Listen to this article
Las Vegas does not lack for sparkle on any given day, with its plethora of casinos and hotels. But every June it glitters a little more brightly during Las Vegas Jewelry Week. JCK, the Couture Show and the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show run concurrently, last year attracting 43,800 visitors, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
This year may be a little more muted, however, as retailers report sluggish sales thanks to election uncertainty, stagnant wages and a strong dollar dampening tourist spending. Indeed, some key retailers are staying away.
For department store Barneys, “jewellery is performing OK but is softer than we would like,” says Jennifer Sunwoo, general merchandising manager for womenswear. Following a reduction in spending by its Russian and Brazilian clientele, the store is focusing on tempting local customers to keep returning by offering new products or brands they will not find in other outlets.
For this reason it has decided to skip Las Vegas this year, where it usually finds stock for its nine flagship stores. “We are on the hunt for new brands that are not yet distributed elsewhere,” Ms Sunwoo explains.
Yancy Weinrich, senior vice-president of Reed Jewelry Group, which owns JCK, sees reason for optimism, however. The show is 3 per cent up in registered retailer attendees on last year and she is confident that people will be bringing their cheque books after slow trade in Basel and Hong Kong this spring.
“Historically, when the first quarter is slow, it makes for a good show for us,” Ms Weinrich says.
Joanne Teichman, co-owner of Dallas jewellery store Ylang 23, will be there but she is also experimenting with more specific ways to connect with customers. In April, the company opened its first pop-up shop in New York to meet clients who had previously only bought on its ecommerce site. “That level of engagement is priceless,” she says.
Many of today’s consumers are faced with tighter budgets as well as a multiplicity of brands and places to buy, both online and offline, so attracting — and holding — their attention is key. Sticking to trusted brands, stones, items or styles is one way of doing this, even when it is at the cost of innovation and adventure.
But Gannon Brousseau, vice-president of the Couture Show, does not agree. “New opportunities present themselves in uncertain times,” he says. “Those that are constantly innovating and finding new ways to excite their customers will ultimately prevail.”
Muse, a showroom in New York representing independent designers, will unveil a collection with mining company Gemfields, using its coloured gemstones in Muse designers’ classic and best-selling styles.
Jennifer Shanker, Muse’s founder, hopes the collaboration, which includes 120 products and accompanying marketing material, will provide stores with a ready-made merchandising narrative to convey to customers.
With boutique Twist and online store Moda Operandi having agreed to launch the collection during the show, “it’s about making life easier for our retailers”, says Ms Shanker. “I’m thinking about their limited spend and guiding them towards what’s proven to sell.”
Designers are adapting their strategies too. Jemma Wynne has been attending the Couture Show for eight years and after speaking to its existing retailers, the brand has decided to go back to basics this year. “It makes sense in a period of uncertainty that we should focus on our classic products,” says Stephanie Wynne Lalin, one of Jemma Wynne’s co-founders.
It will unveil new variations on its core bangle collection and focus on a lower price point between $800 and $5,000. “It makes for an easy self-purchase for customers,” Ms Lalin adds.
For many, the high end is where brands are enjoying the best growth. Claudia D’Arpizio, a partner at consultancy Bain & Co and lead author of its annual luxury report, believes this reflects the increasing concentration of global wealth among the super rich.
In her view, fine jewellery is one of the brighter spots in a tough luxury landscape since precious materials are viewed as a hard asset. “A high-end jewellery product will hold its value,” she says, adding that the category is particularly successful in fostering a sense of exclusivity among wealthy clients.
For the first time in 10 years, New York-based designer Nina Runsdorf is not exhibiting at the Couture Show. Acknowledging that such participation is important for emerging designers who want to establish a retail network, she is shifting her focus to developing an exclusive shopping experience for her premium customers.
UK designers are also making this shift. In its 10th year of business, Hannah Martin London, a fine jewellery house for men and women, is reducing its wholesale business in order to focus on engaging its wealthier clients with invitation-only events and limited-edition pieces. “We’ve found that exclusivity creates desirability,” says co-founder Nathan Morse.