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Friday, July 29, 2011

Former Fred Leighton Owner Sentenced to Six Years in Prison

Former owner of Fred Leighton Jewelry, Ralph Esmerian, on February 19, 2007.  Photo credit: Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images

Ralph Esmerian, the former owner and chairman of Manhattan-based luxury jewelry retailer Fred Leighton Holdings Inc., was sentenced in Manhattan federal court to six years in prison for wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud, and concealment of assets in connection with a scheme to embezzle and double-pledge collateral  estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars, Preet Bhara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced.

Esmerian used the assets to secure more than $210 million in loans to finance his business operations and to purchase Fred Leighton in 2005, which served as a retail outlet for the inventory of his company, R. Esmerian Inc.

U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote also ordered Esmerian to forfeit $20 million and perform 1,800 hours of community service. In imposing the sentence on July 22, Cote said that Esmerian “lived a life of fraud and deceit on a massive scale.”

In April, Esmerian pled guilty to the crimes. Under the plea agreement, he faced from 97 months to ten years in prison, according to reports.

“Ralph Esmerian tried to game the financial system and the bankruptcy process for years to finance his businesses,” U.S. attorney Bhara said. “As a result of his frauds, the lenders who trusted him have lost tens of millions of dollars.”

Fred Leighton specializes in vintage jewelry and is often referred to as the “Jeweler to the Stars,” where its museum-quality jewelry, rare artifacts and gems are often found on well-known actors and celebrities during “Red Carpet” events. New York-based jewelry manufacturer and retailer, Kwiat, purchased Fred Leighton in 2009. (pictured left: Amy Adams in Fred Leighton 1950s bib necklace—made up of approximately 630 carats of emeralds, rubies and sapphires. Photo credit: John Shearer/WireImage)

According to the criminal complaint filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and statements made in court, Esmerian estimated his inventory to be worth approximately $192.3 million as of December 2006. He financed the purchase of Fred Leighton and REI's business operations by obtaining at least $217 million in loans from Merrill Lynch Mortgage Capital, Inc., Acorn Capital Group, LLC and other sources. In 2005 and 2006, he borrowed approximately $177 million from Merrill Lynch, using as security the inventory of Fred Leighton and a collection of rare jewelry, artifacts and antiquities. However, by the time Esmerian entered into the 2006 loan agreements, he had secretly sold some of the pledged collateral which he estimated to be worth over $3.4 million. Soon thereafter, without informing Merrill Lynch, and what the court deemed to be in violation of the loan agreements, Esmerian sold an additional $1.6 million worth of Merrill Lynch's collateral, and double-pledged over $6 million worth of additional collateral to help secure a $40 million loan from Acorn.

In January 2008, the New York State Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order, which “Esmerian repeatedly violated by secretly selling additional Merrill Lynch collateral and converting the proceeds to his own use,” according to the U.S. attorney’s statement.

On April 15, 2008, Esmerian caused Fred Leighton to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In the course of the bankruptcy proceeding, despite orders of the bankruptcy court, “Esmerian repeatedly and systematically embezzled tens of millions of dollars worth of property of Fred Leighton and related debtor entities, sold that property, and kept the proceeds for himself or to pay off other debts,” according the U.S. attorney’s statement.

Among the Merrill Lynch collateral he sold, were a 13-ct. Burma ruby and diamond ring with an estimated worth of $2.94 million, he sold for $2 million; and rare butterfly brooch consisting of hundreds of virtually flawless colored diamonds valued at approximately $2.45 million.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bulgari First Half 2011 Sales Up 23%

First half 2011 sales for the Bulgari Group increased 23.6 percent, year-over-year, at current exchange rates to 548 million euro ($784 million). At comparable exchange rates the increase was 23.3 percent. The luxury jewelry house reported an operating profit of 15.3 million euro ($21.8) and a net profit of 9.1 million euro ($13 million) for the period.

During the first six months of the year, all product categories contributed to the growth, the Rome-based company said. Jewelry sales increased 20.2 percent at current exchange rates to 243 million euro ($347.6 million) due to the strong sales of its B.zero1, its high-jewelry line; a new ceramics collections; and Sassi, its medium-high end collection.

Watch sales grew 26 percent for the period to 111.1 million euro ($159 million), led by the “excellent results” of its women’s watch, Serpenti, and its complicated men’s models, including new versions of its Octo model.

Perfume and cosmetics sales increased 27 percent to 129.7 million euro ($185.5) for the period, led by the new launches of Mon Jasmin Noir and MAN. Accessories segment sales grew by 24.2 percent.

All geographical areas “performed exceedingly well” for the first-half 2011 period, the company said. Sales in Europe grew 18.6 percent (Italy increased 11.1 percent), the Americas were up 16.1 percent and Japan increased 4.6 percent. Sales for the rest of Asia grew by 44.2 led by a 59.5 percent growth in sales in mainland China. Sales in the Middle East and other areas increased 34.3 percent.

In March, Bulgari announced that Paris-based luxury conglomerate, LVMH, acquired a majority stake in the company. The two companies are in the process of working through the legal and logistical hurdles to bring Bulgari into the LVMH group.

Record Sales at Swatch Group, but Strong Swiss Franc Cuts Margins

Watch and jewelry sales at the Swatch Group rose 24 percent at constant exchange rates to 2.9 billion Swiss francs ($3.6 billion) for the first half of 2011. At current exchange rates the increase was 13.3 percent for the six-month period. Total sales increased 24.2 percent at constant exchange rates to a record $3.36 billion Swiss francs ($4.17 billion). At current exchange rates the increase was 13.3 percent.

The Biel/Bienne-based company owns 19 watch and jewelry brands and also produces watch components and electronics, has its own distribution network, its own retail stores and owns and manages museums for some of its better-known watch brands.

“This very positive growth spanned all major regions and all price segments. Key contributory factors included not only a combination of strong brands and expansion of the distribution and retail network, but also the Production segment, which increased its gross sales by a massive +28.5% at constant rates,” the company, which owns 19 brands, said in a statement.

