Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — Retailers at last week’s JA International Jewelry show found a much smaller exhibition to walk as they worked to place orders after the holiday season and made plans for Mother’s Day and into next fall.
This edition of the show was the first under its new owner, Miller Freeman, whose parent company, United News & Media PLC, purchased the Blenheim Group late last year.
Exhibitor and attendance numbers continued to decrease, a downward spiral that began in 1995. There were 695 exhibitors, down considerably from 953 a year ago, with 8,849 attendees, compared with 10,625 last January. The four-day show, held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, ended last Tuesday.
Combining Blenheim’s exposition experience with Miller Freeman’s expertise in jewelry is an opportunity for growth, according to Drew Lawsky, show director for Miller Freeman, which puts out jewelry publications as well as sponsoring shows.
He acknowledged that competition from several other jewelry trade shows in January and February is part of the problem for the JA event. The Vicenzaoro show in Vicenza, Italy, closed Jan. 19, and JA Las Vegas runs Feb. 2-4, followed by the JCK show in Orlando Feb. 16-18.
“Of course it’s a significant problem to have so many trade shows in a short time,” Lawsky said. “We’re considering a lot of options for the future, including shortening the show to three days instead of four, changing the dates or even creating a fine jewelry market week in conjunction with the show.”
He said changes will be decided in the next month or so and be focused more on the January rather than the July edition of the show.
Although many retailers expressed shock at the decreased number of exhibitors, blaming the low attendance on the fact that there are far too many trade shows, the slower traffic turned out to be a benefit for some.
“I couldn’t believe how light it was in terms of traffic,” said Mary Forte, president of the Gordon’s Jewelers division of Zale Corp. “Oddly enough, that enabled me to spend some quality time with vendors, something I never have time to do in Las Vegas.”
Her comments echoed those of many buyers shopping the show who took advantage of vendors’ increased availability to finish up Mother’s Day plans, schedule tests of new merchandise and firm up fall advertising commitments.
Other stores were disappointed by the small number of Italian exhibitors and said they missed the designer bridge lines that are often part of the show.
“There was a real loss of some quality vendors this time, particularly in the fashion area,” said Mark Udell, owner of London Jewelers, a four-unit New York-based chain. “Fortunately, since we’re local, some of them will be coming out to see us.”
On the positive side, stores were eager to fill in merchandise depleted during the mostly healthy Christmas period.
“We had a record Christmas and sold out of some standard stock, which we filled in at the show,” said Bob Mednikow, chief executive officer of Mednikow, with stores in Memphis and Atlanta. He said he stocked up on basic gold necklaces, wedding rings and especially pearls.
“Pearls have had a great season. They are great for spring and Mikimoto had some wonderful quality,” he said.
Beryl Raff, president of the Zales Jewelers division of Zale Corp. said diamond crosses, new variations of diamond hearts and diamond solitaires were among the items she focused on.
“We did very well last fall with the crosses. They turned faster than we expected, so we wanted to capture that volume opportunity with a broader assortment. We traded older styles of hearts for new looks and zeroed in on filling a void in bridal sets that retail for over $2,000,” said Raff.
Robert Hartger Jr., a co-owner, of Hartgers, Wyckoff, N.J., cited the offerings of David Yurman, Quadrillion and Penny Preville as being particularly strong. “We bought some of the new heart pieces and the Medici collection from Yurman, which represents a nice change in scale from his usual look. Preville had a lot of platinum that was interesting in huggy earrings and young-looking, delicate necklaces,” Hartger noted.
In general, platinum or white gold, alone or mixed with yellow gold, as well as novel diamond cuts and settings were the two prevailing trends at the show. Three-stone rings — those with a ruby or sapphire center with diamonds on the side, or all diamonds — were among the key items used with platinum.
“Everything related around the conversion from yellow to white gold in general,” said Paul Leonard, president of the Bailey, Banks and Biddle division of Zale Corp. “We were very successful with two-tone last fall and have seen a tremendous amount of white gold in the market. Our direction is to expand the categories we do in two-tone.”
He said areas targeted for growth in two-tone or white gold include diamond fashion, bridal and solitaires.
Bob Mednikow is also enthusiastic about the white metal. “The trend is moving very strongly to platinum,” he said. “It remains hot for all age groups. Yellow gold has been around a while, and it’s time for platinum. Its conservative look stands the test of time.”
Gordon’s Forte said the chain will test platinum in 25 of its stores this spring, in both the fashion and bridal arenas.
Also adding more white gold and platinum with diamonds to his assortment was Udell of London Jewelers. He was also picking up pink diamonds often set in pink gold and South Sea pearls.
Platinum as well as sterling silver was on the buying list for John Green, president and chief executive officer, Lux, Bond & Green, a four-unit chain based in West Hartford, Conn.
Key collections for the store include Rudi Erdell, Penny Preville, Judith Conway, Jordan Schlanger and David Yurman.
Green said necklaces — especially pendants — and peridot and citrine stones were getting attention as categories helping to spruce up his cases and draw consumers into the stores.
As the show closed on Tuesday, some vendors who were leaving got caught up in an incident surrounding an unattended bag. According to a Jacob Javits spokesman, at about 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, one of the convention center’s public safety officers reported a bag that had been left unattended for some time in the building’s Crystal Palace area. The report automatically set in motion procedures that included diverting people from exiting on the street level to using escalators on the concourse level below. The building’s state troopers, the NYPD’s 10th precinct and the bomb squad were all notified as part of the routine, according to the spokesman.
The bag wasn’t claimed and it was taken by the police after the bomb squad found that it contained nothing but papers.
At the time of the incident, Miller Freeman’s Lawsky said roughly 70 percent of exhibitors were already out of the building.