By and  on February 11, 2002

NEW YORK -- The luxury sector may have taken a steep dive last year, but that doesn't seem to have tempered the mood in the fine jewelry world too dramatically.

Although the free-spending days of big-bauble purchases may have come to an end, fine jewelers exhibiting at the JA New York Winter Show last week said they're anticipating steady business by putting more emphasis on core, safe-bet sellers, while tweaking the assortment a little to offer better price points. Retailers at the show, which ended its three-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Feb. 5, were on the hunt for key items and updated looks.

Joel Kopel, manager of William Barthman Jewelers, said: "I am trying to find more affordable pieces. I am looking for fill-in items and easy-grab jewelry, as well as more sterling silver."

Pat Cohen, a buyer for Finlay Fine Jewelry Corp., the operator of leased jewelry departments in department stores, was checking out a variety of new looks.

"We really want color," she said. "We are finding that people are buying, especially emotional jewelry such as hearts and charms. The picture is not as bleak as everyone is making it seem."

Vendors agreed that even though business has become more challenging than in previous years, stores are still looking for new merchandise, particularly after better-than-expected holiday sales for some.

"So far this year, our number of orders is down by 10 percent, but the average order is up 30 percent," said Michael Pitkow, co-owner of the Talisman jewelry line. "Some of the retailers who were more cautious about holiday now have to replenish, so their orders are deeper."

John Winkler, sales and marketing manager at Paul Morelli, said: "Stores are now reordering on a lot of basics. They want to purchase things they will see quicker turns on."

At Paul Morelli, much of the sales were in the $5,000 retail price range. Winkler noted that such mid-range price points are more popular because consumers are cautious about spending on "big, pop pieces." That said, the company introduced a woven diamond collection with retail prices between $20,000 and $150,000 at the show. The line featured multicolored diamonds set in platinum or 18-karat white or yellow gold.

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