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Las Vegas on their minds

Ahead of the Nevada shows, retailers ready their shopping lists while brands hustle to pack newly-finished diamond numbers.

By Jennifer Heebner


As the sun rises on the most important jewelry trade fairs of the year in Las Vegas, Nevada, attendees will have anything but a leisurely week in the desert. That’s because there are mile-long shopping lists for fourth-quarter sales to tackle, and myriad manufacturers and artisans vying for the attention of merchants. Here’s the skinny on what to expect.

Must-haves for merchants


Travis Piper’s six-year-old Piper Diamond Co. business in Vincennes, Indiana, recently hit the million-dollar revenue mark selling largely private-label jewelry staples that give good value — and he’s shooting for $2 million.

“We’ve reached a plateau,” he explains. To surpass it, he’s picked up the Le Vian brand — with its powerful marketing — to better promote color and pull in new shoppers. More lines like Dabakarov and Allison-Kaufman Company will further enhance gemstone offerings. The latter’s morganite in rose gold “sells like crazy,” says Piper. “We are continuously reordering it.”

Z Folio Gallery in Solvang, California, is recovering from fires and floods that hit the area earlier this year, but is ready to move on and pick up more color. The gallery’s director of operations, Natasha Lazorova, will be looking for not just colored stones, but metals, too.

“We saw more yellow gold and color at the Centurion jewelry show in late January,” she reports. “We’re adding a lot of yellow and rose gold — we’ve stocked white for a long time — but now people are asking for the warmer colors.”

Another thing she’s seeking is impulse-purchase items. Goods from $250 to $1,000 can be a great add-on and price point to encouraging spending on a whim. Right now, canine-themed brand Dog Fever fits the bill. “No case in our store gets more of a reaction than theirs,” she observes.

She’s also steering clear of design houses that sell directly to consumers. While there are always exceptions — including recent acquisition Frey Wille, an Austrian jewelry brand that specializes in enamel — her store is trying to avoid as many of these makers as possible. “We don’t need to compete with them online,” she says.

Designers on display

Internet and social media sales are heating up among retailers who are finally taking e-commerce seriously.

Jacquie Earle of AeroDiamonds witnessed this firsthand on Instagram when a Florida consumer inquired about a one-of-a-kind diamond necklace Earle had posted. The piece had already sold, but three independent retail jewelers — one in New York, one in Chicago, Illinois, and another in Florida — piped up to woo the woman with similar-looking AeroDiamonds pieces they had in stock.

“The internet just lit up!” recalls Earle. The customer ultimately bought one of the proffered items.

Color is also on the minds of some designers who have traditionally worked with just diamonds. These include Julez Bryant, known for her matte finishes of largely pink-gold and diamond styles, and wedding-jewelry designer Erika Winters.

Winters is adding gemstones that she considers neutral tones (nothing bold) like grayish-lavender spinel and a deep, smoky teal-colored tourmaline that she describes as “similar to indicolite but greener.” Another priority for her is special shapes, such as antique-style cushion cuts, emerald cuts and ovals. “Ovals have been a huge trend for us, starting in 2016 through 2017 and now into this year,” she reports.

As for the direct-to-consumer movement, designers say they can’t afford not to sell that way. With intermittent sales, and a large number of retailers writing orders at shows only to cancel them later, makers find themselves in the precarious position of wondering how to pay their bills.

Selling to the end consumer when retailers resist purchases is an obvious solution. In fact, not doing so can demonstrate a “lack of credibility,” according to independent designer Jade Lustig of Jade Trau, who points out that middleman merchants can be daunting to some shoppers.

Plus, both consumers and designers enjoy the process. “Working directly with consumers is my favorite part of my job,” she says.

Matchmaker’s corner
What are retailers searching for, and what can designers at the Las Vegas fairs offer them? These three categories are big with both parties.

