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VICENZA, Italy — An array of vivid designs — from rings sprinkled with colorful stones to asymmetric earrings and one-of-a-kind pieces — reflected a feeling of economic defiance among Italian fine jewelry companies at Vicenzaoro, which ended its weeklong run here Jan. 19.

This story first appeared in the January 27, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Buyers want rings with big stones, lots of color, bold necklaces and yellow gold,” said Franco Pianegonda, owner and designer at Pianegonda, the upscale jewelry firm.

Despite a drop of 7.1 percent in Italian gold and silver jewelry sales worldwide for the first 10 months of 2002, sales of Italian jewelry to the U.S only dipped by about 1 percent in the period, according to figures released by the fair. Since the U.S. is the most important market for Italian jewelry, accounting for about 35 percent of exports over the 10-month period, most top jewelers were feeling upbeat about the business climate.

Vicenzaoro draws buyers from all over the world. About 30,000 visitors were at the show, down slightly from last year. There were about 800 U.S. attendees, with buyers from Saks Fifth Avenue, Mayfair, Finlay Fine Jewelry, Bailey Banks & Biddle and Mayors Inc. among those shopping the stands.

“U.S. buyers are looking for positive styles with lots of color, while Europeans are more cautious,” said Sergio Antonini, co-owner of Antonini. “American clients seem determined to forge ahead, while Europeans are more afraid.”

There was a lot of color in the air, including pinks and reds seen in rose sapphires, rubies and tourmaline, blues in turquoise or icy sapphires, and fresher yellow and orange stones, such as citrines and citrus-colored sapphires. There were also plenty of bold pieces, including one-of-a-kind designs with hidden jewels worn next to the skin, mix-and-match earrings worn asymmetrically, and oversized rings with semiprecious stones.

Diamond accents on clasps gave many pieces an individual feel. Among other trends were black-and-white contrasts with flashes of red, especially in enamel or gold-stone pairings, as well as punky styles featuring black leather. Heart symbols abounded and flowers, leaves, crosses and snakes were other popular motifs.

Buyers said that they attend the fair primarily to start shopping for summer.

“We go to Vicenza to see where designers are heading and to make suggestions,” said Scott Martin, fine jewelry buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. “Color is stronger than ever and I noticed lots of turquoise and coral. There was a shift from geometric to rounder, flowing shapes in everything from chains to rings to pendants.”

Lauren Kulchinsky, buyer at high-end jeweler Mayfair in Commack, N.Y., said she liked the black, white and red bangles and mismatched earrings at La Nouvelle Bague. Other notable looks, she said, were styles from Torrini and pieces using colorful precious and semiprecious stones at Antonini.

She said 2002 may not have been a banner year, but it wasn’t terrible either.

“There was no significant drop in sales,” Kulchinsky said. “But until the fashion industry includes jewelry in its shows, we are in the hands of celebrity icons who dictate taste. People must start to see fine jewelry as an accessory and not as an investment.”

At La Nouvelle Bague, owner-designer Leopoldo Poli said evocative and individual pieces are selling well.

“Women want pieces that are rich in thought, spirituality and design,” he said. “Jewelry should be like a layered kimono, with secret aspects known only to the wearer.”

Top-booking items included white and black enamel cross or flower symbols with gold back panels that have hidden cutout designs. The company sells 25 percent of its product to the U.S. and had sales of about $10 million in 2002.

Roberto Coin, owner-designer of the eponymous company, said a wide product range had helped his company to achieve positive results in 2002.

“Having a large choice of product allows us to offer different deals to different customers,” Coin said. “We now sell 50 percent of our products in the U.S. and Central America, compared with 15 percent seven years ago.”

At Vicenzaoro, Coin presented a “Haute Couture” range of one-of-a-kind designs, constructed around special stones. Neiman Marcus has already agreed to stock 30 to 40 pieces over the coming season, he said.

Reflecting the need for novelty pieces at accessible price points, Fope launched a collection of rings and bracelets using large, unusual Brazilian stones by up-and-coming designer Ara Vartanian. Striking pieces, such as a ring with a large transparent dendrite on an architectural 18-karat gold mount grabbed Vartanian attention at the fair. In Europe, his designs are distributed through Fope, while in the U.S., his only outlet is Kirna Zabête in New York. His rings retail for $950 to $7,000.

Casa Damiani experienced growth in the U.S. over 2002, thanks to improved distribution and strong sales of products, such as the line co-designed with Brad Pitt.

“There’s a strong demand for cross charms and heart pendants,” said Paolo Novembri, president of Damiani U.S. “There’s also a renewed interest in men’s jewelry, especially cuff links.”

Sales of Damiani in the U.S. now account for around 5 percent of total sales. The company has 23 shop-in-shops in the U.S. and a company-owned store in Honolulu. New company-owned stores are slated to open in Philadelphia and Beverly Hills this year, and Damiani hopes to finalize a store location in New York soon. Casa Damiani’s sales stand at $150 million worldwide and the Damiani brand accounts for 60 percent of the overall amount.

At Antonini, Sergio Antonini said sales to the U.S. held steady last year. At Vicenzaoro, Saks placed a substantial order for the company’s new rings with colorful semiprecious stones cut in a variety of shapes and sizes.

“Yellow stones in citrines, topaz and yellow gold are emerging because they are easy to wear with the casual sporty looks popular now,” said Antonini.

The company sells 38 percent of its product to the U.S. and worldwide sales in 2002 were $8 million, up 10 percent over 2001.

Upscale jeweler Pianegonda said its U.S. sales had doubled in 2002. Its new collection features punky chokers, elongated heart pendants and graphic rings in combinations of silver, onyx and black leather. The company, which now has 30 company-owned stores, plans to open its first boutique in New York in 2004. Total sales in 2002 were $30 million, up 50 percent from 2001, and Pianegonda said about 20 percent of its product is sold in the U.S.

Meanwhile at Stefan Hafner, highlights of the new collection include funky rings with briolette stones or pearls swinging loosely from gem-studded bands, retailing at $3,500 to $7000.

Staurino, which produces for Aaron Basha, is planning to launch in the U.S. under its own name over the coming year. The company’s designs feature pink and yellow sapphires, blue topaz and crystal.

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