Fending off economic problems, jewelry at the Baselworld watch and jewelry fair looks set to dazzle with color, unusual gem mixes and exceptional workmanship for designers hoping to woo big spenders.
Soaring metals prices will likely be a hot topic at the show, with many designers signaling price increases.
New jewelry brands set to show at the event include Germany's Abel & Zimmermann, known for its chain bracelets, and Denmark's Pilgrim, which specializes in handmade fantasy jewelry crafted from brass, tin or zinc. Galliano will also be introducing its first fine jewelry line at the show, comprising dagger, flower and coin stories, while Austrian crystal giant Swarovski is headed back to Basel for the launch of its product brand Enlightened — Swarovski Elements.
The brand specializes in innovative setting techniques, such as a JewelMesh "gem fabric" that allows for stones to be set in any material, as well as a range of precision-cut gems and synthetic stones. The brand was formerly marketed under the trade name Signity, which was taken over by Swarovski in 2006.
"We've been working in the [gemstone] field since the Sixties, but we believe we can enlarge the scope of the brand...creating a platform to move it forward into different fields," said Markus Langes-Swarovski, executive board member of Swarovski.
On display will be a number of designer jewelry pieces made using the brand's elements, including two-star and moon headpieces made by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. On an arty note, the brand's Gem Visions Couture collection will feature a fluid body sculpture by architect Zaha Hadid, made from black rhodium.
"It's not only about positioning crystals, but a range of elements that foster creativity," said Langes-Swarovski, adding the brand can work with any material except for diamonds.
Apart from innovations at the fair, several jewelry brands signaled price increases ahead.
"We've had to raise prices by around 10 percent, but we're the last ones to do so," said Fawaz Gruosi, founder and president of the Geneva-based fine jewelry brand de Grisogono.Business is already up by around 11 percent this year, he said. Counting Europe and Russia among its leading markets, the firm has sights set on the U.S. and the Far East, according to Gruosi. A second store is planned for Hong Kong by the end of April, and a second U.S. store is lined up for Las Vegas for 2009.
"Things will go slower in the U.S. market, but we're a niche brand and relatively new to the market, so for us, business is getting better and better each year," said Gruosi, adding he'd just received news from Saks Fifth Avenue outlining plans to extend the de Grisogono collection to four more stores in the U.S.
"We're trying to keep our price points level by watching our overheads and outgoings. The profit margin will be lower [this year], but the important thing is to sell," said New York-based jewelry designer Gurhan Orhan, adding that, despite the generally negative outlook, the firm's business is already up 40 percent since the beginning of the year.
"We're not expecting to see the 10 to 20 percent profit margins of years past, but if we see single-digit increases, that will be good for us," said Meyer Hoffman, chief operating officer for Mikimoto America.
The pearl giant will fete the release of its new coffee-table book by Assouline at the show, with a photo mosaic wall installation by artist Robert Silver. Mikimoto has some exclusive pieces up its sleeve for Basel aimed at bubbling markets such as Russia and the Middle East. The brand's collaboration with Yohji Yamamoto, "Stormy Weather, Mikimoto," will also make its debut at the fair.
"The way the market is going, the superaffluent are the buyers and it's important to reach out to them," said Hoffman, adding that he nonetheless expects a more restrained atmosphere.
"Everybody, including the superrich, is affected by the economy," he said. "Our question is whether they're going to buy a car, go on vacation or buy pearls?"
Designers said they're pushing the limit in terms of creativity as a result.
"When the economy is tough, we have to [stimulate] the customer," said Marco Bicego, chairman of his eponymous jewelry brand.Pointing to Kazakhstan in western Central Asia as one of the most important growing markets, the brand is also looking to open corners in Beijing and Shanghai in time for the Olympic Games in August, he said.
Highlights from Bicego's diamond-intense range will include long necklaces featuring mixes of briolette diamonds, pearls and coral.
Known for its work with the akoya variety of cultured pearls, meanwhile, Mikimoto has peppered its pearly kingdom with one-off creations made of rare conch and keshi pearls. Upping the precious quotient, the brand's classic Baroque pearls collection comes intermingled with black tourmalines.
"Our aim is to show a variety of pearl usage," said Hoffman.
Pianegonda has also worked cultured pearls into its equation, mixing them with 18-karat gold and setting them in sterling silver and rhodium-plated chains for its Pearl Life collection.
Bulgari's high jewelry offering will include a yellow gold necklace sprinkled with fancy-cut diamonds and pink and green cabochon tourmalines, as well as a range of bold jeweled rings.
As part of its relaunch, Antonini will unveil its new rose gold and Samoa collections at the fair. Black coral and vibrant gemstones will be among new elements for the brand. De Grisogono's collection also promises to be more color-charged.
"We've contrasted hard pastels with flashy hues," said Gruosi, citing a new coral line. Hidden luxury is also key, he said, seen in precious stones on clasps, for example.
"It's sweet and sassy with a lot of sparkle," said Orhan of his collection that will feature mixes of semiprecious and precious stones with pavé settings, strong briolettes and rose-cut rubies and sapphires.
"People are looking for sparkle, color and luster," he said.
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