Amid a financial climate experiencing major shifts in the commodity and consumer markets directly tied to jewelry’s success, designers, executives and retailers from the industry convened in New York on Friday evening for the annual GEM Awards, organized by the Jewelers of America.
Held at Cipriani 42nd Street, the event saw Temple St. Clair take jewelry designer of the year, Cartier win for watch design, WatchTime editor Joe Thompson take the lifetime achievement award, and JCK’s Rob Bates win for media excellence. Winners were cheered on by their industry peers including David Yurman, Stephen Webster and Neiman Marcus’ Larry Pelzel.
“I think for any normal Friday night, I would probably be quite selective about the fellow jewelry designers I’d want to hang out with — and I have some very good friends who are jewelry designers,” Webster joked. “I think on this particular night, though, I come from London for it — it’s a nice event.”
With the price of gold down more than 30 percent since 2012, diamonds dropping in excess of 15 percent in the last year, and with socioeconomic factors drying up what were once booming, shop-happy emerging markets in Russia, Brazil and to some extent, China — consumers’ whereabouts, travel itineraries and tastes have, by some attendees’ counts, dramatically shifted.
Designers like St. Claire said that the finicky commodities market has strengthened consumers’ appreciation for design — echoing what specialists from Christie’s and Sotheby’s said of last month’s jewelry auction cycle, where semiprecious pieces of high design realized unexpectedly high prices.
“There is interest in investment beyond the raw materials,” St. Claire observed of client behavior. The designer said that her haute couture collections have been performing remarkably well, with sell-throughs she attributes to the fact that, “There are so many people in the world right now who have a lot of everything, and I think are looking for very special, unique pieces — almost going back to what the history of jewelry was, where you have these limited-edition designs.”
Webster also noted that his own haute couture-type division has stood out as a strong performer. “[Low gold prices] certainly doesn’t translate to, ‘Oh my God, they are low, we are going to sell more,’ it was the same when [gold] was very high. When it went really high there was definitely an, ‘OK, how do we use this gold?’ and it didn’t work for us. [Consumers] either want what you do or they don’t want it — but what they really don’t want is something that feels like you are adjusting to a market.”
The English designer did concede, though, that, “Some of my markets like Russia have almost disappeared and I have four of my own stores there. All that area that was growth, growth, growth suddenly fell off a cliff and it will not come back until oil does something.”
Pamela Love, also in attendance, said that staying resolute to her core brand ideologies has helped her business ride the tide of economic uncertainty.
“I launched my business during the economic crash. Right now is a time to get really creative, really scrappy and really about design purity. I think maybe some people think it means we need to focus on making more commercial designs, so we can sell. But for me it’s an opportunity to focus on timeless and thoughtful pieces. People aren’t buying things that aren’t important,” she said.
The storied labels in the room, though, felt that their brand’s high-premium equities continued to serve them well. Cartier North America’s president and chief executive, Mercedes Abramo said: “The great part about Cartier, it’s almost a 170-year-old maison. Clients look to the maisons that they trust during times of challenge. Cartier has always been a maison people come to, we have iconic pieces that withstand any trend.”
Olivier Stip, Chanel’s senior vice president of fine jewelry and watches, felt similarly about his house’s long-standing prestige: “Our prices are not really directly related to the cost of commodities. We really benefit from aura of the brand as a fashion brand. Our sales or business is more linked to how successful Karl Largerfeld can be in his latest couture or ready-to-wear collection, and so far he has done a pretty good job and we are seeing the benefits.”