Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK--Fine jewelry manufacturers and retailers at the Jewelers of America show here last week were focused on value and versatility as key to successful fourth-quarter business.
The four-day show, which closed Tuesday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, had attracted an estimated 15,000 buyers, down 1,043 from a year ago, according to organizer Blenheim Jewelry Shows Inc. Exhibitor numbers remained unchanged from last year at 1,600, with show management noting that 120 firms were new to the JA show this time.
Several retailers noted a growing number of female consumers are buying more jewelry for themselves, as opposed to receiving it as gifts, and this, they said, was a main factor in the emphasis on value-oriented, versatile pieces.
Frank Maier 3rd, an Atlanta-based buyer with Maier & Berkele, a 23-store chain in the Southeast, said, "Women are viewing jewelry as an investment instead of a frivolity, and they see value in items that have multiple uses."
He cited South Sea pearls and enhancers as current hot categories.
Marianne Zinzarella, a buyer for Parian Jewelers, Westwood, N.J., said she was concentrating on finding unusual merchandise for specific customers, as well as on designers willing to do custom work.
"I've found designers to be much more receptive and accommodating when approached about custom designs than in the past," Zinzarella said. She said that summer business, traditionally a slow period, has been up by roughly 3 to 4 percent compared with last year. She added that this should bode well for fourth-quarter business, which the firm has projected up in the single digits.
Arlene Terman, owner of Golden Touch, a jewelry retail operation in Syosset, N.Y., said she was disappointed with the show, noting that she hadn't seen much newness. She also noted that recent weakening of the dollar made European offerings too expensive to consider.
"Our customer is very fashion-forward and has seen and owns most of the current trends," Terman said, "We really need some new looks."
She added that the daytime-jewelry segment of her business was showing continued growth, and said for this segment, she relies mainly on American designers.
A prime focus was on items capable of converting from one category to another, such as a necklace that disconnects and becomes a bracelet, or an earring drop that can double as a charm on a bracelet or necklace.
Jack Gindi, a principal with Jamms, a New York-based manufacturer, made a major commitment to the convertible concept after testing the idea at February's JA show. Gindi said sales of convertibles this time were double those of the last show, and he cited the firm's greatly expanded assortment offered as the reason behind the increase.
New ideas included ancient-looking coin motifs, diamonds, colored stones and etched Venetian glass for the line that is based on bracelets, but includes necklaces, pendants, earrings, pins and rings.
Paul Dunay, vice president of Henry Dunay, indicated that buyers appeared more willing to make commitments for high-priced items and were particularly interested in creating strong product mixes in their stores.
"Price isn't the only focus anymore, and buyers are really thinking about rounding out their inventories now," Dunay said.
He added that the company is anticipating steady growth through the fall season and reported that its recently launched line of alligator belts with handmade buckles was well received by department stores and fine jewelry stores.
Omar Torres, a designer who has worked with European jewelers, used the show to launch his own collection, targeted at the mid-market with retail prices ranging from $400 to $10,000, and was drawing traffic.
Torres described his offerings as "soft, loose designs with a lot of movement" and said he did his biggest business in bracelets and rings.

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