VICENZA, Italy — An upbeat energy reverberated in the halls of VicenzaOro, which closed here on Jan. 24. One day shorter than previous editions, the four-day trade show dedicated to jewelry offered another optimistic snapshot of the current state of the industry — one of the categories that has gained significant traction since the pandemic — and the momentum Italian companies are experiencing.
According to data released by Confindustria Moda’s research center on behalf of the national jewelry association Federorafi, exports of Italian jewels climbed 29.7 percent in the first seven months of 2022 to 5.8 billion euros. This marked a 42 percent increase versus the same period in 2019.
The U.S. remained the largest export market for Italian jewelry, accounting for 14 percent, and growing 18.2 percent compared to the same period in 2021. It was followed by Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, where exports of Italian jewelry grew 29 percent and 25.3 percent, respectively.
The fair confirmed such interest as it continued to gain ground and international appeal, attracting 1,300 exhibiting brands from 36 countries and setting an all-time record with an 11.5 percent increase in attendance compared to the pre-pandemic edition in January 2020.
Italian Exhibition Group, the fair organizer, declined to disclose exact numbers but said foreign buyers doubled compared to the previous winter edition and highlighted that international visitors hailing from 136 countries accounted for almost 60 percent of total attendance. In particular, visitors from elsewhere in Europe accounted for 54.5 percent of the total foreign ones, with strong delegations from Greece, Germany and Spain. Visitors from the Middle East, Asia, Turkey and North America accounted for 9.5 percent, 9 percent, 9 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively.
The domestic response was also good as the Italian presence saw double-digit growth, registering a 20 percent increase compared to the pre-pandemic edition.
State of the Business: Booming Demand, Production Challenges
“What happened to the industry in the past two years is a gifted luck,” said Roberto Coin, president of the Vicenza-based namesake company, which saw demand for its creations reach “triple our production capacity” last year.
Hence, the inevitable challenges and pressure on production that such growth implied. “We’ve rearranged our plant but still didn’t reach the optimal level,” he noted, particularly pointing to delays in deliveries, which sometimes were double the average time of three months.
Stressing the importance of guaranteeing the best service to his clients, Coin underscored that he saw this edition of the trade show more as an opportunity to catch up with fellow operators rather than sign new business deals, which “we are postponing to 2024, because we can’t take new clients and don’t serve them properly.”
To this end, the executive’s focus is on continuing to improve all departments of his business in 2023, which he forecast to be another positive year for the whole sector. While the company will further strengthen its top markets — led by the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Middle East — it will also continue to expand distribution, building on the streak of franchised store openings in Middle Eastern countries as well as one in Paris.
A similar strategy but different approach to the fair was embraced by Massimo Gismondi, chief executive officer of the seven-generation, family-run company Gismondi 1754. Earlier this month the jeweler inked a five-year deal with Qatar’s Al Mana family to boost its retail and wholesale distribution in the GCC area. As part of the agreement, seven franchised stores are expected to open in the region in the next five years, starting with one in Doha, Qatar’s capital, in June.
Openings in Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia; Kuwait, and Oman will follow, as well as in the United Arab Emirates that Gismondi kept as the last touch point “because we want to make sure we get there with the right brand awareness and as protagonists.”
Meanwhile, the company is gearing up to boost its presence in the U.S. and Europe, which are currently its main markets and where sales in the wholesale channel in particular grew 82 percent and 57 percent, respectively, last year.
Yet the executive sees a lot of gaps to fill in Europe, whose consolidation is a top priority for the short term. To this end, conversely to Coin, Gismondi saw in VicenzaOro an opportunity to find new commercial partners, confirming that a deal was just signed with one in Germany, marking a new market for the business.
Listed on the Italian Bourse, the Genoa-based company saw total revenues jump 44 percent in 2022 to 14 million euros in 2022. Gismondi noted that the initial public offering in 2019 put the business in the right mindset and favorable position in terms of investments in production that are now sustaining the increase in demand. Gismondi pointed to only slight delays in deliveries, stretching from the standard 30 days to 45 to 60 days, as the whole Valenza district has been under pressure.
To this end, he pointed to the scarcity of skilled workers as one of the biggest challenges the whole category is facing.
“Also due to the pandemic, we’ve lost an entire generation of workers. There were those who had just approached our business that suddenly found plants closed and changed jobs, and those who didn’t even start and already changed their minds,” noted Gismondi.
To this end, Coin said that 40 to 50 people are being trained in his company’s in-house academy. What usually takes at least two years of training is now pushed to be taught in six to nine months due to the urgency.
