By  on June 18, 2012

LAS VEGAS — In uncertain economic times, invest in gold.

That’s clearly the feeling of fine jewelry firms, which are once again making yellow gold a centerpiece of their collections. The push comes as gold prices have stabilized somewhat at about $1,670 an ounce, compared with last year’s high of $1,900.

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“At the top end of the market, we’re seeing the value of gold being perceived as a positive. It becomes a justification for a bigger purchase,” said David Lamb, managing director of jewelry at the World Gold Council, which was one of nearly 3,000 exhibitors at the recent JCK Las Vegas show here, which ran simultaneously with Couture. “And we’re not seeing a rush toward minimalism; people want craftsmanship, and you can do more intricate designs with gold.”

Overall, executives were upbeat about business while acknowledging there are still some hills to climb.

“We’ve seen growth led by the higher end,” said Greg Kwiat, chief financial officer of Kwiat and chief executive officer of Fred Leighton. “We sold more big necklaces in the past three to six months than we did in the whole two years prior, but when there’s uncertainty in the economy, you can feel the immediate pullback. The jewelry sector is a leading indicator.”

Andrea Hansen, president of Ivanka Trump, agreed, adding: “We’re all hoping for a faster economic recovery and we all have to work harder to make the same sale.” She noted that she was encouraged by new pockets in the U.S. market coming on board such as Cedar Rapids, Mich. and Palo Alto, Calif.

New textures and finishes were prevalent in gold jewelry, such as Yossi Harari’s “brown gold” and Carolina Bucci’s yellow, white and rose gold beads, which were either brushed to give a matte shimmer or worked with a diamond-tipped instrument to give a sparkly look. “I’ve seen all my biggest clients get back in the game,” said Harari. “You can feel more confidence in the richer people who actually move the market.”

The Judith Ripka Cos. Inc. showed an all-yellow gold collection for the first time. “Our significant investment in gold was apparent to retailers, encouraged by our expansion in the breadth of Judith’s 18 karat Couture Collection of high-end pieces,” said Charles M. Jayson, president of Judith Ripka.

Also making an investment in yellow gold was Hearts on Fire, which hired new creative director Ilaria Lanzoni to take the brand in a more fashion-forward direction. Eighteen-karat yellow gold figured strongly in one of two new collections, with one weighty cuff priced at $75,000 retail.

At Marco Bicego, known for its hand etched gold matte beads, colored gemstones, in a variety of textures, were also introduced into new collections such as Murano, as well as one-of-a-kind pieces. “The handmade element has always been the driving force behind our brand, but our DNA is evolving toward a fine jewelry direction that we believe is the future,” said president Moise Cohen. “So far, we’ve seen a tremendous response to this shift as our average retail price has grown.” The brand’s sweet spot is about $5,000 but one-offs are priced between $8,000 and $20,000.

Georg Jensen was another brand evolving toward a more high-end direction. “We are known for our silver, but our diamond business has been through the roof,” said president James Crespo. “It adds about 20 percent to our worldwide business and 25 percent in the U.S.” The company now features more gold and diamond collections including a special order pavé diamond cuff from its Fusion group that retails for $135,000.

One-of-a-kind pieces were more prevalent at this year’s Couture show, which featured 343 brands. Irene Neuwirth sold all 200 of her one-off pieces, ranging up to $120,000 each, within the first two hours of the show. “We’re not at the show to open new business. For us, it’s about catering to existing accounts, and their customers are ready for the next step. It’s been long enough that they trust the brand,” she said of her nine-year-old company.

Monica Rich Kosann also sold several one-of-a-kind lockets at Couture ranging in price from $25,00 to $150,000. “We sold all of the one-of-a-kinds we created over the last two seasons and project significant growth in this category,” she said of the third season.

Blue and green stones such as blue diamonds, sapphires, tanzanite, opal and jade were another key trend, showcased in Roberto Coin’s Shanghai group, created to cater to the Chinese customer, as well as in Kwiat’s ombré earrings and Fred Leighton’s new color-filled collection. It was also on display with offerings from Nam Cho and Ivanka Trump, which introduced color for the first time this season with emeralds.

Red stones such as ruby, garnet, sapphire and spinel look to be the next big color trend, though several designers, such as Nina Runsdorf, showed them for fall. Runsdorf evolved the diamond and sapphire slice earrings that many other designers have since picked up into combining different cuts, such a briolettes with rows of beads and rose- or tabiz-cut diamonds accented with slices.

Carved jade and turquoise, as well as snakes and dragons for the Chinese New Year were also popular design motifs, as seen at Bochic and in Erica Courtney’s Imperial Collection.

At the other end of the price spectrum, the elevation of sterling silver products was a key trend. For example, Judith Ripka’s Estate Collection mirrored the craftsmanship of her gold pieces using less expensive gemstones for a fraction of the price. One sterling silver and green quartz cuff retailed for $1,600 versus the white gold and emerald version for $34,500. Ripka’s Jayson noted that silver was “the hot must-have group for fall.”

Whether customers were looking for everyday versions of their high-end pieces or for better value, both shows saw the debut of several sterling silver collections.

Coomi, known for its intricate gold pieces, launched a silver collection with a totally different design viewpoint, namely more statement and tribal designs, priced between $500 and $5,000.

Thailand-based silver manufacturer Pranda Group introduced its first American brand, Ariva, at JCK. “There was a gap in the U.S. market we felt we could meet with our strength in manufacturing,” said executive director Chanat Sorakraikitikul, who already oversees several branded lines in Asia and Europe.

The darker Gothic or rock-inspired look of oxidized sterling silver or rhodium-plated gold continued, as seen at Paul Morelli, Mizuki, Aramenta, MAD by Madstone and Stephen Webster.

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