Byline: Wendy Hessen

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Beyond its luxurious desert setting, the strength of the fine jewelry show, a highly focused seminar program and plenty of salable merchandise kept both retailers and exhibitors upbeat at the fourth annual Couture Collection & Conference show here.
While the overwhelming trend for white metals continues, colored diamonds and South Sea pearls were also very strong and seen in nearly every booth.
They were topped off by innovative looks where diamonds or pearls seem to float on the wearer, suspended by nearly invisible wire. This look was seen in Jeffrey Robert’s tiny diamond pendants and Stefan Hafner’s diamond baguette necklaces, as well as delicate open-work styles accented with gemstones from Temple St. Clair Carr or Garavelli Aldo.
Held at the Phoenician Resort, the invitation-only event attracted 152 retailers shopping 118 exhibitors, compared to 130 retailers and 120 exhibitors a year ago. The five-day show ended on May 27.
Retailers in general lauded the Couture environment as being especially conducive to developing long-term strategies and planning with vendors. They also liked the tight focus on high-end goods and more forward makers, and also said the event helped to expand their knowledge about such things a co-branding at the show’s daily breakfast seminars.
“I had time to talk to a lot of designers and vendors that I could foresee buying from in the future,” said Stephen Polacheck, owner of Polacheck’s Jewelers, Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Planning was especially important to Polacheck, as he sought to solidify merchandise assortments for a second store slated to open in November in Calabasas, Calif.
“As soon as the new store opens, I need to maximize dollars, which is a process of some buying, securing some merchandise on memo and balancing my stock,” Polacheck said. “I found plenty of people to work with me and opened new lines like John Hardy and the Silver Ice line from David Yurman.”
While he enjoyed the seminars that focused heavily on co-branding strategies, Polacheck said he would have liked some more information on display and advertising, something that was “touched on, but didn’t get into deep enough.”
“This is a great show,” said James Rosenheim, owner of Tiny Jewel Box, in Washington, D.C. “There are good manufacturers and programs that you can really get something out of, with more time to sit down with vendors and meet other retailers and publishing people, too.”
“There are more jewelers [at Couture] that see the relationships between [such things as] global currencies, branding, fashion and color,” he added.
Rosenheim said that in general, he has seen a renewed demand for color and interesting materials now in fine jewelry, and he did find sources to meet that need at the show.
“We looked at some new accounts there, such as Torrini Opificio Orafo, which had beautiful gold pieces,” he said. “We were also impressed with Robert Lee Morris’s new collection — that kind of partnering [with diamond firm M. Fabrikant] will open up a world of opportunities. There were lots of South Sea pearls in interesting configurations, like multicolor combinations, and we were successful in our efforts to find sources for interesting materials.”
One keenly focused buying team was from Only Diamonds, a year-old chain specializing in the gem. Their strategy is to make the diamond-buying process less intimidating for consumers through greater educational efforts and multimedia marketing in its stores. The Akron, Ohio-based company currently operates four stores and plans to open 10 more in the next year.
“We find that the vendors have really done their homework by the time we get there,” said Dave Dell’Aglio, director of merchandising. “With so many white metal and pave looks continuing from Basel, we were more focused on giftable merchandise, not the next great widget, but just things like great necklaces at good prices.”
Dell’Aglio also acknowledged the returning strength of colored diamonds.
“We’re especially doing well with yellow diamonds,” he said. “We’ve had an assortment [of colored diamonds] since we opened our stores and now customers are coming in looking for them.”
Meanwhile, Exhibitors said they were satisfied with the pace of order writing at the show.
At John Hardy, overall business was strong, according to Jim Demattei, vice president of the firm, who said, “We probably saw a 25 percent increase over last year.
“Retailers seem to be pumped and are anticipating a strong year overall,” he noted. “Better goods are selling best now, so there is less reluctance to buy more better product.
“We’re still relatively new in the fine jewelry marketplace,” Demattei said. “Originally, jewelers came to us as a sterling silver resource and are now expanding their assortments to include [pieces accented with] gold.”
More gold from Hardy is on the horizon. During the show, Demattei previewed — to select retailers — the initial pieces from a new all-18-karat-gold and gemstone collection.
“The gold line is a still an underdeveloped part of our overall line and we’ll continue to have more conversations [with retailers] at JCK,” referring to the fine jewelry show in Las Vegas currently taking place.
He said order writing was also strong for Hardy’s home collection, which was shown separately in a booth with other sterling silver accessories run by Silver Trust International, the marketing and promotion vehicle for the sterling silver industry.
Yuri Ichihashi, designer/ owner of the eponymous firm that specializes in woven gold, said: “Our orders [at the show] have nearly doubled compared to a year ago, and the stores are getting braver about buying the more expensive and more elaborate pieces.”
Despite the overwhelming amount of white metal displayed at the show and in the market in general, Ichihashi hasn’t experienced any slowdown in demand for her yellow gold line. But she is developing a platinum version of her signature scarf necklace, nonetheless.
“I’m ironing out the technical challenges,” Ichihashi said. “Since platinum is a more difficult metal to work with, it will take another year or so.”

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