The company, as shown by the growth difference between constant and current exchange rates, has been hampered by the Swiss franc which has gained 31 percent in value against the U.S. dollar. The company said the impact of the rising currency amounted to a loss of 387 million Swiss francs ($481.4 million) or 12.8 percent.

“The overvalued Swiss franc reduces margins at the Group’s foreign distribution companies, while the high volatility makes exchange-rate related price adjustments difficult,” the company said. “The strength and volatility of the Swiss franc have to be considered as extremely problematic for Switzerland.”

Its operating profit for the first-half of 2011 increased 20.8 percent to a record $756 million Swiss francs ($940.5 million), with an operating margin of 23.7 percent. Net income increased 24.5 percent to 579 million Swiss francs ($720.3 million), representing 18.2 of net sales for the first half of 2011.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Survey: Consumer Confidence Among the Affluent Drops Sharply

The top 20 percent of households by income are no longer feeling confident about economic conditions in the U.S. and are spending far less, according to a quarterly survey of the affluent consumers.

The Unity Marketing Luxury Consumption Index took its steepest quarterly plunge since the recession (between fourth quarter 2007 to first quarter 2008), falling 16.8 points to bottom out at 66 points. This is significantly lower than the previous period’s 82.8 points. The LCI currently stands close to the level attained at the onset of the 2007-2008 recession.

"Consumer confidence among the affluent (which account for 40 percent of consumer spending) has fallen sharply since the beginning of 2011,” said Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, which runs the survey. “Not since the middle of 2009 has it been so low.”

The survey of 1,272 consumers with an average income of $301,000 and an average net worth of $856,000 was conducted July 6-13.

“If those at the top income levels feel stressed and unwilling to spend, imagine what it says about people living in middle-income households,” Danziger said. “We stand on the precipice of a double-dip recession, if the affluent consumer’s confidence doesn't turn up in the next quarter.”

Corresponding to the decline in luxury consumer confidence, the average amount spent by affluent consumers on luxury goods and services in the second quarter 2011 declined by 8.4 percent from the first quarter and dropped 18.4 percent over same quarter last year.

High net worth consumers (defined in the survey as having $1 million or more of investible assets and representing some 47 percent of those surveyed) have more to spend on luxury, as the high earners make do without. According to the survey, 42 percent of high net worth consumers expect to increase their spending on luxury goods as compared to 14 percent of high-wage earning affluents.

“The high net worth consumers in our sample feel significantly more confident about their financial status than those with lower net worth,” Danziger said.

“Market pundits have been telling us that the 2007-2009 recession has run its course, and that it was only a matter of time before this event would have diffused into the consumer economy. However, this is not the case, borne out by continued weakness in consumer sentiment,” said Tom Bodenberg, Unity Marketing's chief consumer economist. “On the other hand, the stock market has shown firm, almost counter-intuitive strength as many organizations report high earnings. The rise in the stock market translates into a rise in the investment portfolios of luxury goods consumers, which translates into greater discretionary spending, especially among the high net worth segment, as distinguished from the high earners who are holding their spending in check,” Bodenberg said.

Danziger added, “Increasingly income alone is not an accurate measure of a household's spending power. In the current economy many high-earning households are living pay check to pay check just like those in the middle-income brackets. Once the monthly expenses are met, the lower net worth affluents don't have much left over with which to indulge in luxury.”

LVMH Increases Stake in Hermès

LVMH continues to slowly add to its ownership of Hermès International saying it now owns 21.4 percent of the Parisian luxury jewelry house, up from 20.2 percent. Company representatives made the announcement Tuesday during LVMH's half-year earnings report conference call with investors and journalists.

Bernard Arnault
In October 2010, LVMH shocked the luxury and investment industries and enraged the family that owns Hermès by announcing that it bought a 14 percent stake in the firm in a complex derivatives trade that occurred years earlier without public knowledge and resulted in the purchase of the shares at less than half of the market value. Bernard Arnault, LVMH chairman and CEO, said at the time LVMH would continue to buy more shares but did not intend to take control, to make a public offer for the company nor to seek seats on the board.

Two months later LVMH announced that it has increased its holdings on Hermès to 20.2 percent. During this time descendants of Hermès founder Thierry Hermes, who between them hold 73.4 percent of the company's capital, first demanded that LVMH sell its shares then took the unusual step of pooling their shares into a separate holding company. In January, they received the approval of the French stock market regulator to do this. Based on previous statements by the family members in published reports, the new holding company will have more than 50 percent of the capital and have first right of refusal on the remaining shares held directly by the family.

LVMH Watch and Jewelry Sales Up 30%

LVMH’s watches and jewelry business group benefited from sustained demand across all regions during the first half of 2011. Reported sales rose 30 percent to 576 million euros ($831 million). Organic revenue, when currency fluctuations and other nonrecurring events are removed, grew by 27 percent. It was the Paris-based luxury conglomerate’s top performer in terms of sales growth among its six business divisions.

Profit from recurring operations for the business group rose by a staggering 73 percent to 85 million euros ($122.6 million) for the first half of 2011.

By region, watch and jewelry sales for the period increased 52 percent in Asia, 29 percent in Europe, 28 percent in the U.S. and 8 percent in Japan. This business group is made up of Swiss luxury watch brands, Tag Heuer, Zenith and Hublot; Parisian timepiece and pen designer, Dior Montres; Parisian luxury jewelry houses FRED, Chaumet; and De Beers Jewellery (the diamond jewelry retail arm of the mining giant, which operates in a joint agreement with LVMH).

LVMH said TAG Heuer revenue grew significantly due to its automatic chronograph made with the 1887 caliber movement, a new women’s range of the Formula 1 line of timepieces, and the selective opening of TAG Heuer stores. At Hublot, the latest models from the King Power line were delivered with new Unico movements made by its manufacture. Zenith confirmed the strong demand of its new collections. Dior launched with “extraordinary success” the Dior VIII watch. Chaumet, FRED and De Beers all achieved good performances in their own store networks.

