NEW YORK — The fine jewelry sector was tarnished by the economic downturn, but designers and retailers are seeing a sparkle at the end of the tunnel.
That said, they know they have to work hard to get there, and at the JA New York Summer Show, vendors offered a slew of retailer-friendly strategies, including faster deliveries, lower opening price points and versatile pieces that can be worn from day into evening.
The show ended its four-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Wednesday.
With the volatile stock market and dampened consumer confidence, some jewelry retailers kept their inventory levels lean during the year and came to JA scrambling for immediate merchandise. Others came to the show to round out their merchandise mix for the fourth quarter.
"We had a good July, but the year has not been fabulous," said Olivia Cornell, vice president of Cornell’s Jewelers in Rochester, N.Y. "Now, I am just filling in a few holes, but I am cautious because of the stock market."
Cornell added that she was looking for versatile pieces that can be worn for multiple occasions from day into evening.
Marta Nowakowski, fine jewelry and watch buyer at Bergdorf Goodman, noted that consumers’ purchasing patterns have changed.
"People are looking for timeless rather than trendy jewelry because they see it as investment and emotional pieces," she said. "And that’s what I was looking for too: pieces that can pass on to the next generation."
Carol Fasseas, owner of Fasseas Jeweler in Livingston, N.J., noted: "We made immediate orders, especially in turquoise. A lot of designers still use turquoise and coral, and for fall, they added black onyx and blackened gold, which makes it more suitable for the season."
Fasseas added that consumers are still buying bigger pieces for special occasions.
"With the red gold and yellow gold trend coming into play and lightweight chains like the ones at Mattioli, everything is a little more whimsical and decorative," she said.
Many vendors said caution continues to permeate the sector, with retailers buying closer to ship to assess the economy and minimize any excess inventory."A lot of retailers are writing Christmas orders," said Michael J. Miarecki, director of global marketing at Michele Watches. "Usually, they start writing orders earlier, but many waited because they were apprehensive about how deep they can go."
"Retailers are buying closer to the season, and many were looking for September deliveries," said Wolfgang Möckel, president of KWM Exclusives Inc., which handles the U.S. sales and marketing for European jewelry firms such as Mattioli and Tamara Comolli.
Möckel said the better price points steered the mood at JA, and many retailers were looking for merchandise from $1,000 to $2,000 wholesale.
"Business is tough, and stores are focusing more on price points," said Allison Serwatien, national sales director for jewelry designer Penny Preville. "People want good value, and the retail customer is more concerned about disposable income."
To that end, several firms lowered their opening price points by adding new pieces that are either smaller in scale or use fewer precious stones.
Mattioli, for instance, introduced a smaller version of its existing Puzzle collection, which features geometric 18-karat yellow gold links interspersed with semiprecious stones such as coral, turquoise and black onyx.
"It’s about 30 percent smaller in scale, and subsequently, the price point is about 30 percent lower, from $600 wholesale in comparison to $1,000 for the bigger pieces," Möckel at KWM said.
Myriam Gumuchian Schreiber, a principal at jewelry firm Gumuchian Fils, agreed that stores are looking for lower opening price points. The company introduced Oasis, a jewelry group featuring diamonds set in curved platinum, which by leaving space to two sides of the stone, gives the illusion of a bigger size. Oasis is priced from $1,150 to $23,000 retail.
"Everybody seems to be more price conscious," said designer Paul Morelli. "We are trying to fill in the lower end of the market with black diamonds, coral beads and ruby beads."
At the show, Robert Lee Morris presented the Toy collection, which features signature shapes from the designer, such as a teardrop, curved tear, disc or heart for link necklaces, bracelets and drop earrings. The group is available in silver and 18-karat yellow gold, wholesaling for $34 to $1,125.Edward Deutsch, the company’s president, said: "We have brought down the price points in all areas and have developed products at lower price points between 15 to 20 percent from previous years, including more links and smaller pieces."
Among the newcomers at JA was Vhernier, which presented tonneau-shaped ebony rings set in 18-karat gold and chalcedony and rose gold link bracelets. The company currently has 12 retail accounts in the U.S., including Fred Leighton and Silver Horn Jewelers in Santa Barbara, Calif., and is looking to increase that number to about 20, said Emanuele Aliotti Visdomini, vice president of sales and marketing.
"Since fewer clients came to Basel, we decided to come here to see them," he said.
Top-booking items included a turquoise or lapis stone carved into a ring with gold accents, and dragonfly brooches. Vhernier’s wholesale prices range from $1,000 to $20,000.