The Couture jewelry show has shifted forward a day to open on a Friday rather than a Thursday — this year’s show runs from June 2 to 6 at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas — and both the show and its exhibitors are fine-tuning their offerings in order to propel the challenging luxury market forward.
This story first appeared in the June 2, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“We’re always asking ourselves how do we continue to stay relevant in the market? We can always find something to improve,” said Couture director Gannon Brousseau. “Right now retailers are having a tough time. If they take a moment to discover the newness they will be better served throughout the rest of the year. They can’t play it safe; they really need to invest.”
The design-driven jewelry show has always branded itself as offering the best in creative product (the other major jewelry show, JCK, is by far the largest), but the uncertain economic and political landscape has caused retail buyers and consumers to be more cautious with their dollars. “I feel like the designers do a good job with investing in their product. If I were a retailer right now, what am I doing to differentiate myself from everyone else in my market? If I have the same products, why buy from me except for a difference in price? I’m a firm believer that if you are showing people something they’ve never seen before, then you are going to be more successful,” Brousseau said.
“I understand everyone needs their staple brands. But find a couple of new designers each show and invest in them. I know it’s tough, but sometimes you get so deep in the forest you can’t see the trees. What if everyone takes a step back and just goes, ‘I should try something different,’ including us?”
For Muse showroom, that means partnering with ethically sourced colored gemstone miner and supplier Gemfields to create pieces with rubies and emeralds. Last year, the two partnered on exclusive pieces in colored stones — typically a brand’s best-selling diamond piece — and this year, Gemfields x Muse will unveil two charm necklaces — one emerald and one ruby — incorporating charms by 16 designers. The charms can be purchased separately or all together on a necklace or bracelet chain and range in price from $500 to $10,000 each. The emerald version, for example, retails for $75,000, including the chain.
“Last year, our collaboration had good sell-through and our opening price points were attractive and the pieces were inventive,” said Gemfields director of sales and marketing Sally Morrison. “At a time when those of us in the industry are looking to reinvent ourselves and attract a younger consumer, we hadn’t done a good job of speaking to hitherto, we did some research and found that younger consumers saw colored stones as a way to express themselves with more fashion and freedom. With that in mind, we thought of a modern riff on a charm necklace.”
“If designers can re-create proven diamond bestsellers in colored stones, it will help sales, and that is the goal,” said Muse owner Jennifer Shanker. “It works, and not a lot of things are working now, so we are moving forward with it.”
There are many strategic advantages to the charm concept, including giving retailers the opportunity to make smaller test investments in new designers, and letting the consumer build a collection over time and customize the necklace or bracelet. “There is also a place for color in retailers’ merchandise mix; color can still bring pretty decent margins. We also want to outreach to a wider range of designers and be flexible to fit into everyone’s designs,” said Morrison, noting Gemfields has also partnered with Couture designers including Jane Taylor, Zoë Chicco and Maria Canale on other pieces.
Shanker said Couture is changing and so is how she does business there. “It used to be a sales effort and it’s really more of a marketing effort now, so we have to get as much out of that week as possible. [The Gemfields collaboration] has been another layer that’s allowed us to work with designers in a different way. We are now bringing fewer designers to the booth and are very focused. Silvia Furmanovich and Nikos Koulis are two strong businesses that have put in the time and picked up good accounts strong and steadily. This year, I’m not opening consignment for them. I’m focusing on retailers who have been looking at them for several years. The retailers who are still investing are the ones with the best product right now.”
Brousseau said increasing the social media presence of Couture has helped spread word of mouth and bring new exhibitors and buyers into the fold. While major retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Net-a-porter will be at the show, many exhibitors are hoping to meet with independent stores. (Barneys New York will sit out Couture for the second year in a row.) “We try to really go find new stores and designers. We are constantly asking designers, ‘Who are we missing?’ ‘Who do you want to see?’ ‘What stores should we bring here?’ And I say to stores, ‘What would jewelry do in your store? You can do a lot of business out of six feet,'” Brousseau said.
There are 48 newcomers among the 283 jewelry exhibitors this year — among them established brands making their debut at the show, such as David Webb and Oscar Heyman — though most are newer names. Repossi and Elie Top are among the recognizable European brands showing in the U.S. for the first time.
“Couture is always about design, but we need to start finding some classic design houses as well to help diversify what we are showing our retailers and press. We don’t want the pendulum to swing too far in any one direction,” Brousseau said.
“Our need for a presence at Couture coincides with maturity in our brand,” said David Webb co-owner Mark Emanuel. “In terms of our wholesale cylinder, it’s an opportunity for us to start doing business with more independents where we had been concentrating on having a visible presence in Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue.”
Emanuel said the brand will bring some showpieces that “reflect the muscular language of David Webb and on the other end of the spectrum, some new collections that offer new accessibility.”
The new Motif collection, for example, a more petite version of some classic Webb enameled pieces, starts at $1,000 retail and goes up to $20,000.