The watches and jewelry division makes up about 5.6 percent of LVMH’s total sales, but that is about to change soon as it absorbs Bulgari into its company. LVMH bought a 76.1 percent controlling stake in the Italian jewelry house in March and it is in the process of finalizing the transaction.

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s leading luxury products group, divides its business into the following groups: Wine & Spirits, Fashion & Leather Goods, Perfume & Cosmetics, Watches & Jewelry, Selective Retailing and Other Activities. It’s brands from its divisions (other than jewelry and watches) include Moët & Chandon, Louis Vuitton, Guerlain, Sephora and Groupe Les Echos media group.

LVMH’s total revenue for the first half of 2010 was 10.3 billion euros ($14.8 billion), an increase of 13 percent. Organic revenue growth was 15 percent. All business groups contributed to this performance, “which is even more remarkable coming on top of the strong growth in the first half of 2010,” the company said. Sustained growth was reported in the U.S., Europe and Asia, despite the uncertain economic conditions.

Profit from recurring operations for the period, ended June 30, rose to 2.2 billion euros ($3.2 billion), an increase of 22 percent compared to the same period in 2010. Current operating margin reached 22 percent, an improvement on the first half of 2010. Group share of net profit increased 25 percent to 1 3 billion euros ($1.8 billion).

“LVMH’s excellent performance in the first half, once again, demonstrates the exceptional appeal of our brands, the attraction of our high quality artisanal products and the pertinence of our strategy,” said Bernard Arnault, LVMH chairman and CEO. “We approach the second half of the year with confidence and are relying upon the creativity and quality of our products as well as the effectiveness of our teams to pursue further market share gains in our historical markets as well as in high potential emerging markets.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Slight Gain in Consumer Conference Index for July

Kim Kardashian shopping in Beverly Hills. Photo credit:
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, which had declined in June, improved slightly in July. The Index now stands at 59.5 (1985=100), up from 57.6 in June. The Present Situation Index decreased to 35.7 from 36.6. The Expectations Index rose to 75.4 from 71.6 last month.

“Consumer confidence posted a modest gain in July, the result of an improvement in consumers’ short-term outlook,” said Lynn Franco, The Conference Board Consumer Research Center director. “Consumers’ appraisal of current business and employment conditions, however, was less favorable as concerns about the labor market continue to weigh on consumers’ attitudes. Overall, consumers remain apprehensive about the future, but some of the concern expressed last month has abated.”

Consumers' assessment of current day conditions weakened further in July. Those stating business conditions are “good” decreased to 13.4 percent from 13.7 percent, while those claiming business conditions are “bad” increased to 39 percent from 38.4 percent, according to the monthly report. Consumers’ appraisal of the job market was also less favorable. Those claiming jobs are “hard to get” increased to 44.1 percent from 43.2 percent, while those stating jobs are “plentiful” remained unchanged at 5.1 percent.

Consumers’ short-term outlook improved moderately in July. The proportion of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 17.7 percent from 16.5 percent. However, those anticipating business conditions will worsen also increased, to 15.2 percent from 14.9 percent.

Consumers were also mixed about the outlook for the labor market over the next six months. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased to 16.7 percent from 13.8 percent. However, those expecting fewer jobs also increased to 21.8 percent from 20.7 percent. The proportion of consumers anticipating an increase in their incomes rose to 15.7 percent from 14.1 percent.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by The Nielsen Company. The cutoff date for July’s preliminary results was July 14.

De Beers Reports Record Rough Diamond Sales

Rough diamonds image courtesy of De Beers Group

De Beers Group said Tuesday that sales of rough diamonds during the first half of 2011 through the Diamond Trading Company (the rough diamond distribution arm of the De Beers) increased 33 percent, year-over-year, to $3.5 billion This is the highest ever sales figure recorded for the first half of the year, buoyed by continued retail demand from the Indian and Chinese consumer markets and stronger than expected demand in America.

The company, which produces more than a third of the world’s rough diamonds, also reported record EBITDA of almost $1.2 billion, a 55 percent increase over the first the first half of 2010, reflecting the impact of “excellent” price growth during the period ended June 30. It predicts continued demand for the remainder of 2011.

“Sales during the period have been exceptional, driven mainly by continued growth in the Middle East, Indian and Asian retail markets and their impact on rough price growth,” De Beers said in a statement. Despite the ongoing turmoil with the global economy, we are encouraged by the continued strong growth in price and demand during the first six months of 2011. De Beers is confident that the exceptional growth in retail markets in India and Asia will continue to drive demand for diamonds.”

The company also said that reports from the recent jewelry tradeshows in Las Vegas “indicate that the all-important Christmas season in the U.S., and Diwali, are set to be strong.”

At a De Beers board meeting in Luxembourg on July 19, Philippe Mellier was appointed CEO of the De Beers Group. The company announced in May that he was being appointed. In the same meeting, Stuart Brown, CFO, said he would be resigning from the board, which will take effect at the end of July. He was with Be Beers for almost 20 years.

De Beers—which owns mines in South Africa, Botswana, Canada and Namibia—said it has continued to focus on efficiency improvements and on maintaining a lower sustainable level of overhead base, which it says has helped the bottom line. In the first six months of 2011, De Beers’ production totaled 15.53 million carats, an increase of 100,000 carats over the same period in 2010.

In its retail activities for the first-half of the year, Forevermark, the De Beers Group owned diamond brand, continues to expand into the retail markets of China, Hong Kong and Japan, and has recently launched in India, Singapore and the Caribbean. The brand is now available in a small number of stores in the U.S., with further expansion planned later this year. During the same period, De Beers Diamond Jewellers (De Beers’ joint venture with LVMH) announced the launch of the brand in China with the opening of its first mainland store in Beijing, its first store in Kazakhstan in Almaty and a new store in Dubai. The company will continue to expand in 2011 with in China and Hong Kong.
Element Six, De Beers Group industrial diamond group, “recorded a good first half performance in respect of both sales and profitability, with robust demand across its product ranges,” De Beers said in its earnings report. “Operating performance was impacted by, inter alia, operating challenges and a weak US dollar, but Element Six is well positioned for the remainder of the year.”

