BRISK RETAIL ACTION FUELS JA SHOW

Byline: Amanda Meadus and Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — With retailers still basking in the glow of a bright Christmas season, booths were active and moods mostly upbeat at the Jewelers of America show here.
The four-day show, which wrapped up last Tuesday, attracted about 13,000 visitors. Although attendance was about even with last year’s show, many exhibitors said the buying action was more serious and concentrated. The number of exhibitors, 1,300, was even with last year.
A main factor driving business was the recent Christmas season, when fine jewelry emerged as a success story for many merchants. Buoyed by these strong seasonal sales, buyers were busy looking for spring and summer goods.
“Our Christmas season was good, but what’s even more encouraging is that January was strong and February has also started out well,” said John Green, president of Lux Bond & Green, a four-store jewelry retailer based in West Hartford, Conn.
Green said his firm’s open-to-buy for the show was up as a result, and among the items he wrote orders for were platinum and gold pieces by Scott Kay and antique-looking, somewhat tailored gold jewelry by such designers as Alex Sepkus.
Green agreed with some other merchants that the show didn’t offer much new, directional merchandise.
“I wasn’t too surprised by it, though, since spring and summer are not the biggest seasons for fine jewelry sales,” he noted. “A lot of vendors don’t make much of an effort to do new things for this show.”
Other buyers were more concerned about the lack of fresh looks. “For smaller local retailers, being able to offer unique merchandise is absolutely crucial,” said Ira Kuehnreich, a buyer for Braverich Jewelers, Totowa, N.J. “Stores like mine are getting squeezed as it is by the big chain retailers, and if we can’t offer something different from what everyone else has, that’s not good.”
Kuehnreich said he was looking for moderately priced goods with strong fashion appeal.
“Price is still a very important issue for us,” he noted. “Most of what we’ve been selling recently has been price-driven merchandise — gold and gold overlay goods, as well as lower-priced diamonds.”
Michael Romanoff, president of JA Silver II Ltd., in Hamden, Conn., said he was concentrating on basic 14-karat gold merchandise.
“That’s one big part of our business right now,” Romanoff said. “Diamonds are another, as is custom-designed merchandise, which of course we can’t buy at a show.”
Romanoff noted his firm was coming off a good Christmas, although he said January had been slow.
Vendors reported results ranging from fair to outstanding. Generally, those that introduced new merchandise fared better.
Roberto Coin, an owner of Gregg Ruth & Co., Malibu, Calif., said his firm had created more than 600 new styles for spring and summer.
“People are always looking for novelty,” said Coin. “If you can’t offer something new to stores all the time, you lose out.”
Coin added that his line has a wide price range, wholesaling from $500 to $10,000. Strong sellers at the show included items that combined white, yellow and rose gold, as well as all-white gold pieces, he said.
Andin International, based here, rolled out 10 themed merchandise groups designed to help buyers select product assortments. Among the groups were champagne diamonds incorporated into gold floral motifs, animal pins, slide enhancers for necklaces and Etruscan and American modern looks.
“We made a concerted effort to offer merchandise that could be specifically targeted to each of our markets, rather than just creating pretty pieces,” said Aya Azrielant, a principal of Andin. Orders at the show were up from a year ago.
A new, lower-priced line was a major hit for Nancy & David, in Millburn, N.J.
“Big, substantial 18-karat gold pieces are really the hallmark of our signature line, but they retail in the $4,000 to $10,000 range,” said Nancy Stone, one of company’s owners. “What we wanted to do was target the self-purchase trend we feel is happening in women’s jewelry, and those types of purchases happen more in the $2,500 and under range, so we brought out the new line to address that.”
Orders were up considerably, Stone said.
“This show is usually quiet for us, but we’ve been very busy this time,” she noted. “The stores definitely appear upbeat, although they are still a little bit cautious and definitely very price-conscious.”
Designer Paul Morelli created several new pearl necklaces accented with semi-precious stones, and said they were his most popular items. Very delicate gold chain necklaces with small diamond accents also sold well, he added.
Although he said his business was flat from last year, Morelli said the show was worthwhile because he got to work with major retailers.
“And working with the majors here is particularly good for us because they aren’t so price-conscious,” he noted. “A lot of the small stores that come to the show are very price-conscious, and our line is too expensive for them. But the big stores see a special piece that they know they can sell and don’t really pay much attention to the price.”
Designer Cornelis Hollander said the show was slow for him, and business stayed flat, but he did see action in his new Gem Directions collection of rings and other items.
“What is interesting is that we dealt with fewer buyers than in past shows, but everyone was writing bigger orders,” Hollander noted.

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