VICENZA, Italy — The Vicenzaoro jewelry trade show, opened its fairgrounds to watches for the first time, as a part of a broader plan for the Italian fair to boost international traffic to its Fiera di Vicenza grounds.
The latest edition of the five-day trade show, which closed Sept. 7, registered more than 19,000 visitors, in line with the February and the September 2015 edition of the fair. The show hosted 1,300 brands from 35 foreign countries, as well as from the Arezzo, Milan, Valenza and Naples jewelry districts of Italy.
Dubbed NOW — “Not Ordinary Watches” — the watch pavilion included a range of independent watchmakers, such as Altanus Geneve, Brosway, Didofà, GaGà Milano, Ju’sto and Locman, among others.
“The Swiss industry did a tremendous job with Basel, but that fair isn’t perfect,” said Fiera di Vicenza president Matteo Marzotto. “Italy has a long watchmaking tradition and our watches have high-end, global appeal.”
One of those firms, Locman, is an Italian watchmaker that is based on the island of Elba and specializes in timepieces made with titanium, carbon fiber, aluminum and other high-tech alloys. Commercial director Fabrizio Fuochi said Locman has plans to expand over the next year in South Korea, China, Japan and Vietnam.
Overall, the watch industry is facing a daunting year, owing to China’s consumer slowdown, the smartwatch craze and global uncertainty.
According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, watch exports in July fell 14 percent to $1.71 billion, with wristwatch exports dipping 14.5 percent to $1.6 billion. Exports to Hong Kong dove 33 percent, while U.S. orders slipped 15 percent.
Marzotto shrugged off industry jitters.
“When people say that the watch category is in crisis, I laugh,” he said. “Millennials’ attitudes are changing. They are looking for quality. A smartwatch is a fad, but it isn’t something you keep forever.”
Terra Cielo Mare, a watch company run by Luca Fontana, a 27-year-old watch aficionado, sells only 1,000 limited-edition pieces that are made for adventure enthusiasts. Terra Cielo Mare works with divisions of the Italian military to develop many of its pieces. At Vicenza Oro, the company showcased its latest El Alamein watch, which is dedicated to the North African battle of the same name. Designed for the desert environment, the timepiece is outfitted with special features like a solar compass that relies on the stars and the sun’s position instead of magnets or electronics.
“Watches like these are something you pass down,” Fontana concurred. “A smartwatch will become obsolete.”
Bros Manifatture’s Brosway watch brand unfurled a collection of affordable timepieces called Volano, a collection of light, luminous watches with a Thirties-inspired vintage design. Bros, the Italian jewelry group that also controls the Rosato and S’Agapo brands, acquired Pianegonda last year. Its recently created Bros USA Inc. with headquarters in Miami, to distribute its brands in the U.S. It’s betting on Brosway and will open a monobrand store in the International Mall in Miami, and aims to open franchises and in-store shops on the East Coast, including in New York.
On the other side of the fair, Italian gold and jewelry-makers predicted modest sales performance for 2016, as the Chinese and Russian consumer slowdowns continue cramp spending power and gift-giving.
Between January and March, Italian gold and jewelry sales grew 9 percent, with an increase of 24 percent in domestic sales. Due to an uncertain macroeconomic climate, the price of gold has risen as investors look to the commodity as a “safe haven,” Marzotto said.
Luxury jewelry-maker Roberto Coin, famous for its high-ticket bejeweled menageries and enchanted garden pieces, will continue to expand and invest in the Middle East and Italy.
“The U.S. is still our number-one single market,” Roberto Coin said. “This is definitely an uncertain year, but we expect our full-year sales to grow in the lower double digits.”
Upscale peers such as Damiani and Pasquale Bruni showcased high-ticket baroque collections inspired by the royal courts of Europe and beyond.
Damiani tapped a Romanov descendant, the Italian actress Nicoletta Romanoff, as the face of its Fiocco and Fiori d’arancio collections of jewels inspired by the valuables of the dethroned imperial family. Pasquale Bruni’s Ghirlanda pieces were named after queens like Elizabeth and Egypt’s Nefertiti.
Vicenzaoro’s affordable jewelry offer marked Italia Independent’s foray into jewelry. The eyewear maker signed a 10-year licensing agreement with Industrie Testi SpA for the production and distribution of the label’s first jewelry collection.
Designed for men and women, the collection bears signature elements of Italia Independent’s past eyewear collections and fashion capsules, including herringbone and a tweed pattern decorating pendants, cuffs and necklaces.
The jewelry line will be sold at Italian Independent’s stores and e-commerce site, and at a number of retailers starting in December.
“The jewelry market offers Italia Independent an opportunity to pursue its mission…as a lifestyle brand, while keeping its core in the eyewear field,” said Andrea Tessitore, cofounder and chief executive officer of Italia Independent.
Looking ahead, Vicenzaoro’s owner Fiera di Vicenza will focus on merging with Rimini Fiera.
The combined trade shows in 2016 are expected to generate earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of 23 million euros, or $26.2 million at current exchange, and aggregated sales of around 120 million euros, or $136.8 million. Fiera di Rimini has built one of the key fairs on wellness in Europe. Founded more than 60 years ago, it includes 41 highly specialized trade shows, of which 11 are international, mainly organized directly, covering food and beverage, tourism, entertainment, transportation and wellness. It also manages the city’s conference stadium, Palacongressi.
Fiera di Vicenza, founded in 1948, organizes Italy’s jewelry and watch fair Vicenzaoro, among other lifestyle trade shows, as well as being a cultural hub and organizing conventions and summits. In 2015, it posted revenues of 36.8 million euros, or $40.8 million at average exchange, up 14.5 percent compared with 2014.
Together, Marzotto said that the two companies would represent a strong mid-sized company with 120 million euros, or $135.2 million, in sales. An initial public offering, he said, could take place in the next 18 months.