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WWD Special Report issue 05/23/2011

NEW YORK — In an economy where prices of precious metals continue to skyrocket, accessories designers must up the ante, relying on head-turning pieces to move product at a higher price point.

This story first appeared in the May 23, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

This especially goes for fine jewelers showing their fall collections at The Couture Show, the industry’s premier trade show for the category, where designers are stacking, layering, mixing metals and taking more risks with color than ever. Brands such as David Yurman, Kwiat, Ippolita, Bedat & Co., Yossi Harari, Slane, Carla Amorim, Nam Cho, Annie Fensterstock, Moritz Glik, Colette, Elizabeth Locke, Melissa Joy Manning and Sally Sohn will take part in the Nielsen Jewelry Group-produced Couture show, which will be held from June 2 to 6 at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas during Las Vegas Market week.

“The designers are doing their homework and paying close attention to where the best sell-throughs have been with product and price points,” Fragments Showroom’s chief executive officer Janet Goldman told WWD. “They are also concentrating on the main ‘attractors’ for their collections, the ‘wow’ pieces. It’s always those amazingly creative, out-of-the-box pieces that attract the customers’ attention. Organic looks in oxidized metals with shots of hot color like fire opal, emeralds and hot pink tourmalines will shine the brightest.”

An industry veteran with more than 25 years of expertise in the category, Goldman cited the above, along with a “well-merchandised offering of salable jewelry,” as mandatory for exhibitors. Although she thinks the customer wants jewelry that’s feminine and glamorous, function is also essential to the equation, especially at a higher price point. Customers want pieces that fit seamlessly into their existing collections, and it’s preferable if new additions can go from day to night.

Trendwise, Goldman believes combinations of precious metals such as gold and silver, even offset with semiprecious stones, will count for a large percentage of business at the show.

Luckily, this is David Yurman’s bread and butter.

“The dimension of mixed metals is definitely a David Yurman signature aesthetic and one that our customer appreciates and returns to us for. It’s really part of the DNA of the brand,” said David Yurman’s chief commercial officer, Carol Pennelli, who added the brand has recently started to pair titanium and rose gold in its men’s collections.

With mixed metals already an established and steadily growing segment of the brand, Pennelli insisted that yellow, white and rose gold are the centerpieces of the offerings showcased at the event — as well as a trio of new collections born from Yurman’s fascination with night skies. Starburst, Starlight and Midnight Pearl all make their debut next month, and each comprises elements such as oxidized black rhodium, blackened metals and black diamonds — juxtaposed with bright, translucent semiprecious stones.

But have the mounting prices of precious materials affected the more than 30-year-old brand? Pennelli insisted that they haven’t, and that the use of materials has remained the same.

“We’ve always stood for and have been rooted in mixed metals and stones as the foundation of the brand. It hasn’t had an effect on our assortment, and we don’t really respond to market conditions,” said Pennelli. “Because we are so approachably priced at every level — there’s always an entry point for the consumer — and because there’s such a dynamic and constant flow of new designs from David, the customer continues to come back to us. The higher prices don’t really impact our business. We find a way to price it right for every level of our consumer.”

But Lee Arevian, Nielsen Jewelry Group’s director of business development, has seen an impact industrywide from the steadily rising prices of raw materials, and because of this, many designers have shifted their focus to finding ways to deliver quality designs with a reduced amount of metals.

“In the past, you’ve been able to work with heavier weights and more gold and platinum, and now designers are pulling out ounces. They are trying to hollow things out and find ways to still deliver great designs at a competitive price point,” said Arevian. “We have seen a big increase in silver, and we added a silver category to our designer awards. In the past, we never would’ve even considered having one, but we have a lot of designers who now work in silver.”

In addition to increasing the amount of silver in the collections and getting creative with gold and platinum to find ways to reduce overall weight (while still maintaining design sensibilities), Luxury Brand Consulting ceo Janice Winter has noticed a shift toward jewelry that lends itself to stacking and layering. This is a trend driven less by fashion and more by societal factors and the current economic climate. But stylistically, she maintains combinations have gotten more interesting and brands are thinking “outside the box.”

“This works back into the theme of layering, making your jewelry work and extending your accessory wardrobe to make it more fresh. You can change up the look and make it look like a new piece by layering, adding on or doing a little wardrobing,” Winter said. “Some brands have been doing this for years, it’s inherently what they do — but certainly because of the economy and the fact that people are looking for value. It’s not about price point so much as it is about value — people are shopping smarter. You want to feel smart about your purchase.”

Kwiat has seen much success recently with its stackable rings, which start at $1,050 for a ruby stackable (prices go up to $1,800 for a white diamond version). Additional options include blue sapphire, ruby and diamond, black diamonds and brown diamonds — and all are available in 18-karat white, yellow, rose or black gold.

Another initiative for the company is expanding its vintage collection, which it launched in 2007 to commemorate the brand’s centenary. Based on archival designs from the Twenties, Thirties and Forties and heavy on Art Deco and Edwardian references, chief financial officer Greg Kwiat (who is also ceo of Fred Leighton) hopes to bolster the collection’s distribution to 25 to 50 doors, versus the limited 10 doors that carry the $2,000 to $250,000 line.

Slane is unveiling two lines — Midnight Silver and a geometric Octagon sterling silver and mixed metal collection — and the brand will also relaunch its 18-karat gold collection.

“In my travels, I find that customers are hungry for interesting new gold jewelry that reads luxury and value,” co-ceo and designer Landon Slane said of the collection, which includes about 60 pieces that retail from $500 to $13,000. “It’s a great way to play with color. We have taken some of our well-known styles and translated them in a more updated way for gold, such as using lighter chains and using more color.”

Elizabeth Locke also defaults to gold, as her handcrafted collection — with a retail range that starts at $2,000 and goes up to $24,000 — is created entirely from 19-karat yellow gold. She’ll be showing heavy, chunky bracelets as well as a lot of longer necklaces, and pops of color will come in the form of lapis in large rings and pendants.

Nam Cho — whose colorful pieces are inspired by the jet set, Elizabeth Taylor on the Riviera and 18th-century Baroque jewelry and 2011’s ready-to-wear trends — achieves bold color in her $3,200 to $53,000 collection by way of intense rubies, Colombian emeralds, blue sapphires and gem-quality semiprecious stones such as Indian blue moonstones, intense chalcedonies and rubellites.

Vivid gemstones and bursts of color aside, international street style star and former L’uomo Vogue editor Giovanna Battaglia was the muse for Carla Amorim’s new fall collection of rings and earrings. The foundation of the Brasiliana line is Italian culture as it’s incorporated into the Brazilian lifestyle, and the pieces are sophisticated and stylish — much like Battaglia herself, according to the founder and ceo of the line, which retails from $1,200 to $30,000 (although most pieces are in the $7,000 to $10,000 range).


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