Monday, July 25, 2011

Swiss Watches Exports Up 19.3% led by Growth in Asia

The entrance to the main watch hall at Baselworld, the world's largest watch and jewelry fair held in Basel, Switzerland.  Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

The Swiss watch brand is as strong as ever and shows no sign of losing its luster.

Following the recovery of 2010, watch exports in the first half of 2011 showed a year-over-year increase of 19.3 percent to 8.7 billion Swiss francs ($10.8 billion), according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH). Last year’s level was surpassed by more than 1.4 billion francs ($1.7 billion), placing the sector above 2008 export levels.

All of the Swiss watch industry’s main markets recorded a positive trend in the first half of the year. Asia (24.3 percent) increased at a higher rate than Europe (13.3 percent) or America (16.6 percent). It accounted for 54.4 percent of all Swiss watch exports.

Hong Kong was by far the largest market for Swiss watches for the first six months of the year, up 23.6 percent to 1.74 billion Swiss francs ($2.16 billion). The U.S. was the second biggest market up 19.6 percent for the period to 906.3 million Swiss francs ($1.1 billion). China moved up one place in the ranking after recording a 47.8 percent increase in growth (the highest increase across the board) to 715.1 million francs ($890 million). Singapore, South Korea and Thailand also made strong showings between January and June, the FH said. The Middle East also proved very attractive for Swiss watch manufacturers. Japan continued its gradual recovery and ended the half-year on a positive note despite the earthquake in March. In Europe, the positive assessment allowed for different interpretations according to markets. France continued to be influenced by products in transit and therefore recorded growth higher than the world average. Other markets on the Old Continent showed less marked changes.

All months showed double-digit levels of growth for the period. April and May exports rose by more than 30 percent. However, the FH warned that the strong Swiss franc is having a serious impact on margins for watch companies, forcing many to raise prices. However, even with this concern the industry forecasts sustained growth for the second half of the year.

Wristwatches made up the lion’s share of clock and watch industry exports. Their value amounted to 8.1 billion francs ($10 billion) in the first half-year, an increase of 19.6 percent compared to January-June 2010. This growth was supported by a high volume of timepieces. During the first six months of the year, Swiss manufacturers exported 14 million watches, an increase of 2.6 million units (22.5 percent) compared to the same period in 2010.

Gold watches played an important role in terms of growth by value, while in volume terms, steel and the category of other materials did most to underpin the general increase.

All price segments recorded double-digit growth, both in value and volume terms. The 200-500 franc category (export price) registered an increase of more than 30 percent, according to industry figures. Watches costing less than 200 francs accounted for more than 70 percent of exports in volume terms. Timepieces costing more than 3,000 francs showed a flat progression at a high level.

Other watchmaking products exported by Switzerland also recorded increases. Their overall value rose to 561.4 million francs (15.9 percent). Exports of movements saw their value increase by 9.9 percent, while alarm clocks and other clocks lost ground (-46.4 percent).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hublot is Still Making Noise with its Big Bang Watches

Mathilde Krim, amfAR chairman, and Jean-Claude Biver, Hublot CEO, at the opening of the Hublot New York boutique on May 11. Krim is holding the Big Bang Magic amFAR timepiece.
A few years ago Swiss luxury watch company, Hublot, introduced its Million Dollar Big Bang watch, a tourbillon timepiece covered with diamonds. It was big hit, generating a great amount of press and interest and leading the company, headed by the flamboyant Jean-Claude Biver, to create other editions of the timepiece. Recently, the company unveiled several new pieces to the collection. They include the following:

Three Million Dollar Big Bang. This is a timepiece with blinding bling and superior function. The 18k white-gold bracelet, the visible parts of the watchcase and the dial are paved with more than 637 baguette diamonds, weighing more than 140 carats. The creation required 45 gemcutters and 2,000 hours of work by master gemsetters to cover this watch in diamonds. The watch also contains an in-house made caliber HUB 6003 manually wound tourbillon movement with off-centered time display.

Big Bang Leopard. For the ladies, there’s a version of the Big Bang that is feminine and wild. The strap is covered in a leopard print made of denim. The dial, in the same leopard print, is enhanced with yellow diamond hour markers. The case and bezel are made of 18k red gold. The bezel is set with smoked quartz, andalusites and citrine stones. The 41 mm watch contains an HUB4300 automatic chronograph movement.

Big Bang Black Caviar. Made entirely from ceramic, it is 30 percent lighter than steel. The watch is scratchproof, anti-allergenic, unalterable and rust-proof, including the crown and dial. The design is inspired by the One Million Dollar Black Caviar Big Bang (covered with more than 500 black diamonds weighing 34.5 cts.) using the concept of “invisible visibility,” designed to blend in to the background while still being visibly bold. It is bedecked in uniform shades of black with its ceramic reliefs designed, cut, beveled and polished like the baguette black diamonds of its more expensive sibling. The 41 mm diameter timepiece is equipped with an HUB1112 automatic mechanical movement. It has a date window at 3 o'clock and comes with a black rubber strap. It also has a 42-hour power reserve and is water resistant to 100 meters.

Big Bang All Black Carbon. Completely black, completely matt, and true to Hublot's concept of "invisible visibility," this is the first time that a Big Bang watch is made entirely from carbon fiber. Its black HUB4100 movement (black PVD, ruthenium and black gold coating) extends the all black carbon concept to the whole piece, for a light, stealthy look. It comes with a black alligator gummy strap with a black natural rubber inner surface.

