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JA: Last Stop for Holiday

The all-important fourth quarter could add some luster to the fine jewelry business, said attendees at the JA New York International Jewelry show.

NEW YORK — The all-important fourth quarter could add some luster to the fine jewelry business, which has had its challenges in recent seasons with the economic downturn.

Vendors and retailers at the JA New York International Jewelry show agreed that a slight pickup in jewelry sales over the past two months helped lift spirits at the event, which ended its four-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Wednesday. The show featured about 1,900 exhibitors. Attendance was up by 12 percent over last summer’s edition to 14,000 visitors.

This edition of the biannual show is traditionally considered the last stop for most major retailers wrapping up their holiday orders. Several vendors noted that with retailers taking a safer, more classic approach this year, they used JA to round out their fourth-quarter assortments with fashionable pieces.

Olivia Cornell, vice president at Cornell’s Jewelers in Rochester, N.Y., said that JA for her meant “following up on lower-end merchandise and confirming decisions on some of the designer collections.”

Janice Winter, president at Judith Ripka, noted that many stores had held back in the last few months and are now looking to fill their assortment after stronger-than-expected June and July sales. She said, “Stores feel more positive about the fourth quarter.”

Among the key trends at the shows were:

  • Oversized cocktail rings, many set with diamonds with a bold semiprecious central stone.

  • New takes on chandelier earrings, with long dangling designs and chandelier pendants.
  • The color pink in diamonds and gold.
  • Bold, statement necklaces with large pendants or chunky semiprecious stones.
  • A continuation of yellow gold with pearls and stones like citrine.

“Aside from long earrings, color is coming back overall,” said Louis Guarino, owner of Louis Anthony Jewelers in Pittsburgh. “It’s important for any jeweler to set aside a portion of budget to take a chance. In the last few years, many had played it more safe with diamond studs and tennis bracelets, and now the consumer is becoming a little restless.”

“Citrines are especially alluring in an autumn color palette, including cinnamon, olive and champagne,” said jeweler David Yurman. “There is a move toward the warmth of yellow gold. Luxury is key. Exotic South Sea pearls and Tahitian pearls mixed with silver, gold and diamonds were also very well received.”

Cornell said she particularly liked the offerings at Rodney H. Rayner, Doris Panos and Nanis. She added that she expects the right-hand ring to be an important trend this fall, as it will be supported heavily by advertising. As reported, advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, on behalf of the Diamond Trading Co., the sales and marketing arm of De Beers, created the “Right-Hand Ring” campaign for the fourth quarter to encourage women to wear diamond rings not just as bridal jewelry.

“I went for some fashion right-hand rings that are going to be fun,” Cornell said. “Rodney Rayner had some great 18-karat fashion rings, with a blue topaz stone and sapphire prongs.”

Randy Pavlow, president of Gellner USA, the Bluebell, Pa.-based U.S. arm of the German pearl firm, said since stores continue to be uncertain about the state of the economy, some placed smaller orders than usual.

At the show, Gellner presented its collection of pearl jewelry, ranging from Eclipse de Soleil — 18-karat yellow gold, disc-shaped pins and bold cuffs adorned with rows of diamonds, scattered rays of pure gold dust and a sun-like South Sea pearl — to colorful plastic rings topped with a Tahitian pearl.

“Many bought the plastic rings to pep up their displays,” Pavlow said. “They can draw customers to the stores to try them on, but while they may not end up buying them, it generates interest. Retailers are looking for a quick turnover or magnets to draw people in.”

At the show, Robert Lee Morris presented the “One World” collection, which draws from his sculptures and uses metals not typically associated with jewelry, such as brass and copper for disc-shaped pendants. The pendants are sold separately from the necklaces, which are available with chunky carnelian, rough black tourmaline and jade.

“Buyers are coming in after most of the summer shows where they saw the new product,” said Abby Huhtanen, vice president of sales at Robert Lee Morris. “In our case, many bought back into basics [before], because they wanted to wait until the last minute before committing to fashion and newness. Here, they came to give their fourth quarter a pop.”

“Color continues to drive the business,” said Wolfgang Möckel, president of KWM Exclusives Inc., which handles the U.S. sales and marketing for European jewelry firms such as Vhernier and Tamara Comolli. “Many already have small chains, pendants and diamond rings, and perhaps now they want to make a statement.”

Leslie Greene showcased a take on the chandelier earrings by offering chandelier necklaces.

“I see a change in the way people are buying,” Greene said. “They need new pieces. They are still price-conscious, choosing carefully, but they are smart about new purchases.”

Price points continue to be a key issue in the sector, as several companies have tweaked their pricing strategy to give retailers a more flexible range. Paul Morelli said better price points continue to help sales, and the designer has lowered the average price range — originally $5,000 to $10,000, now $2,000 to $5,000 — by introducing semiprecious stones to his collection.

“For the longest time, we worked with platinum, gold, diamonds and pearls,” said Morelli. “Now, we also started to use semiprecious stones, such as pink tourmaline, topaz and peridot, which helps lower the price point.”

Last week, VNU Expositions Inc., the show’s organizers, set plans for launching a third edition of JA in 2004. The JA New York Special Delivery Show will be held at the Javits Center Oct. 24-26 in 2004.

“This event responds to the needs of the jewelry industry and enables retail buyers to get great last-minute merchandise for the holidays and get a headstart on 2004,” said Drew Lawsky, show director of JA New York.