Las Vegas. Aug. 28, 2021. It’s the first time the industry has gathered in Las Vegas for significant jewelry shows since June 2019, and a reduced crowd of grateful, appreciative, and jewelry-hungry exhibitors and buyers were there for it. Couture took place Aug. 24–26 in a newly expanded section of the Wynn. It used one ballroom of vendors (down from its usual two) plus its signature Design Atelier hallway of emerging talent and several private ballrooms for brands. AGTA Las Vegas, also in the Wynn, offered just 50 dealers to shop during the same period.
The mood was cautiously joyful—Covid-19 cases nationwide are climbing again. But those who ventured to the desert were genuinely happy to see each other after such a long time apart. The Covid-19 break offered opportunities for self-reflection, ample family time, a respite from a typical jewelry calendar year’s grueling regimen of trade shows, and the chance to reflect on what matters most. Happily, as the industry starts to dip its toes back into the waters of major trade show seasons, enough trade goers carefully reunited—everyone took mask-wearing seriously—to remind us why jewelry shows are important: touching, feeling, and trying on jewelry is a tactile experience, and we must meet in person to do so. How better to convey the beauty of a piece than to have the artist look you in the eye, just feet away, and passionately tell you his or her creative process while showing you all the intricate details of the latest designs? For sure, Zoom and Instagram Lives were a lifesaver for many during the past 18 months, but nothing can replace the magic that happens live between maker and collector when jewelry changes hands.
And jewels did change hands, during the pandemic and the shows. By now, we know that the lack of travel drove plenty of jewelry sales. Shuttered businesses drove many online, and homebound luxury consumers embraced bling on digital mediums, a point reinforced by recent data from the Mastercard SpendingPulse survey, which shows that jewelry sales in July alone were up 83% year over year. From personal charms and medallions with meaning, including zodiac signs, to $100,000 emerald rings (a sale Vendorafa made in the U.S. market in August 2020), high-end jewelry moved. “We got calls from stores in St. Barts saying they needed diamonds because people were not travelling and wanted to have something,” recollects Massimo Zerbini of the Italian brand.
It’s a phenomenon with which Andrea Riso of Talisman Collection in El Dorado Hills, Calif., is acquainted. “I’ve never been so busy in my life,” she explained at Couture on day two. “I thought for sure no one would ever buy jewelry again, but people sought me out.”
Rosanne Karmes of Sydney Evans says the momentum hasn’t stopped. “We’ve been packed every day of the show, we’ve had good sales.”
Lisa Nik of the eponymous jewelry line is also pleased. “After the initial panic of the pandemic, people wanted to talk about high-end jewelry,” she explains. “In 2020, I did the same business without the travel, and this year we’re way up in sales. Jewelers need merchandise.”
At AGTA, CEO Doug Hucker pointed out his traffic numbers on a spreadsheet, pleased that 1,000 buyers had come through show doors on day one. “Traffic was down but buyers were serious,” he says.
Among AGTA exhibitors, sentiment was mixed. Kimberly Collins had phenomenal sales on day one, but other exhibitors were less enthused. Of the disappointed, many said it was to be expected because it was the first show in the post Covid-19 era. Among items that moved: aquamarine, tourmaline, mixed-color sapphires, rubellite, and bigger stones.
“We’ve been selling more unusual gems,” says Dave Bindra of B & B Fine Gems, who had a nearly 60 carat green heart-shape African paraiba tourmaline at his booth. “We’re optimistic for fourth quarter.”
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