company owned by Milka Karaagacli, is dedicated to “women moving forward in life,” according to the founder. The designs, in 14-karat gold and multicolored diamonds, include mismatched earrings and tasseled necklaces, retailing from $600 to $4,500, which are intended to be mixed and combined in creative ways. Karaagacli, who also has retail outlets in her native Turkey, says her clients spend considerable amounts when they shop, but instead of buying just one important piece, they choose a number of smaller, fashionable items.
   NC Rocks, a Dubai-based company making its debut, is owned by a mother-and-daughter team who cite female self-purchasers as their clients. Most designs, which feature colored enamel and Antwerp-sourced G, VVS diamonds, are offered in several different sizes and colors to allow buyers to select the pieces that suit their taste and budget. Initial clients for this collection include high-end fashion boutiques in Los Angeles and Texas.

Millennial Appeal
   Appealing to younger customers through design, philosophy and marketing were a couple of other designers. For example, Melissa Joy Manning, whose Berkley, California–based design studio was one of the pioneers of sustainability in production, says that practice resonates not only with her established customers, but also with her Millennial clients. For Couture, she created one-of-a-kind pieces, priced from $500 to $700, but in her regular lines, aimed at female self-purchasers from 22 to 44 years old. Many pieces begin at less-than-$100 levels.
   Employing social media to build her business is Jacquie Aiche, Los Angeles, whose handmade designs reflect her American Indian/Egyptian heritage. Aiche, who enjoys a growing clientele of celebrities, upscale boutiques and specialty stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, credits her rise in popularity to an active social media presence, which she says the “kids drag their parents to see.”
   At the other end of the spectrum were designers who offer a one-to-one approach to design and sales. Ray Griffiths, New York, is a London-trained classic goldsmith, who incorporates antique-inspired details into his contemporary line. His finely detailed “crownwork” figures prominently in necklaces, rings and earrings and he has definite opinions about who buys and wears his creations. “Jewelry is for the pleasure of the owner,” he states. “It should feel good, luxurious, but with a sense of elegance and classic wearability.” At Couture, his new collection, retailing from $2,000 to $10,000, was purchased by regular customers as well as a handful of new clients.
   Known for his one-of-a-kind creations, Jorge Adeler, Great Falls, Virginia, offered six full collections plus a mini-collection to be used as an introductory line. His newest, well-received “raw” designs feature rough cuts of aquamarine, amethyst and other gemstones in 18-karat gold and diamond settings. Other jewelry highlights large, baroque South Sea pearls, meteorites and ancient silver coins. Buyers must make their choices definitively, however, because most of Adeler’s jewelry cannot be duplicated. As he explains, “Nature is a very challenging partner.”

   The Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show began its four-day run at the Paris Hotel the day before JCK opened, and greatly benefited from the timing. This year’s pattern was typical: Buyers charged in and made selections of wanted items early — including the usual dealer-to-dealer merchandise shuffle — and the pace slowed when JCK began, and picked up later as buyers returned to fine-tune their selections. As in recent years, American retailers were the dominant group. Europeans are smarting from the weakened euro and Asians are reluctant to spend due to economic downturns and changes in tax laws.

New Era
   Overall, the biggest demand was for 1960s and 1970s jewelry — big, bold pieces in yellow gold adorned with diamonds and colored gemstones. As always, signed pieces, high-quality workmanship and untreated gemstones topped most buyers’ wish lists.
   According to exhibitors, buyers came with a plan. “They are looking to fill a price point or have a specific need,” said Christopher Lawson, partner at John T. Haynes, Dallas,Texas. Right now, “there is no more buying frenzy,” observed Diana Singer, D&E Singer Inc., New York City. “Antique jewelry buyers buy differently. If they see something good, they have to buy it. But some had less to spend this year.”
   “Jewelry from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s — long chains, pendants, oversized earrings — with hard stones, lots of color and ethnic designs,” led the sales for Vendome, San Antonio, Texas, according to owner Deborah Wilson. “My clients look for fashion-forward items; they are educated about jewelry.” Concurring as to the most popular eras was Kenny Phillips, owner of K Phillips & Co., Miami, Florida. Signed pieces from Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and Van Cleef & Arpels are always in demand, he said.
   Noting similar trends was Steven Fearnley, president of J.S. Fearnley, Atlanta, Georgia. “Art Deco and Victorian are not popular right now,” he said. “It’s a complete change from five years ago.” In addition to selling 1960s-era jewelry, he was looking to acquire “very special signed pieces, fine untreated colored gemstones.” However, he noted, “There’s not a lot around.”
   Marlene Alvarado, owner of her eponymously named company based in Corpus Christi, Texas, said her customers prefer bold designs in yellow gold. In addition to American clients, Alvarado says Indian and Chinese shoppers, who have a long history of fabricating and owning yellow gold, look for high-karat designs. “Gold prices are up, so people are chasing it again,” she said.
   Partial answers to the ongoing question of how to interest Millennials in antique jewelry came from two sources. Patricia Faber, Aaron Faber Gallery, New York City, cited growing demand for steel chronograph watches from the 1960s and 1970s. Millennials like vintage Rolex watches, Faber added. She also said recycled artist jewelry is popular with her younger clientele because it’s relatively inexpensive yet hand-fabricated. This type of jewelry is interesting because it “inspires conversation,” she said.
   Confirming the historical concept, Singer pointed out, “There is newfound interest in antique pieces for several reasons: it is recyclable, unique and it has history.” Singer also noted that young people “like little charms that can be repurposed.”

