BaselWorld: Sparkling at the End of the Tunnel

Facing a more austere consumer, the world’s leading jewelry and watch brands aim for forward-fashion styling while keeping pricepoints in check. Jeff Prine takes a loupe

Ruthenium silver and gemstone pendant from Rodney Rayner

Basel, Switzerland—Many of the glimmers found in the jewelry halls at Basel World 2010 had more to do with hope than diamonds or gemstones this year.

With first-quarter results from many luxe brands showing luxury retailers looking for new inventory, an optimistic spirit prevailed.

Still, 2009 was a bruising year for fine jewelry in particular as consumers, while affluent, continued to be austere in their fine jewelry purchases and tastes. Lavish displays of flashy pavé diamond looks were replaced by subtler treatments, like burnished and blackened precious metals and the continued use of brown diamonds and less expensive gemstones. Even karat gold jewelry got toned down as designers used more brushed, satin and often even blackened finishes.

From European high jewelry collections to Far Eastern copycat versions, jewelry brands pushed the definition of “precious metals.” Many companies added sterling silver to their collections including gold vermeil.

Alternative metals—such as titanium, bronze and stainless steel— also found greater acceptance as viable alternatives to a karat gold which continues to increase in price ($1,246 per ounce at press time).

Fine jewelers who once only carried karat gold or platinum now search out jewelry lines once considered bridge, further blurring the definition between fine and fashion jewelry. Indeed, the consistently busiest stands in Basel housed brands that have developed “opening pricepoints,” (retails usually between $100 and $1,500) typified by brands such as Rebecca, Rosato, Calgaro, Ki Di Kuore, Ti Sento, Cielo, Luxenter as well as Damiani’s Bliss and licensed collections from Ferrari, Jil Sander, Maison Martin Margiela and Gianfranco Ferre.

Michele Watch's Tahitian Jelly Bean collection

Watches took an even more conservative stance than jewelry. Most watch introductions were either line extensions of tried-and-true bestsellers or limited editions—which, by their very scarcity makes them less prone to discounting.

Consistent watch buzzwords: a return to core values and emphasis on a brand’s DNA. Souped up sports watches with deconstructed dials gave way to more simple, classic dress watches. Women’s watches got the short shrift in new designs from the traditional fine watch brands, although colorful fashion watches continued their renaissance as “wrist candy,” most retailing for under $500 and aimed at women self-purchasers.

Omega's Lady Speedmaster

KEY WATCH TRENDS: Fall/Holiday

•Stainless steel continues to dominate, although black, rose and yellow goltone PVD steel cases and bracelets were available at all pricepoints.

•While larger “boyfriend” watches were still integral, many brands introduced 24- to 28-millimeter women’s styles.

•A rainbow of bright colors continue to add pizzazz to women’s fashion styles. Basics include: red, black, white, orange and yellow. Uptrending colors are purple/aubergines.

•Flexibility and articulation are key in bracelet styles, whether in links, bangles or even wider cuff styles.

•Diamond accents got more subtle, such as on markers, dials or winding from dials onto bezels instead of full pave.

•Rose gold PVD styles were available in almost all jewelry watch collections, but yellow gold tone remained the most important, almost exclusively in women’s styles.

•Phantom, ghost or other all black watches are still a focus, now with shocks of bright colors on the hands, markers or bezels.

Kenneth Cole "touch" watch

•Digital watches and the new “touch digital” movements are on the rise again.Touch features on bezels that include various functions appeal to the iPod generation.

•Strap watches remain strong particularly with sporty, silicone rubber, patent and metallic lames. Double- and triple-wrap styles are an uptrending look.

•High jewelry watches, usually all diamond, now have added touches of ruby, blue sapphire or other colored gemstones.

KEY JEWELRY TRENDS: Fall/Holiday

• Blackened finishes—black rhodium plating on 18k gold, oxidized sterling silver or darker ruthenium plated silver. Newest versions are bronzed or browned rhodium plate or ombred, tonal effects on chain.

• Vermeil, mostly 18k rose gold over sterling silver or bronze.

Mariani's ombred 18K gold necklace with gradient diamonds from black to icy

• Titanium, including colors ranging from gold tones to blues, purples or browns, is experimented with in high jewelry looks from Lancon, La Reina, Zydo, Stephen Webster and Arunashi.

• Black-and-white diamond combinations continue but newest versions tend toward gray. Stephen Webster added “silver” diamonds that created an antiqued effect.

• Diamonds set in sterling silver or stainless steel continue. Bellwether Italian fashion line, Nanis, added a collection of satin-finish sterling silver with marcasite, hitting retails below $500.

• Cocktail rings are the leading category, mostly featuring large semiprecious gemstones in gold, silver or other metals, aimed at the women self-purchaser.

• Wood continues to gain strength as a metal alternative, often combined with gold in links. German brand Sceffel

set limited-edition and large gemstones into different types of wood with little gold visible.

• Purple, plums and mauve colors are most directional

for fall, especially amethyst, purple sapphire, iolite, even sugilite. Most often paired with pink tourmalines, pink sapphires or rubellite.

Calgaro's goldtone and blacked sterling silver bracelets

• Key opaque stones continue to be black onyx, white agate, cachalong opal and lapis lazuli, but more jaspers, agates, peitersite and other multicolored stones are being added to the mix.

• Quartz—including rock crystal, rutillated versions, rose, smoky and green amethyst—are increasing.

• Sentimental, inspirational and spiritual motifs continue, with emphasis shifting from “yoga diva” looks to Japanese and Chinese symbols with Christian and western spiritual symbols such as saints and angels.

• Nature-inspired looks hit the sky (with butterflies, dragonflies, bees and birds) and the dramatic sea (with sea creatures or sea monsters rather than sweet starfish and sea horses).

• Necklaces focused on longer lengths, using more chain that can be layered, or collar styles. Pendants and center emphasis on necklaces continue to be round or circular, laser-cut styles that provide a big but lightweight look.

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Jeff Prine

Jeff Prine, Editor at Large, Accessories Magazine
Jeff returns as a regular contributor to Accessories magazine. Initially Jeff worked as senior editor at Accessories more than 20 years ago and his love of the industry has followed him until present. Since his tenure here, Jeff has continued to report jewelry, watch and other luxury goods trends as executive editor at Modern Jeweler magazine, fashion director at Lustre, and as contributor on products and trends for consumer and trade publications and websites. In addition to his editorial experience, Jeff also served as an adjunct instructor for accessories merchandising at Fashion Institute of Technology. jeffp@busjour.com