By  on January 28, 2002

VICENZA, Italy -- Despite worldwide economic difficulties and a crippled luxury market, Italian jewelry firms exhibiting at the recent Vicenzaoro show here said they see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Though most admitted that 2001 jewelry sales broke even with the previous year, a stronger-than-expected holiday season, especially in Europe, led many to believe that sales are on the rebound.

"We're optimistic, though we've learned not to count on long-term planning, but to work on everyday flexibility," said Francoise Izaute, corporate marketing director for Pasquale Bruni.

An added boon, jewelers said, is that consumers still perceive fine jewelry as a safe purchase.

As Roberto Coin put it: "Jewels are antistress, and they cost less than a divorce."

Jewelry trends continue to be influenced by what's happening in apparel, with lots of romance and savannah-like themes echoing Tom Ford's safari spring collection for YSL Rive Gauche. The fair, which ended its week-long run Jan. 20, was awash with color, as well as symbol-shaped jewels. Roses, animal stripes, hearts and crosses appeared in everything from yellow or cognac diamonds to colored sapphires in rose, blue and lime green. Pave workmanship also continued to be a top trend.

"The looks were very feminine, which will help business, and nothing was too over-the-top," said Sue Ann Newberg, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Newberg noted that top trends included long drop earrings and pendants, longer open chain necklaces that wrap around the neck twice, and flexible rings, with gold, diamonds and many-colored gemstones.

"Color and pave are still trends I believe in because they are a nice way for a woman to express herself," said Lauren Kulchinsky, buyer at high-end jeweler Mayfair in Commack, N.Y., where Italian companies account for 80 percent of the business.

Kulchinsky added that she liked Torrini's geometric pieces in hammered yellow gold and diamonds.

"Right now, people need bright and spicy colors that stimulate the palate and the psyche," said Leopoldo Poli, co-owner of La Nouvelle Bague. "Women want to approach jewelry in an ironic and playful manner."Even Antonini, long known for its use of white gold and diamonds in classical shapes with a contemporary twist, flirted with color this season.

Lynn Grimm, vice president and sales and marketing director for Damiani USA, said the company's sales of gold crosses sprinkled with diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds has been strong.

"Business is going well, and we hope to open a flagship store in Manhattan by the end of this year," said Grimm, adding that he anticipates strong sales for the line planned by Brad Pitt for Damiani, as reported in these pages.

Pianegonda, traditionally known for its bold, oversized silver jewelry, introduced an 18-karat yellow gold collection at the show.

Owner Franco Pianegonda said the line, which uses stones such as diamonds, amethyst and tourmalines, will be carried in 100 select stores worldwide, with U.S. retail prices ranging from $1,000 for a gold ring to $25,000 for a hefty gold and diamond choker.

Some companies tinkered with lower-priced versions of top-performing lines to lure younger customers, such as Damiani's smaller version of the San Lorenzo and Belle Epoque collections, which carry half the price of the original line.

Saks's Newberg said, "Our customers are looking to us for a fashion accessory. They want precious metals and fine material, but not something really serious."

La Nouvelle Bague is banking on Quori, a collection of pendants and earrings shaped as stylized hearts. The group accommodates different budgets since it is available in different versions, including silver and enamel, as well as yellow gold, enamel and diamond.

Pasquale Bruni presented chubby, roundish rings where sapphires and diamonds were encrusted to form an elongated star. Izaute, who recently joined the company from Cartier, said with its $15 million volume and consistent 10 percent sales increases, the company has now reached the size to increase its international presence.

Roberto Coin has jumped on the safari theme with giraffe-striped rings and bracelets, an effect obtained by encasing tiger-eye in yellow gold, with gold and brown enamel bangles, fashioned as reptile scales in yellow or rose gold.

Meanwhile, gold jewelry specialist Chimento is launching handbags and small leather goods in napa and printed silks that the company hopes will account for 10 percent of the its $50 million sales volume by 2004. A collection of unisex watches and men's jewels will bow at the World Watch & Jewelry Show in Basel, Switzerland, this April.

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