Byline: K.V.D.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.--A new twist on the fine jewelry trade show concept was launched here recently with the debut of the Jewelry Couture Collection & Conference (CCC.)
With admittance by invitation, the event at the Four Seasons Hotel drew representatives from 115 retail firms, allowing them to mingle, exchange information and preview designs from 80 exhibitors before most headed on to the larger Jewelers Circular Keystone show in Las Vegas.
The show was produced by New York-based Miller Freeman Inc., a publishing and trade show firm. "This exceeded our expectations," said Nancy Robey, CCC executive director. "We expected 450 people to attend and ended up producing badges for 728 people."
Robey said the idea for the show started two years ago, when she surveyed 50 prestigious fine jewelry retailers from across the country. She said the result is a program tailored to their specifications.
"They told me who to invite," Robey said. "They wanted an event dedicated to networking, merchandising and marketing, one that could help them plan their fall advertising. This was a selling show with a conference wrapped around it."
Each day began with a breakfast seminar followed by six concurrent workshops and panel discussions in smaller meeting rooms. Topics ranged from niche marketing to consumer magazine advertising and trends in interactive television. Every evening, a different fine jewelry association sponsored a cocktail party.
Except for a two-hour delay in booth setup Monday that annoyed many exhibitors, the event got high marks from retailers in attendance, such as Gregory and Susan Mendel, owners of Kerns Fine Jewelry, a store in Burlingame, Calif.
"There is a nice element of people here," Susan Mendel said. "It's easier to work in this atmosphere."
The couple looked for "bread-and-butter" items to retail in the $2,500 to $10,000 range, including platinum and gold wedding sets, diamond bracelets and cuff links. They were also drawn to necklaces, pins and earrings featuring a combination of pink, white and yellow diamonds.
"We went through hard times 1 1/2 years ago, but our open-to-buy is way up now," Gregory Mendel said. "This is because we increased our estate jewelry selection and began carrying Patek Phillipe watches."
Sonny and Shari Nedler, owners of Sonny's on Fillmore in Denver, liked the exclusiveness. "We came out because this was a small market geared to upscale merchants," Shari Nedler said. "You have time to sit down and catch up with people."
With a budget up 25 percent from a year ago, the two looked for one-of-a-kind designs in platinum and gold at $10,000 to $100,000 retail. They were impressed by Italian designers, including FMS di Fulvio, who showed diamond and platinum jewelry.
"Business is fabulous," Sonny Nedler said. "The unemployment level is low, and we are attracting people from California."

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