1. Wedding rings

What retailers want: Travis Piper of Piper Diamond Co. is spending the first three days of the shows shopping for wedding rings in hopes of transforming his store into a bridal destination. Rings ranging in retail price from $1,000 to $2,500 sell best for him, so he’ll hit up regular vendors Gems One and SBT Imports. Also top of mind: emerald cuts. “They have been dead forever, but in the last two months, we’ve sold four, so I think I need to stock more,” he says.

For Ellen Hertz from Max’s in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, non-traditional-looking rings sell consistently. A recent shopper on her Instagram feed nabbed one with a vintage cushion cut from Los Angeles-based jeweler Single Stone for $28,000.

Meanwhile, Dorothy Vodicka of The Gem Collection in Tallahassee, Florida, is on the lookout for loose rounds up to 1.50 carats. She’s also set aside time to visit with Arizona-based designer Just Jules for new wedding rings and to visit antique-jewelry vendors. “We have a diverse group of needs,” she explains.

What designers have to offer: At Rahaminov Diamonds, ovals, emerald cuts and pear shapes in engagement rings are moving well, so the Los Angeles-based brand will have ample inventory. Ditto for Erika Winters on ovals and emerald cuts. Also important are stacking rings — a “staple,” according to Jade Lustig of Jade Trau, who is eager to unveil a new three-stone style. As for Christopher Slowinski of Christopher Designs, his oval L’Amour cut continues to sell thanks to the popularity of the silhouette.

2. Bigger pieces and female self-purchases

What retailers want:
Store-owners are reporting an uptick in this category. Bonus: These sales are often not small-ticket ones. Vodicka looks to colored-stone styles to satiate female buyers, noting that designer Alex Sepkus has particularly big appeal with the crowd. “The $1,000 to $3,000 range for female self-purchasers has been really big this year,” she says.

To Hertz’s surprise, even larger-sum purchases have proven popular, particularly among women. At least part of the credit goes to escalating consumer confidence. Earrings and rings are the quickest to turn, she says: “Women will buy earrings for themselves all day long.”

When Hertz picked up Roule & Co. — a maker of geometric cage-style colored-stone jewels — two years ago, she brought in a number of accessibly priced selections retailing for under $2,500. However, it was the “big mamas” that flew out the door, she observes. “Within two weeks, we sold an $8,000 ring, and then a $7,500 necklace.”

What designers have to offer: The AeroDiamonds line of drilled diamond jewels, which started out using only 0.30-carat stones or smaller, is now getting requests for bigger looks featuring 0.50- and 1-carat stones.

“We used to do these only as custom, but there is such demand that we’ve had to grow our diamond inventory,” explains the brand’s Jacquie Earle.

3. Jewels for layering and stacking

What retailers want: Robin Austin of Austin & Elkins in Alexandria, Virginia, sells a steady number of diamonds-by-the-inch necklaces, layering them in-store to encourage multiple purchases. “Once someone has quality daily-wear jewelry, they can move into dressier pieces,” she notes.

Janice Blumberg of Be on Park in Winter Park, Florida, experiences similar demand, stocking up on petite layering necklaces, little diamond hoops, and a wide variety of studs ideal for mixing and matching (think Zoë Chicco, Gurhan, and Roberto Coin). “Our sweet spot is $2,000 to $5,000,” she says.

What designers have to offer: Lustig’s expanded collection of Penelope styles will be on hand at her Couture trade show booth. The simple six-pronged, vintage-inspired bracelet quickly became one of her best-selling looks, so she built it out into a collection. “It speaks to who I am,” she says. “I reinvent diamond jewelry for modern consumers.”

Julez Bryant, meanwhile, continues to expand her offerings of chains, hoops, and charms. “We’re capturing buyers in their 20s who are purchasing gold chains, station necklaces, chokers, charms, hoop earrings, and hoops with charms,” she says of the myriad pieces her daughter Gia Gonzales-Schaake has designed for the company, which Bryant founded 10 years ago. “Layering charms are a big trend.

Image (left to right): Kristin Hanson linear drop earrings; Buddha Mama Y necklace; Erica Courtney earrings.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - June 2018. To subscribe click here.

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