Big Bang Magic amFAR. This is a 100-piece limited edition watch created to support the amfAR global struggle against HIV/AIDS. The design celebrates the organization’s 25th anniversary. The watch has a 44 mm black ceramic case and bezel and houses a self-winding chronograph movement and rubber-alligator strap with the amfAR colors and logo. Biver and amfAR founding chairman, Mathilde Krim, unveiled the watch at the opening of its New York City Boutique on May 11.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Swarovski Teams with Chamilia for Personalized Bead Collection

Swarovski Blue Brown Bracelet

It’s not often that the famed crystal company Swarovski partners with others. In fact, the Austrian firm that uses its brand to produce everything from crystal keepsakes to resort spas may never have been in a joint collaboration before in its 116 year history. This has now changed.

Swarovski Pink Drop Chain
Swarovski says it understands that fashion savvy consumers want to wear unique products that express their personality and style; so it has decided to join forces with Chamilia, the Minneapolis-based personalized jewelry company, to present a joint collection of beads that customers can mix and match to design their own creations.

The co-branded collection integrates Swarovski’s crystal faceting skills with Chamilia’s fashion sense, says Michael Paxton, Chamilia president and CEO. A total of 205 crafted beads have been designed with a range of colors and themes. The glow of precision cut crystal stones are enhanced with sterling silver, refined and on-trend, providing customers with many possibilities.

Swarovski Brilliance Green Earrings
The collection will be available beginning in August in approximately 400 Swarovski stores in the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland. With a price range from $30 to $100, the collection is designed to appeal to a variety of women.

Swarovski and Chamilia say it will be long-term collaboration.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Second Act of Marina B

Marina B sapphire choker

The Midtown Manhattan headquarters of Windsor Jewelers is located on the 16th floor of a typical office building near Union Station. Inside the orderly, clean space there’s an area dedicated to Marina B jewelry. The brand was extremely popular with the jet-set crowd from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but for more than a decade has been left largely dormant. It is here in this office where much of the brand now resides in neatly organized boxes, binders, bound books and plastic containers and the work to re-launch it takes place.

Thierry Chaunu, Marina B director
Thierry Chaunu has been charged with bringing the brand back to life. The native of France has been a force in the luxury jewelry and watch industry for many years—serving in corporate leadership positions in some of the most well-known luxury goods companies in the world, including Leviev, Chopard, Christofle and Cartier.

Wearing a light brown casual suit, unbuttoned blue shirt on a hot humid July day, he talks about life beyond the corporate world, the enjoyment of being an entrepreneur and the challenge of working with this brand.

“What’s amazing with Marina B’s re-launch and reposition is that it is an iconic brand that has been a sleeping beauty for the past ten years or so,” Chaunu said. “To have an opportunity where I can represent something like this to the world, that’s what I find exciting.”

Marina B emerald Coeur earrings

In the office, he and Isabelle Kellogg, the high-energy public relations representative for the brand, take turns disappearing into nooks and crannies of the space and returning with books, binders and other materials that represent the brand, excitedly talking about each item even as they disappear to bring back something else. Inside a three-ring overstuffed black binder are the original jewelry drawings of Marina Bulgari, the founder and head designer of the Marina B brand. Another bulging, black, three-ring binder contains original jewelry molds, stored in zip lock plastic bags. A small closet space contains large bound books with magazine advertisements, editorial stories and other published works about the brand from all over the world. Categorizing the materials has been a major part of the operation.

Then there’s the white, man-size safe. Inside, are large plastic bins containing the original jewelry from the brand—again stored neatly inside zip lock bags. Several pieces are large 18k gold pieces that were made at a time when gold was trading at about $300 an ounce. Today, gold costs upward of $1,600 an ounce. So taking the current price of gold into consideration you’re talking about a five-fold price increase in cost without even accounting for the design and craftsmanship of each piece. They are basically priced out of the larger market and left for those who collect Marina B jewelry.

Marina B Fuji bracelet

Chaunu started the job in October 2010, not long after Windsor Jewelers CEO Paul Lubetsky purchased the brand from Saudi Arabian sheik of Jeddah, Ahmed Fitaihi, who bought the brand from Marina Bulgari in 1999. During that time it was sold primarily in his home country and had largely vanished from much of the Western world. Chaunu sees this as a positive in rebuilding the brand.

“The brand was pretty much left intact image wise,” Chaunu said. However, he noted that he was working with a “blank page.” He needed to decide what pieces of jewelry to recreate and had other questions about maintain the heritage of the brand. One of the first things he did was go straight to the original source of the brand: Marina Bulgari.

At 82 years of age, Bulgari is happily retired in Monaco. As her name implies, she was part of the iconic Italian jewelry house, Bulgari. She was the granddaughter of the company’s founder. She along with her sister, Anna, assumed central management and design roles within Bulgari. However, Marina famously left the company in 1976 shortly after her father died and two years later opened her first boutique in Milan. Her voluminous, bold, and colorful jewelry soon became the choice of movie stars like Sophia Loren, and other women of international society and best-dressed lists.

Chaunu and Marina Bulgari met in Milan in October 2010. He found her to be helpful and supportive.

“She is a fit, feisty woman with a very strong personality just like her jewelry,” he said. “She is a legend, one of the most prolific designers in the jewelry industry and it was fitting, I think, to meet with her and tell her what we are doing. She was very kind to give us encouragement and in some cases to indicate her favorite jewelry…. She couldn’t have been nicer. It will always be her baby and it’s important for her to know that it will be in good hands and that we will carry on the legacy.”

The re-launched jewelry brand was unveiled in February with basically two collections: A vintage line of the original Marina B pieces; and a line of recreated pieces from the original molds and drawings of Marina Bulgari, and manufactured in accordance with the brand’s original standards and produced by many of the original craftsmen.

The collections were showcased to the jewelry industry during the June tradeshows in Las Vegas. The response was positive, according to Chaunu. In fact, Neiman Marcus will be showing the collection in nine of its stores.

