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LAS VEGAS — Big-faced timepieces, yellow gold jewelry, large diamonds, exotic pearls and gemstones wouldn’t seem to be the kind of accessories for lean times.

But they can lift the spirits, and jewelry firms showing their holiday offerings at the Couture Jewellery Collection & Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the JCK Show in Las Vegas, were going for the bold. Inventories may be down, but there was no holding back on the glitz for fall and holiday. (For more news from the jewelry shows, see page 7.)

Vendors also said they’ll be pushing hard to get more fine jewelry on the runways, if they can convince designers to think of jewelry as an accent rather than a distraction.

“We have had great success this spring in jewelry, and we think that momentum will continue this fall,” said Lisa Kazor, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for gifts and fine jewelry at Neiman Marcus. “Jewelry continues to be an important category and is a big business for us and one we believe will have continued growth.”

However, amid the economic and political uncertainty in the nation, a number of retailers said they were buying fall and holiday merchandise more selectively to ensure that inventory levels remain well controlled. As government warnings about the possibility of more terrorist attacks flooded the news, executives expressed concern about the impact on consumer confidence.

“Everyone is worried about terrorist threats,” said Paolo Novembri, chief executive officer at Damiani USA. “We are cautious about the holiday season, although I think Americans are learning to live with the situation.”

Designer Steven Lagos said: “Retailers are buying more carefully. Last year was a difficult year. And in the Nineties, during the economic boom, everyone was carrying too much inventory. Now, stores are more focused. We have cut back on our distribution and are looking to go deeper with our retailers. Less is more right now, and we are not trying to be everything to everyone.”

Among the key themes that echoed through the halls of both shows was an increasing desire for vendors to provide more service and training for retailers and their sales associates, and the push for jewelry stores to brand their own store names and not just rely on designer jewelry to lure customers.

“Retailers definitely want more service now,” said Michael Miarecki, director of global marketing at Michele Watches. “As a company, we are spending more time providing in-store training, and we are taking a page from the beauty industry to offer gifts-with-purchase.”

John Green, president and ceo of the seven-unit Lux, Bond & Green jewelry chain, said his company is working harder to brand its store name through increased marketing and the introduction of more items such as diamonds and pearls sold under the Lux, Bond & Green label.

About 175 retailers started their buying trip during the Memorial Day weekend at Couture, in Scottsdale, a highly focused show that draws an upscale crowd of vendors and retailers, including a significant number of Italian jewelry firms. Many buyers then headed to the larger, five-day JCK Show in Las Vegas, an overflowing exhibit that showcased jewelry and related offerings from some 2,700 vendors to about 20,000 buyers.

Accompanying both shows was a steady stream of parties, including a gala sponsored by W magazine and the World Gold Council at Couture featuring gold jewelry and couture apparel. Magazines such as the Robb Report, Town & Country, Esquire and Allure also sponsored events during the week.

The Couture show this year included a new watch pavilion, marking the first time watch companies have had their own dedicated space at the show. Couture, which has been held at the Phoenician since 1996, is slated to move locations next year to the new Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Much of the organized discussion at Couture focused on ways to keep the luxury market vibrant. Elsa Klensch, the former CNN style maven and freelance writer, focused her keynote address on luxury and fashion. She noted that the vision of luxury today is largely shaped by global brands, many of which heavily promote and advertise themselves. She also stressed that jewelry firms need to work more with fashion designers to get their wares in the public eye.

“The jewelry industry has to be more insistent that jewelry is worn on the runways,” Klensch said, citing Donna Karan and Jean Paul Gaultier as designers who often show jewelry with their runway collections.

Many buyers said they were impressed with much of the new holiday merchandise, which concentrates heavily on bold, colored gemstones, as well as soft, feminine pieces. Pearls, especially big South Sea and black Tahitians, were seen in many new collections, and a number of firms are returning in a significant way to yellow gold. Champagne and colored diamonds, and stones such as citrine, amethyst, chalcedony and moonstone, were seen in a number of new lines.

Other key looks at the shows included nature motifs, and long, dangling earrings, seen at Damiani and Leslie Greene, a new company formed by the the former designer at Penny Preville. Reflecting the trend of black in ready-to-wear for fall, some companies, such as Charriol and Chris Correia, accented their new designs with black materials. Despite the recent buzz about a Vatican group condemning cross jewelry, oversized crosses were a key theme, and were shown at John Hardy, Craig Drake, Jennifer Cary and Mouawad, among others.

Watch faces are still getting bigger, and colored dials and straps remain the prevailing trend in the timepiece arena, although more browns and chocolate hues were seen this time around.

Among the designer collections retailers cited as particularly strong this season were Alex Sepkus, Henry Dunay, Christian Tse, Barry Kronen, Stephen Webster and Steven Kretchmer. Many of the new items are salable and focus on looks that are not hard for customers to understand and ones to which they can relate, buyers said.

“I am loving all the natural gemstones,” said Michael Clarke, vice president of fine jewelry at Henry Birks & Sons Inc., the 38-unit Canadian retail chain.

Clarke said his firm’s spring business has been “tremendous” and he is feeling positive about the second half of the year. Spring standouts have included large pearls and jewelry in simple and delicate styles.

“Gold has taken on another life, and I think yellow gold will be very strong for fall,” Clarke added.

Green said larger diamonds are driving spring business at his seven-store jewelry chain.

“People are spending, but they are buying classics and not as much fashion,” he said. “They want items that they can wear for a long time.”

Christopher DeCapri, owner of Capri Jewelers, a four-store chain based in Richmond, Va., said his customers have also been snapping up jewelry with large diamonds for spring.

For fall, De Capri said he was investing more in bold gold and platinum pieces and is also planning to open two additional stores in coming months.

“My customer doesn’t want trendy,” he noted. “They want something that is a little different, that is high-end and something that will last.”

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