In Conclusion
   As always, the shows proved to be a mixed package. Some vendors do well if they have a trend item or proven classic. Other vendors may have a look that is not as much of the moment. But in the end, it all comes down to how willing buyers are to take a chance on a new designer or a new style, and in today’s challenging climate, many are risk adverse and choose to stick with the tried and true.

By Amber Michelle


   Forevermark announced its new product offering, the Black Label Collection of diamonds, during its annual Las Vegas JCK breakfast. The Black Label Collection is a group of round, square, cushion, oval and heart-shaped diamonds cut to show maximum fire, brilliance and scintillation. The stones are available exclusively through Forevermark diamantaire HRA Crossworks and each stone has a visible Compass of Light™ and are ideal cuts crafted to perfect symmetry and proportions. A survey conducted by Forevermark in 2015 on women’s diamond acquisition in the U.S. found that round and fancy-shaped diamonds in engagement rings is at a fifty-fifty split, due to Millennial consumers’ desire for something unique.
   Forevermark retailers will be given Black Label marketing tools that will include visual merchandising, a consumer brochure, in-store videos and a landing page on Forevermark.com. Advertising for the collection will be part of the Forevermark national campaign during fourth quarter. Black Label specific ads will be available to retailers in January 2017.
   Each Black Label diamond will come with a grading report, including technical images of the shape and verifying the proportions, polish and symmetry of the stone. The report comes in its own black sleeve showing light performance visuals.

Q4 Advertising
   As the all-important fourth-quarter selling season approaches, Forevermark has released its strategy for advertising during the holiday. The advertising will focus on the Ever Us bypass two-stone ring, earrings and pendant. The ads will run on television and digital and social media.
   Forevermark will also run its “Seize the Day” campaign targeted to men. Those ads will showcase round and cushion solitaire diamond rings, the Forevermark Ever Us two-stone diamond ring, eternity bands, The Center of My Universe pendant and martini set studs. In addition to print and digital media, the ads will run out of home in 19 key markets.

By Amber Michelle

   During a breakfast at the Las Vegas JCK show, held in June, the Diamond Producers Association (DPA) debuted its new tagline based on research done by 360 Market Reach. The new tagline, “Real is Rare. Real is a Diamond.,” is a simple promise upon which all future marketing targeting the Millennial audience will be built.
   Stephen Lussier, chairman, DPA, Jean-Marc Lieberherr, CEO, DPA, and David Lamb, strategy consultant, presented information about the new communication platform that is being constructed to attract Millennials. The DPA marketing mission is to find out what resonates with a new audience of diamond buyers and to sustain that message into the next generation. In its research, 360 Market Reach found the following:
  • While Millennials have too much stimulation and over communication from social media, they are craving face-to-face contact. 
  • They demand choices, individuality, flexibility and personalization. They want to co-create and help tell a story.
  • They are optimists who want to celebrate progress.
  • Millennials are seeking real connections and truthful experiences, but the modern world makes it hard to find them.
   The DPA is inviting Millennials to see diamonds as a perfect symbol of real connection. Instead of looking at diamonds as a rite of passage or being told that they are for a specific occasion, the idea is to change the thinking about diamonds to connect Millennials with any occasion that is relevant to them. 
   Working with its ad agency, Mother New York, the DPA will launch a media campaign about diamonds in the U.S. in September 2016. The media campaign will focus on digital and social media channels.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2016. To subscribe click here.

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