“They loved it and embraced it because there’s nothing like that in the market today as elegant and bold," he said.

In addition, an exhibition of Marina B vintage pieces will go on a tour of Neiman Marcus stores. It will include one-of-kind pieces, some of which have been purchased at auction and estate sales by Lubetsky. The company is also keeping a single piece of each vintage jewelry line that will be included in the exhibition, along with the larger gold pieces mentioned earlier whose value have surpassed the marketplace.

The exhibition is a way to show consumers the heritage of the brand. Another way the company is doing this is to include a famed reproduction of the Marina Bulgari drawing of the jewelry piece they purchased.

“They’re buying a heritage and a piece of tradition,” he said. “We feel that it’s a show of appreciation to the clientele who will value this as a piece of history and proof of the heritage of this piece.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Galatea’s Queen Bead Carved Pearl Designs

Queen Bead Queen Bracelet

Chi Huynh is both a jeweler and an artist. His canvas and his muse are pearls. Already beautiful in their own right, he takes each individual pearl and carves designs in them or he pairs them with precious metals and gemstones in unusual ways to create individual works of art. The results are quite striking, as detailed and refined as any artist or craftsman who works with more traditional materials.

Queen Bead Levitation Hope Necklace
Huynh’s company, Galatea: Jewelry by Artist, has introduced a new collection that capitalizes on the popularity of jewelry with interchangeable beads. Called the Queen Bead Collection, it offers a way to create dramatic cultured pearl necklaces, bracelets and earrings one pearl at a time. Huynh says it’s for women looking to express her own personal style. The collection includes 39 carved pearl designs. Available in black South Sea as well as white and peach freshwater pearls, the “beads” in the collection can be rearranged at will. Measuring 10-12 mm. with sterling silver cores, Queen Beads are designed to be collected. Suggested retail prices begin at $112.50 for a single South Sea Queen Bead and $45 for a freshwater Queen Bead.

Queen Bead Integrity Bracelet

The new line includes sterling silver bracelets and necklaces featuring the company's sterling silver magnetic Galatea Attraction clasps with an internal closure. Earrings are also available.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gemfields Emerald Auction Fetches $31.6 million

Gemstone mining and marketing company, Gemfields, said it made a record $31.6 million from its auction of rough emeralds held last week in Singapore, adding that it underscores the strong demand for its “ethically sourced” gemstones from its Kagem Mine in Zambia..

On a like-for-like basis, prices have increased 63 per cent to $42.7 per carat among the higher quality stones since December 2010, the company said.

It was the first auction of the Gemfields current financial year, but the company has held seven auctions since 2009, which have generated total revenues of $87.5 million, the London-based company said. The next major sale is planned for November.

Gemfields is the only company in the world that is attempting to incorporate a mine-to-market strategy for the emerald industry. Under the plan, emeralds would come from a single source (the Kagem mine) so the origin of each stone can be traced from the mine to the retail jeweler. In addition to the Kagem mine, which it owns a 75 percent share, the company also owns a cutting and polishing facility in Jaipur, India, where the emeralds from the mine are taken. The result of this is that Gemfields is trying to produce emeralds with a provenance in a way that adheres to fair-trade practices and in accordance with environmental, social and safety standards.

The company also owns a 50-percent share of the Kariba mine, also in Zambia, which it says is the largest amethyst mine in the world. In another twist, Gemfields is owned by Pallinghurst Resources, an investment holding company that also owns the Fabergé brand. Emeralds from Kagem are being used in creating jewelry sold by Fabergé brand. The high jewelry house has been in the news lately for releasing a number of new jewelry and watch collections, most notably the unveiling of new Fabergé eggs, the most iconic jewelry item from the brand, which traces its roots to the 19th Century Russia and was known for its jeweled creations for Russian royalty.

“The results are testament to the company’s ongoing focus on marketing to both consumers and retailers, and the quality and consistency of the emeralds produced at Kagem,” said Ian Harebottle, Gemfields chief executive.

The Singapore auction was also used as a platform to test the potential levels of demand for rough emerald and beryl from other sources other than the Kagem Mine such as Brazil and rival Zambian producers, Gemfields said.

The results weren’t included in the update, and Gemfields said it will continue to “refine and evolve” the format.

Royal Asscher Opens Flagship Store in Tokyo

The Royal Asscher Diamond Company opened its first flagship store in Japan on July 15, located on the Ginza Street in the center of Tokyo. It represents the company’s first store in Asia.

“It shows our total commitment to Japan in these difficult times,” said Edward Asscher, president of the Netherlands-based company. “We have great respect for the solidarity and vigor the Japanese people has shown to rebuild and overcome their predicament. We are thrilled to continue building our relationship and being part of the most memorable moments of people lives.”

Situated in a prime location, in the heart of the luxury shopping area, in the company of other reputable stores such as LVMH, Bulgari and Chanel, it is also the first Dutch-based company retail operation on the Ginza.

The interior of the modern store is decorated in white contrasting with Royal Asscher’s signature blue and showcases a variety of Royal Asscher diamond engagement rings and jewelry. In commemoration of the opening of the store, a Royal Asscher diamond tiara has been created containing a total of 10 carats of diamonds set in platinum and valued at $385,000. The tiara will be loaned as a special treat to brides who purchase a Royal Asscher engagement ring in the Ginza store.

Buckingham Palace to Exhibit Kate’s Wedding Ensemble and the Royal Fabergé Collection

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress along with her wedding tiara and earrings will go on display at Buckingham Palace during its annual summer opening. As big as this display is for much of the world (an estimated 3 billion saw the British royal wedding), it may be overshadowed by what is considered by many to be the world’s greatest collection of Fabergé pieces that will also be part of the same opening of the official London residence of Britain's sovereigns.

The exhibition will run from July 23 till October 3, so if you are planning to visit London during this time it’s a good idea to book your tickets now as this double-dose of British royal artifacts will no doubt draw huge crowds from around the world.