“As researches show that the demand for luxury won’t stop and the high-end market is projected to double… I expect the industry’s positive performance to continue for a while, but we will see the bigger groups that will tend to monopolize production,” said Gismondi, seeing a general brisk M&A activity on the horizon.
“The production challenges are the most complex and delicate [issues] at the moment,” echoed Giorgio Visconti’s CEO Andrea Visconti. “Over the last decade it wasn’t given enough importance to transfer the know-how to new generations. Now we have a spike in production and lack the workforce, which is a problem shared in all the artisanal districts and industries…
“This difficulty to attract and be appealing to younger generations in going to be a problem for decades to come,” predicted Visconti.
While the artisanal nature of the business makes it generally unaffected by rising energy costs, fluctuations in the price of raw materials, namely gold and precious stones, represent the second main concern for Visconti. “In the past few years we had big swings, which are concerning for everybody because you can’t justify final prices, either they go up or down… This is going to be a big question mark for the next two years,” he noted.
As for his own company, Visconti said that “the real game-changer was 2021,” when the overall Italian jewelry companies’ sales totaled 8.8 billion euros, up 54.6 percent compared to the previous year and 11.9 percent versus 2019.
“It all restarted in May 2021 and I’ve never seen six, seven months of sales like the ones we had that year since 1995. So I thought that in 2022 we would have a contraction but we actually evened that performance,” said the executive, without disclosing figures.
To further surf this wave this year, the executive aims to cement distribution in Europe — where it is already strong in the Balkans and Baltic countries — by boosting its presence especially in Spain, the Benelux region and Germany. The company also returned to Japan after a 10-year hiatus thanks to a new agreement signed last summer.
“We believe there’s much space to grow. So far we had a national focus but we want to expand abroad,” said Visconti, who believes the whole industry will gain further momentum looking forward. “In moments of crisis and big inflation, jewelry has always represented a safe-haven asset. While in the past two decades it was seen as a gift or accessory, now high-end pieces represent safe harbors compared to money resting in banks.”
Introducing an even more premium offering and higher price points further boosted the performance of Florence-based jewelry brand Annamaria Cammilli, which reported a 40 percent increase in total sales last year and counted as its best performing markets the DACH area (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) and the U.S.
The company reinvested some of its profits to build brand awareness abroad, reorganize production and in structural changes to accommodate an in-house academy that opened in June. Rather than training goldsmiths, the brand focused on training the sales staff of its partnering retailers on how to better communicate its values and all the features behind its products.
“If you consider that customers are increasingly informed and more and more looking for unique pieces that stand out, this becomes an essential project,” noted the company’s spokeswoman Caterina Periccioli.
Classes of 20 to 30 people are hosted in Florence and trained over two days at the firm’s headquarters, where roughly 30 sessions took place last year. Periccioli teased new activities will be added at the beginning of summer, also to mark the brand’s 40th anniversary this year.
Product Trends: More is More
Jewelers’ general optimism trickled down in their creations, with maximalist offerings shining bright at the trade show.
Among the most striking examples were the one-of-a-kind pieces showcased at Gismondi 1754. These included the Marea bracelet and rings in white gold and encrusted with more than 50 carats of diamonds and 31.14 carats of blue tanzanite, in a bid to pay tribute to the sea of Gismondi’s hometown, Genoa, and its relentless movement.
At Roberto Coin, the brand’s signature Princess and Navarra lines were flanked by flashier creations reinterpreting animal motifs as well as exalting color combinations of precious stones. For more approachable but still dazzling options, full pavé rings and bangles of the Love in Verona series were punctuated by emeralds, blue sapphires and rubies recreating the signature four-petal flower.
In addition to its new Moon Drops collection of wave-shaped gold elements illuminated by diamond pavé details, Annamaria Cammilli continued to build on its high-end offering via the Prestige and Couture collections that exalted the signature sinuous shapes with colored gemstones such as emeralds, sapphires and red tourmaline. These particularly stood out on rings.
The Design Room, the section dedicated to independent designers, also included not-to-miss statement pieces by the likes of Joywith Jewelry, Marina B and Roman master Alessio Boschi, whose creations could easily double as sculptures or design objects to display at home.
The namesake brand, which relocated to Bangkok almost a decade ago, showcased unique items, including a massive necklace reinterpreting Rome’s Piazza Navona via a total of 280 carats of Paraíba tourmaline stones, including a central gem that alone amounted to 80 carats.