By and  on February 14, 1994

NEW YORK -- Fine jewelry firms exhibiting at the Jewelers of America show got their first taste of 1994, and many said it was sweeter than expected.

The four-day show, which took place here at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, closed on Tuesday.

Among the most prominent trends were sterling silver mixed with gold and colored gemstones, textured gold, cross motifs and big, bold earrings.

The event drew 13,986 attendees, up from 12,183 a year ago, according to show management, Blenheim Jewelry Shows Inc. The number of exhibitors increased to 1,300, up from 1,100 last year.

"We came here expecting to do very little business, and we've ended up doing very well," said one exhibitor, Jeffrey Rackover, echoing the sentiments of a number of firms. Although fine jewelry experienced a relatively buoyant Christmas, the general economy was still seen as problematic.

Rackover, president of Jeffrey Stevens Designs Inc., said his business was up.

"One thing that did very well was our new sterling silver and gold collection," he said. "It seems that most stores are looking for less expensive, less hefty pieces that they can start bringing out after Valentine's Day. The moderate prices -- $100 to $1,200 wholesale -- on the collection pushed a lot of buyers' buttons, he added.

Designer Henry Dunay, who was also doing his first winter JA show after an eight-year absence, also pointed to this trend.

"Although I did show my high-end pieces, I found the more moderate pieces sold best," Dunay said. His boutique collection, which wholesales from about $100 to $4,000, did particularly well with whimsical jungle animal motifs being the most popular. Stephen Singer, president of an estate-jewelry firm of the same name, said his business was up considerably. Singer, along with about a dozen other firms, exhibited in the show's new estate-jewelry pavilion.

"Though we've been coming here for many years, our results at this show have far exceeded my expectations," Singer said. He noted that the demand for estate merchandise has been growing "because this type of jewelry connotes value and uniqueness, two qualities that are on the tip of everyone's tongue these days."While the bulk of Singer's volume was done in merchandise in the $500 to $1,500 wholesale range, he said he had also sold several $15,000 and $20,000 pieces.

Scott Keating, an Aspen, Colo.-based jewelry designer, attributed a strong Christmas season at retail as a key factor in his show increases. "Overall, stores seem pretty upbeat," Keating noted. "My business in the Northeast and Midwest is coming back slowly but surely, although California is still really slow."

One retailer, Jorge Ronay, said he was shopping the show primarily for gold jewelry. Ronay, president of Jorom Inc. with three stores in Cancun, Mexico, said his open-to-buy was up slightly from a year ago.

"Although tourism in my region has been trending down for the last few years, I'm opening new stores so I need the merchandise," Ronay noted.

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