The former Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, is made from ivory and white satin-gazar (stiffened organza). The shape of the skirt, with arches and pleats, echoes an opening flower, and the ivory satin bodice, which is narrowed at the waist and padded at the hips, draws on the Victorian tradition of corsetry—a hallmark of Alexander McQueen’s designs. The back of the dress is finished with 58 gazar- and organza-covered buttons fastened by Rouleau loops. The underskirt is made of silk tulle trimmed with Cluny lace. The train is nearly nine feet in length.

The lace appliqué for the bodice and skirt was hand-made by the Royal School of Needlework, founded in 1872. The lace was produced using the Carrickmacross lace-making technique, which originated in Ireland in the 1820s. Individual flowers were hand-cut from lace and hand-engineered on to ivory silk-tulle to create a design that incorporates the rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock. Each lace motif was applied with tiny stitches every two to three millimeters. The bride’s veil, made of layers of soft, ivory silk-tulle with a trim of hand-embroidered flowers, was also embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework.

Photo credit: Ben StansallGetty Images
The veil was held in place by the Cartier ‘Halo’ tiara, which was lent to The Duchess by the queen. The tiara is formed as a band of 16 graduated scrolls set with 739 brilliants and 149 baton diamonds, each scroll being divided by a graduated brilliant with a large brilliant at the center. The tiara was made in 1936 and purchased by The Duke of York (later King George VI) for The Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother) three weeks before he succeeded his brother as King. The tiara was presented to Princess Elizabeth (now The Queen) by her mother for her 18th birthday.

The duchess’s earrings were commissioned by the Middleton family as a personal gift to the bride from her parents. They were created by the London-based jewelers Robinson Pelham. The design, stylized oak leaves with a pear-shaped diamond-set drop and a pavé-set diamond acorn suspended in the center, was inspired by the Middleton family's new coat of arms.

The duchess’s wedding shoes, also part of the display, were hand-made by the team at Alexander McQueen, of ivory duchesse satin and lace embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework.

In addition, the duke and duchess’s wedding cake created by Leicestershire-based cake designer Fiona Cairns will be shown in the State Dining Room. The multi-tiered traditional fruit cake was hand-made using British ingredients and decorated with sugar flowers.

Colonnade Egg
Royal Fabergé
More than 100 pieces from what many consider to be the finest collection of Fabergé in the world will be the other big draw of Buckingham Palace’s public opening. The display will chart the Royal Family’s passion for the work of the great Russian jeweler and goldsmith, Peter Carl Fabergé, over six generations—from Queen Victoria, to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.

A number of works will go on display for the first time, including a complete miniature tea set (above) originally belonging to Queen Alexandra is made of gold and enamel to give the impression of porcelain. Each lid is decorated with a tiny ruby.

Other highlights include an Imperial Easter Egg (left), the Basket of Flowers Egg, commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II for Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna in 1901. It was kept in the Tsarina’s study at the Winter Palace before being confiscated during the Russian Revolution in 1917. It is decorated with gold and rose diamonds and moss made of green gold and was acquired by Queen Mary in 1933. 

In addition, the only known Fabergé figure of a Chelsea Pensioner (left), acquired by King Edward VII on his last visit to Fabergé’s London branch, will also go on display.

All Fabergé photos courtesy of The Royal Collection © 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

Jewelry Exhibit at Boston MFA to Span History of Adornment

Marjorie Merriweather Post’s platinum brooch from the 1920s, featuring a spectacular 60-ct. carved Mughal emerald surrounded by diamonds.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts will open a new gallery Tuesday dedicated to jewelry with the exhibit, “Jewels, Gem, and Treasures: Ancient to Modern.” The exhibition, which will run till November 1, 2012, will cover jewelry ornamentation spanning from the 24th century B.C. to the 20th Century.

Marsh-bird brooch, 1901–02, Charles Robert Ashbee

The MFA’s new Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery, one of the few galleries at U.S. museums dedicated to jewelry, will feature works from the museum’s permanent collection of approximately 11,000 ornaments along with pieces on loan.

The 75 objects on display will include antique ornaments made of ivory, shell, and rock crystal along with modern jewelry made of diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies and pearls became fashionable in later years. It’s designed to shed light on how various cultures throughout history have defined the concept of “treasure.” Pictured left: Hathor-headed crystal pendant,Napatan Period, reign of King Piye, 743-712 BC, from el-Kurru, tomb Ku 55 (Sudan). 

In addition, the exhibition explains the significance of jewelry, which can be functional (pins, clasps, buckles, combs, and barrettes); protective (talismans endowed with healing or magical properties); and ornamental, making the wearer feel beautiful, loved, and remembered. Beyond functionality and adornment, jewelry can also establish one’s status and role in society. Rare gems and precious metals, made into fabulous designs by renowned craftsmen, have often served as symbols of wealth and power.

The significance of precious materials in jewelry in the 20th century is explored in the exhibition, where several modern adornments from the MFA’s Daphne Farago Collection (which comprises 650 pieces of contemporary craft jewelry made by leading American and European artists from about 1940 to the present) examine jewelry’s traditional roles in society.

Mary Todd Lincoln brooch, about 1860

“Jewelry is a powerful cultural signifier, and the materials used in its fabrication vary considerably. This exhibition examines both traditional and unusual substances used to create some of the world’s most extraordinary adornments,” said Yvonne Markowitz, the MFA’s Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry, whose position is the first endowed curatorship dedicated to the study of jewelry in a U.S. museum.

Some of the most opulent works from the museum’s jewelry collection, including an 1856 diamond wedding necklace and earrings suite given by arms merchant Samuel Colt to his wife (the 41.73-carat suite, purchased for $8,000, is now valued at $190,000) and Mary Todd Lincoln’s gold, enamel, and diamond brooch with matching earrings, which she acquired around 1864. Also on view is Marjorie Merriweather Post’s lavish platinum brooch from the 1920s, featuring a spectacular 60-ct. carved Mughal emerald surrounded by diamonds, which she purchased in anticipation of her presentation at the British court in 1929 (top image).

