By  on January 10, 1994

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- For exhibitors at the January edition of the United Jewelry Show here, the year did not exactly get off to a peppy start.

The five-day show, which ended Sunday at the Fashion Jewelry Mart at Davol Square here, featured 141 exhibitors -- including manufacturers and manufacturers' representatives -- showing a total of 265 lines.

Buyer turnout, however, was sporadic, and a number of vendors noted that a series of winter storms blowing through the Northeast had wreaked havoc with their appointment schedules.

Still, inclement weather was not the only problem that made exhibitors uneasy. Many pointed to continued sluggishness in fashion jewelry coming off a somewhat shaky 1993, a concern shared by a number of buyers present. The show is attended primarily by jewelry wholesalers.

"From what my retail accounts are telling me, jewelry is a really tough sell right now," said Allan Robin, owner of Cine, a Houston-based wholesale firm with about 350 accounts in the West, Southwest and Southeast. "In some cases, boutique business was down 35 percent last year."

Robin, who said he was looking for immediate-delivery spring goods, noted that price was not a major issue for him "because consumers aren't really buying jewelry right now at all, whether a piece is $5 or $35."

"Even fashion items are tough," he added. "I've been adding a lot of smaller-size earrings to my line, because that's where the trends have been going, but I'm getting a lot of resistance because many women still want big earrings."

Robin said he was planning conservatively for this year, and projected that his sales would be down in the first half.

Vendors offered a variety of opinions on why activity, both at the show and throughout the industry, has been lethargic.

"What worries me is the general lack of jewelry being shown in fashion, on the runways and in the media," said Louis Porreca, owner of a manufacturer's representative firm of the same name based in Seekonk, Mass. "This business relies heavily on consumer confidence, and if women aren't seeing jewelry shown by designers and magazines, they're not going to run out and spend their money on it."

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