PROVIDENCE, R.I. — For exhibitors at the January edition of the United Jewelry Show here, the year did not exactly get off to a peppy start.

The five-day show, which ended Sunday at the Fashion Jewelry Mart at Davol Square here, featured 141 exhibitors — including manufacturers and manufacturers’ representatives — showing a total of 265 lines.

Buyer turnout, however, was sporadic, and a number of vendors noted that a series of winter storms blowing through the Northeast had wreaked havoc with their appointment schedules.

Still, inclement weather was not the only problem that made exhibitors uneasy. Many pointed to continued sluggishness in fashion jewelry coming off a somewhat shaky 1993, a concern shared by a number of buyers present. The show is attended primarily by jewelry wholesalers.

“From what my retail accounts are telling me, jewelry is a really tough sell right now,” said Allan Robin, owner of Cine, a Houston-based wholesale firm with about 350 accounts in the West, Southwest and Southeast. “In some cases, boutique business was down 35 percent last year.”

Robin, who said he was looking for immediate-delivery spring goods, noted that price was not a major issue for him “because consumers aren’t really buying jewelry right now at all, whether a piece is $5 or $35.”

“Even fashion items are tough,” he added. “I’ve been adding a lot of smaller-size earrings to my line, because that’s where the trends have been going, but I’m getting a lot of resistance because many women still want big earrings.”

Robin said he was planning conservatively for this year, and projected that his sales would be down in the first half.

Vendors offered a variety of opinions on why activity, both at the show and throughout the industry, has been lethargic.

“What worries me is the general lack of jewelry being shown in fashion, on the runways and in the media,” said Louis Porreca, owner of a manufacturer’s representative firm of the same name based in Seekonk, Mass. “This business relies heavily on consumer confidence, and if women aren’t seeing jewelry shown by designers and magazines, they’re not going to run out and spend their money on it.”

The strongest parts of his line, Porreca said, were lockets, cameos and other items with a delicate, feminine feel.

“We specialize in this look, and fortunately, it was a popular trend last year,” he said, noting that his firm finished 1993 with a 30 percent increase. “So for this show, we’re sticking with what’s worked for us.”

Areen Lipsitz, a rep based here, said she felt business was faltering because the base of wholesale buyers has been shrinking over the last several years.

“There aren’t as many people coming into the business now,” Lipsitz noted. “About five years ago, there were a lot of younger, innovative wholesalers opening up, but now most of them have gone out of business.”

Lipsitz noted that the natural trend was driving much of the business she was doing at the show.

“People are also buying color, though, to counterbalance all the neutral palettes,” she noted.

Show orders were off for Bijou International, an importing and manufacturing company based in New York, according to the firm’s owner, Jack Haber.

“I think the reason this show is slow is because everyone wants to be in New York, where all the fashion-world action is,” Haber said. “This show was scheduled so close to the accessories market week in New York that it forced buyers to choose between the two, and I think most people chose New York.”

Haber, whose company also has a New York showroom, said he anticipated growth for his business overall this year, but added that he expected little or none of it to come from his Providence showroom.

“We’ll keep the showroom we have here for this year, but after that, we’re going to take a good look at whether we want to keep it open,” he noted.

Still, some sellers said they were satisfied with their bookings. Vijay Nayyar, owner of India Imports Inc., Orlando, Fla., said he had booked solid orders with most of his established customers, and also picked up some new accounts.

“I feel this show is worthwhile for me, because one order from an individual buyer can easily multiply into a monthly or even weekly order from the same person,” Nayyar said.

Nayyar said his top sellers included glass bead necklaces and metal pieces in patina finishes.