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Upbeat JCK sees Renewed Emphasis on Millennials and Customisation

This year's JCK, one of North America's leading jewellery and watch trade events, was notable for increased optimism among buyers and exhibitors, as well as a distinct focus on wooing the difficult-to-please Millennial Generation.

Photo: Luxury jewellery: Back in demand as purse strings loosen.
Luxury jewellery: Back in demand as purse strings loosen.
Photo: Luxury jewellery: Back in demand as purse strings loosen.
Luxury jewellery: Back in demand as purse strings loosen.

JCK Las Vegas, the flagship event of Jewelry Market Week, a Las Vegas fixture every June, relocated to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center this year. Overall, the show was seen as a distinct success, proving considerably more upbeat than the BaselWorld International Watch and Jewelry Fair in March. The mood was notably more optimistic, while attendance was on par with previous years, and purse strings seemed to have loosened compared to 2015.

This year, the show took the opportunity to revamp its exhibit floor, introducing new "neighbourhoods" for an easier shopping experience. It also extended the lineup of the JCK Rising Stars at the new Design Center and organised a dedicated Kickstarter area, featuring top design students, many funded by online campaigns. In another move, Luxury, JCK's high-end event, opened its doors to an invitation-only crowd, allowing them to spend three days wandering ballrooms bedazzled with serious sparkling power.

In 2015, sales of fine jewellery and watches totalled US$66.5 billion in the US, with an estimated $20 billion spent in November and December alone. This 2.4% upswing marked something of a turnaround from the previous two years, a time when sales dipped 1.9% and 1.2%, as recorded in US Department of Commerce data. According to a number of analysts, this growth has been fuelled by a decline in precious-metal prices, as well as a softening of polished-diamond costs due to high inventory levels.

Bullish about the prospects for this year, many of the US exhibitors at JCK noted a healthy interest among attendees. Highlighting this, Roger Pessah, Founder of Elliott Chandler Design, a San Francisco-based custom jeweller, said: "Where customers once used to order just two pieces, they now order three. They're also more likely to buy a conversation piece that wouldn't necessarily have been for sale."

At present, Pessah says the top sellers in his store are a sea-inspired collection of seashell pendants encrusted with diamonds. Other popular items include stretch wedding bands and rings based on surgical-steel springs.

Made with Love

For the coming year, sea-inspired pieces, with fluid lines and ocean tones, are expected to be in particular demand. This, at least, was the prediction made by Trendvision Jewellery+Forecasting, part of Italy's Fiera di Vicenza, in its Trendbook 2017+. Buyers should also be on the lookout for regal and sparkling "Crown Jewels" and "Raw Sophistication" pieces, items where "colour and organic abstraction enhance the beauty of coloured diamonds".

The displays at the new Italian jewellery pavilion, VicenzaOro Italian Passion. Made With Love, featured jewellery said to be inspired by global luxury trends. From the subtle sophistication of The New Thinker and a nod to history from The Retronaut, to the fractal realities that inspired The Illusionist, to a fascination with faraway places captured by The Geonaut, each reflected a different aspect of the contemporary fashion mindset.

Emphasising the importance of keeping up with consumer expectations, Paola De Luca, Creative Director of Trendvision, said: "It's not just about colour, the long hoop, or the short hoop. It's about business. It's crucial to be ahead of the season."

Photo: Style meets pop at this year’s event.
Style meets pop at this year's event.
Photo: Style meets pop at this year’s event.
Style meets pop at this year's event.
Photo: Trendvision’s 2016/17 trend display.
Trendvision's 2016/17 trend display.
Photo: Trendvision’s 2016/17 trend display.
Trendvision's 2016/17 trend display.

Among the upcoming trends, she singled out a rising interest in Egyptian flavours and a growing attraction to ancient history. She said: "Egypt was very much celebrated during the Art Deco time. Scarab beetles were done by Cartier. Similar things are happening again."

She was also keen to highlight the growing influence of the digital society, saying: "It's especially evident in Asia, in the way people dress, in minimalism, the pixel feeling. In Hong Kong, people put on lipstick using their phone as a mirror. We don't do that in the West. For them, technology is an extension of the body.

"The rise of Chinese fashion designers is also having a growing influence on jewellery and a number other areas. They're proud of their heritage and they're hungry for design and beauty."

Millennial Bridal

Currently one of the largest consumer forces in the US, the Millennial Generation is one jewellery retailers are increasingly keen to access. In their early thirties, such individuals are now actively in the market for bridal jewellery. As with many other things in their lives, they won't settle for a run-of-the-mill piece. Notorious for wanting things overnight, they're also willing to spend months researching engagement rings. This sees them following designers on Instagram, reading forums on Pricescope and trying on rings at several retail stores. They might even buy their diamonds and settings separately after an online price analysis.

This presents both threats and opportunities for retailers. Ryan Blumenthal, owner of Corinne Jewelers in New Jersey, said: "The Millennial Generation is very well-informed. By the time they show up in your store, they will have spent the whole week researching online on multiple different websites and blogs. They are still showing up in your store, though, because they need you to help them. They have a general idea, but are much happier working with an expert to help them get the ring of their dreams."

Among the hot topics at the show for millennial brides were non-traditional choices and the customised use of edgy designs and coloured stones, especially sapphires, garnets, tanzanite and emeralds. Conner Buxton, the Owner of C.M. Buxton Jeweler & Rare Coins in Montana, said: "Couples are looking for something that's unique and new and really kind of artsy. Their average budget ranges between $1,200 and $2,800."

Alternative bridal is spreading like wildfire, according to Brittany Siminitz, JCK's Marketplace Manager. Drilling down to the concept behind this, she said: "This can mean an uncommon setting, a centre-stone that isn't a brilliant diamond, the use of, or basically anything you can think of, to break the rules. Traditional isn't the only player in this game.

"There is also a move by some bridal companies to expand their collections into pendants and earrings, creating an extension of their bridal lines as an add-on to the sale. Such pieces could work as a later purchase for an anniversary or be packaged with an engagement ring or wedding band sale of the same collection."

Pieces with Superpowers

Traditionally, JCK has been a launch pad for new designers and creative ideas. The ones that seem to find the most success are those not solely focussed on artistic value, but rather those who come with a distinctive story behind their brand, or even one just associated with an individual piece. A case in point here would be Carla Marina Sardeira, the founder of New York-based Sardeira, an individual who managed to strike a distinct rapport with many of the buyers in attendance this year.

Originally from Mozambique, Sardeira took her inspiration from a number of animals she had encountered during a walking safari. This saw her create a line of printed medallions, each depicting an animal and its particular strength.

Explaining the genesis of the collection, she said: "I watched a warthog being rescued from a trap and it made me think of resilience. So that's what I put on the medallion. Be resilient. It's a way for people to connect to that quality."

Photo: The Accessories Council: A dedicated platform for new designers
The Accessories Council: A dedicated platform for new designers.
Photo: The Accessories Council: A dedicated platform for new designers
The Accessories Council: A dedicated platform for new designers.

JCK Las Vegas took place in Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas from 3-6 June. It showcased more than 2,100 companies across 485,000 square feet and attracted some 21,900 buyers.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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