NRF: Retail Sales Up 0.3% in June

Retail industry sales (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) in June increased 0.3 percent seasonally adjusted from May and 5.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year, according to data from the National Retail Federation, which notes that it’s the 12th conservative month of retail sales growth.

The organization said warm weather, lower gas costs and strong Father’s Day promotions put consumers in a spending mood in June.

“A solid year of growth in sales provides further evidence that retailers continue to lead the charge in the economic recovery,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO. “While spending continues to surpass expectations, sustained growth in the retail sector depends on a strong labor market.”

“Retailers are hoping this momentum continues through the back to school season,” added Jack Kleinhenz, NRF chief economist. “Knowing that shoppers remain concerned about the economy, companies have already begun offering aggressive promotions to entice shoppers.”

June retail sales released by the U.S. Commerce Department show total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) increased 0.1 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month and 8.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

Specific sales results from NRF include:

• Clothing and clothing accessories stores’ sales increased 0.7 percent seasonally adjusted over May and a 7.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Sales at building material and garden equipment stores increased 1.3 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month and 8.5 percent unadjusted over last year.

• Sales at electronic and appliance stores decreased 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month and fell 2.3 percent unadjusted from last year. Home furnishings stores sales decreased 0.8 percent seasonally adjusted over May and increased 0.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

• Health and personal care stores sales decreased 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted over May but increased 3.9 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Other Fabergé Eggs

In addition to its recently launched Fabergé High Jewelry Egg Pendants, the jewelry house also unveiled a collection of smaller, less exclusive and less expensive fine jewelry egg pendants called, “Les Frissons De Faberge.” Prices reportedly start at $6,000.

More than 60 different designs are included in this collection of egg pendants, which like the larger more expensive jeweled egg pendants, reinterprets Peter Carl Fabergé’s iconic Fabergé themes, skills and artistry. While the jewelry house is known for its iconic Imperial Eggs created from 1885 till 1917, the majority of the jeweled eggs produced by Faberge during this period were miniature ones that were popular gifts at Easter.

The smaller eggs offer a choice of materials, techniques and styles such as carved stones and minerals, as varied as rock crystal, chrysoprase, snowflake obsidian, lavender jade, jadeite, pink opal, rutilated quartz, jasper and turquoise. There’s also a choice of quilted gold, brushed gold, engraved gold and colored gold in exotic red, pink, green, yellow and white enamels and lacquer, Rococo gold-work and pavé-set gems. 

For example, a cluster of Zénaïde egg lockets is inspired by traditional Uzbek textiles, their intricate geometric patterns set with precious gems.  

Each group of small fine jewelry egg pendants has its own story to tell, from the 18th century Rococo style favored by Peter Carl Fabergé, through the tales of the minerals and magical stone flowers of the fabled “Mistress of Copper Mountain,” to the gifts and presents that were an essential part of life at the Imperial Court.

The individual collections include Oeuf Cadeau, Oeuf Matelassé Empereur, in quilted gold, Oeuf Impératrice and Oeuf Impératrice Emeraude, with its lush emerald tassel, the Oeuf Rosa Cloisonné, with cloisonné enameled roses, Oeuf Rococo, Oeuf Barocco, Oeuf Sophia, Oeuf Nina, Oeuf Spirale, with dancing spiraling lines of gems, and Oeuf Pur, in simple, silky enamels.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Damiani’s New Rings Showcase its Color Pallet and Design Breadth

Paradise ring in white gold, diamonds and sapphires

Damiani, continues to demonstrate its excellence in Italian design with new collections that sparkle with a liberal use of colorful gold and gemstones. During the Baselworld Tradefair in Basel, Switzerland, and the Couture Show in Las Vegas, the Milan-based jewelry house unveiled a seemingly limitless supply of new colorful products. I decided to focus on new rings from four collections that help define how the company combines aesthic content with refined design to create classical jewelry with a modern sparkle.

Volume, light and color are the foundation of Damiani’s new Paradise collection in which it uses these elements to capture the beauty of starry skies and the mysterious, distant allure of celestial constellations. The collection combines gold, diamonds and precious gems for sparkling effects.

Paradise rings come in white gold with diamonds; white gold with diamonds and sapphires; and yellow gold and fancy diamonds. Pictured: Paradise ring in white gold, diamonds and sapphires.

Moon Drops
For its Moon Drops collection, Damiani looked to italian jewelry designer Ludovica Andreoni Montezemolo. Known as a style-icon and trend-setter, the designer created a collection that plays with different shades of yellow, rose and white gold and with black, white and brown diamonds.

The rings are versatile and easy to match, available in the three shades of gold and with precious and semiprecious stones of different colors. They can be worn one by one or mixed together.

The soft and rounded shapes are designed to attract contemporary women who can create a personal style by combining different pieces. Pictured: Moon Drop rings in three shades of gold with precious and semiprecious stones of different colors. They can be worn individually or mixed together.

Patterns of light and space are the hallmarks of Damiani’s Macramè collection. As the name implys, the textile technique was the inspiration behind the design of the line includes six models (three rings, two jewels and a bracelet). To me, it’s most reminiscent of the Cavandoli macramé, which uses geometric and free-form patterns like weaving.

The rings in the collection come in two chromatic versions: A classical one in white gold with diamonds and a more innovative and trendy one in rose gold with brown diamonds. Pictured: Macramè ring in rose gold with brown diamonds. 

Metropolitan Dream
The company added to its successful Metropolitan Dream collection with three solitaire rings in rose, white and black gold. The inspiration for this line comes from the skylines of major cities at various stages of the day. The rounded edges of the gold rings, earrings, bangles and pendants are shaped by miniature squares that provides a textured look and feel. It is a modern design that the quality of its tradition. Pictured: Metropolitan solitaire rings in white, black and rose gold.