For Yael Sonia, the 19-year-old Brazilian brand that’s returning to Couture after several years away, the exhibition is an opportunity to show some new pieces aimed at a broader market. Within one of her core collections, called Perpetual Motion, Sonia is introducing a new Solo line that starts at $1,350 retail and goes up to $20,000. “Solo is more minimal and a great range of price points which was a concern,” she said. “When I took a break from Couture I needed to figure out a way to be true to my concept without compromising quality but come up with a collection that could appeal to a broader range of retailers as well.”
Jemma Wynne’s Jenny Klatt and Stephanie Wynne Lalin are offering more hoop earrings, which are seeing a resurgence after a few seasons of ear climbers and ear jackets. “We feel that the hoop is an amazing staple that has a little bit of a void,” Wynne Lalin said. “We are also bringing back the choker with a new slider choker in gold and diamonds that adjusts on the neck.”
Klatt said the slider bracelets introduced for the holiday season have challenged their best-selling open bangles. “We have never had an item that sells like this. They are large diamonds and emeralds and rubies that can be worn more casually,” she said. The slider bracelets start at $7,800 retail and go up to $25,000 and the best-selling style is $9,850, but Klatt said they’ll also offer some at under $6,500 for the self-purchasing woman.
“It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. We are focused on pinning down our brand of casual luxury and we’ve found more success with that,” Klatt said. “We take feedback from loyal retailers, see what works and incorporate that into our designs. We only create pieces we personally love, and over time we have seen those work. When we try to fill the void, it doesn’t necessarily work.”
Colette Steckel of Colette Jewelry is also sticking with what she loves — duster earrings, which are a style that’s in vogue again. Hers are a take on her core star collection using pink and black gold and pearls. Some are the same shoulder-grazing length on both sides, others are asymmetrical, another earring trend that’s still going strong. The bulk of Colette’s retail prices range from $3,500 to $15,000, and she recently introduced small studs, ear cuffs and skinny bracelets and necklaces for $850 to $1,200.
Emily Satloff, founder and designer of Larkspur & Hawk, will make her second appearance at Couture with a new collection called Cora, which was her chance to try new and modern designs and techniques while still using her signature antique foiling method. Cora features a new bezel in a gold open-back setting and contrasting opaque stones and colored sapphires in baguette and other cuts. Retail prices range from $800 to $13,000.
“I’m not good at being able to design into different price categories. This was not a reaction to the luxury market but more wanting to spread our wings and have more people wear our jewelry. I launched this last August before the [presidential] election and the drama. It was designed through feedback from stores and clients,” Satloff said.
Demetra Lalaounis, one of four sisters who run the Athens-based Lalaounis, said, “It’s important to always try something out of the box and make a statement. Couture has everything, so it’s a challenge for the designer; it pushes to you to be more creative.”
The brand’s new Aurelia collection, meaning “the golden one,” features a classic but new metalwork technique for the house, opus interrasile, which creates a pierced look that one can see through and allows for more flexibility while wearing. It is designed with diamonds, opals and aventurine. She noted the big earring and long sautoir necklaces have garnered the most attention so far.
Yossi Harari, who is celebrating his brand’s 25th anniversary this year, will launch a men’s/unisex collection at the show called Punta Galera named for his favorite beach in Ibiza, as well as a 24-karat gold and colored gemstone women’s collection called Reyna, as in queen. To mark his quarter-century milestone he will introduce the Heritage collections for men and women that reimagine some of his classic pieces from the past. “I was looking at ‘new’ trends like lariats and chokers and tassels that I did 22 years ago. I don’t need to reinvent myself, I just need to bring back the old.”
Couture is placing equal emphasis on the expansion of its watch show, Couture Time, launched last year on the Encore side of the resort, and which features 25 brands this year. The boutique watch show was designed to serve independent retailers looking to add accessible luxury timepieces to their offerings.
“We planted the seed and it’s evolved into an exciting show this year,” Brousseau said. “Couture Time really helps complete the story of what Couture is. We don’t necessarily want more jewelry. It’s never been about having the most, just the most well-curated group of designers and brands. Plus we don’t want buyers and press to have to leave the property.”
Among the brands taking space in the more private Fairway Villas are Tudor, Breitling, IWC and Hermès, while firms such as Tag Heuer, Dior Timepieces and Montblanc will have individual spaces on the main floor. This year will also mark the first time the Encore ballroom will house individual salons, or booths, for brands such as Zenith, Oris and Baume & Mercier. Other exhibitors include Alpina Frederique Constant, Bell & Ross, Longines, Raymond Weil, Speake-Marin and Eberhard. Only Shinola, which will show watches in its jewelry booth on the Wynn side, will be missing from Couture Time. (Fine jeweler Yeprem will be launching diamond watches in its jewelry booth this year.)
Singer Aloe Blacc will headline the poolside opening night party and the Couture Design Awards this year will move to the Encore Theater, creating the appropriate drama for the popular event.
Los Angeles-based jeweler and designer Arman Sarkisyan said the key to surviving luxury challenges is to not panic. “In 2016, you saw new collections hit stores and a month later go on sale, so right there you could tell luxury was taking a dive. We’ve seen movement from 2017, it’s going up. Everyone is kind of adjusting to the new environment, if it’s price points or the look. But it’s a cycle in any industry.”