NEW YORK — For fine jewelry firms, there could be some sparkle next season, despite the dulling effects of the down economy.Coming off one of the most challenging retail seasons in recent memory, jewelry buyers shopping the Couture Jewellery Collection & Conference in Phoenix and the JCK Show in Las Vegas weren’t exactly ordering with gusto, but most said they were feeling a little more upbeat about business as they nailed down their merchandise and marketing plans for the critical holiday selling season.They attributed their improved outlook to salable trends and a general sense that business is starting to pick up again now that the Iraq war is over and consumers are beginning to head back into stores. (For more news on the shows, see page 8.)On the trend front, while large colored stones still dominate many new offerings, there were a number of new styles featuring black and white looks such as black enamel, onyx, pearls and platinum.Among other key trends at the shows were:Chandelier earrings, including some in platinum with diamonds.Colored diamonds, particularly pink and yellow.Art Deco-inspired offerings such as fan earrings.Swirl motifs, seen in rings and earrings.Oversized cocktail rings, many with diamonds.Large pendant necklaces.In other news, jewelry analyst Ken Gassman of Rapaport Research, who spoke at an educational seminar at JCK, said the Bush administration’s new tax plan is good for jewelry demand and that increased diamond marketing will help fuel sales of diamond jewelry this year.“We forecast that jewelry sales this holiday season will rise 5 to 6 percent over last year,” Gassman said.Nonetheless, many buyers perusing the booths said they were keeping inventories controlled and buying carefully for the coming months, unlike the late Nineties, when many jewelry stores loaded up on merchandise.Lucas Amelung, a buyer at Molina Fine Jewelers in Phoenix, said, “We are still being strict with inventories, but we are also going after more fashion-forward pieces. We are finding that higher-end jewelry is selling in our stores.”The general sense among exhibitors at both shows was that traffic was down slightly, but buyers who were there were ready to shop.Designer Steven Lagos said, “It’s a weird time and everyone is tentative, but we have been around for 26 years and have seen that everything is cyclical. We believe things are starting to pick up again.”As more brands and luxury conglomerates enter the $100 billion global jewelry business, a number of store executives said they are searching for ways to bring in younger customers and freshen up their offerings with more fun and fashion pieces. Buyers from stores including Henry Birks & Sons, Mayors Jewelers and Michael C. Fina said they were looking to stock up on merchandise that would be exclusive to their stores to help them stand out from the pack.While SARS and the war in Iraq were on the minds of many at the Basel fair in March, neither of those topics was discussed much at these shows. Exhibitors from Hong Kong and a few other Asian countries were kept at the main venue after undergoing a special health check and some other precautions. Show organizers said the precautions didn’t deter many exhibitors from coming.It was diamonds that dominated much of the talk. The Diamond Trading Co., the sales and marketing arm of De Beers Group, last week confidentially revealed its pared-down list of siteholders, the companies that distribute their rough diamonds. This is a move the industry has been anticipating since De Beers first announced its Supplier of Choice program three years ago. While the list wasn’t made public, it is believed that the number of siteholders will be less than 100, down from 125, after the new program takes effect at the end of this year, with a handful of new companies being added and a number of others losing their siteholder status.The Supplier of Choice program is designed to encourage diamond siteholders to pump up their marketing and branding efforts to raise the profile of diamonds and gain a greater share of the luxury market. Those that do not comply are in jeopardy of losing their status as a siteholder. De Beers controls roughly 60 percent of the global diamond market.“The diamond industry of the future belongs to those that know how to create demand around the product,” said diamond expert Martin Rapaport, president of the Rapaport Group of companies, who also spoke at an educational seminar at JCK. Advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, on behalf of the DTC, unveiled details of the Right-Hand Ring campaign, a marketing and advertising strategy for the fourth quarter designed to encourage women to wear diamond rings on their right hand and not just as bridal jewelry. The multimillion-dollar campaign will dominate the DTC’s magazine and outdoor advertising for the remainder of the year.Retailers shopping the show were looking for innovative products for the new season.Aida Alvarez, vice president of merchandising at 28-unit Mayors Jewelers, said her team is focusing on “colors and unique products that have distinct designs.”“Versatile jewelry is important today for women on the go, so we have focused on both long-term and short-term trends,” she noted.Melissa Geiser, the fine accessories buyer at Stanley Korshak, said chandelier earrings were a key buy for her for fall.“I think what it’s about now is diversifying and not carrying what everyone else is carrying,” Geiser said, noting that jewelry now represents about 25 percent of total business at the Dallas-based retailer.Barbara Dorfman, owner of Dorfman Jewelers in Boston, said she is being more selective in her purchases, but also was embracing colored sapphires, as well as platinum and pearl jewelry.“You have to go into the season with some enthusiasm or you won’t have any new merchandise,” she noted.Among the collections buyers cited as being particularly strong this season were Nanis, John Hardy, Stefan Hafner, Delanau, Elizabeth Rand, Christian Tse, Siegelson and Favero. Stephen Webster’s new all-diamond line, Lagos’ gemstone looks and clawed gemstone rings by Rodney Raynor also garnered buyer attention.Jewelry firm Anthony Nak, a newcomer at Couture, drew widespread praise for its use of bold stones such as blue topaz and sapphires that are set in 18-karat gold chain nets.“We love color, and it’s all about the stones,” said Anthony Camargo, co-founder and co-designer of the line.Another newcomer at Couture was Mimi, a collection of jewelry from Italy featuring colored pears and precious stones that is distributed by ViewPoint showroom.Designer Cathy Carmendy showed a range of chandelier earrings featuring stones such as coral and orange sapphire, as well as yellow gold and platinum styles.“People have had enough of being conservative,” she noted.The nine-year-old Couture show was held at a new venue, the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, in Phoenix. The three-day conference drew about 400 attendees and 160 exhibitors, including a number of high-end Italian designers.The JCK show ended its five-day run on Tuesday at the Sands Convention Center. The giant show has exhibitors from around the world and includes everything from ring shanks and insurance providers to upscale diamond and platinum jewelry collections.Accompanying both shows was a steady parade of cocktail parties, guest speakers and educational seminars. Comedian Al Franken poked fun at the jewelry industry during his opening-day speech at Couture, while fashion maven Leon Hall told attendees at his JCK presentation that they should stock and carry more brand-name designer jewelry and create programs around awards shows. Model and entrepreneur Heidi Klum was at both shows showing her new diamond jewelry collection produced by Mouawad.New at JCK this year was an invitation-only luxury watch gallery, which drew a number of Swiss luxury firms, some of which hadn’t exhibited in Las Vegas before. Among the 26 brands that showed in this section were Cartier, Tag Heuer, Concord, Corum, Blancpain, Roger Dubuis and Omega. For the fourth year in a row, a smaller show called Luxury by JCK was held in suites at the Venetian Hotel on May 27-29 before the larger core show and drew upscale firms such as Escada Fine Jewelry, Erica Courtney and Roberto Coin.There were a number of newcomers at JCK, including Tentho by Sofia, a line of fine jewelry featuring bold gold rings and earrings, many of which have colored enamel and are designed as jeweled sculptures. Designer Sofia Koustis said, “In hard times or good times, if you are new and if you have something new to add, people want it.”

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