Viva Las Vegas, Again

It’s been two years since I last made the annual pilgrimage to the shimmering lights of Paradise on the edge of the Mojave. Two long, world-altering, complicated, exhausting years of missing out on some of my favorite activities: listening to experts, meeting friends, checking out the latest designs and technology, and buying a drugstore’s worth of bandaids to soothe my blistered feet.

Well, maybe not that last one.

My personal energy levels might not be what the used to be in my early tradeshow days — vodka shots in the Vault and midnight walks along the strip just to watch the Bellagio fountains were fun, but getting a full night’s sleep is priority #1 now — but I can say unequivocally that the overall industry energy was at the highest I’ve seen in years. So, what was it like to be in the room where it happens?*

Buyers were buying, sales reps were smiling, and even the media and services booths were populated with folks standing or sitting together in small knots, heads leaning forward and body language indicating some business being discussed. I particularly noted that the tools and technology rows had heavy traffic, a signal that retailers and manufacturers finally had sufficient confidence and cash in hand to make big-ticket purchases for improving their production. That’s a very good sign.

Industry sentiment seemed to follow a central theme: things weren’t great, then suddenly they were, and we don’t expect it to last (but we hope it does). It’s been pretty well-established that the US stimulus payments, when combined with a moratorium on other luxury expenditures like travel, created a short boom atmosphere and bull conditions that might have landed the whole jewelry category in a much better position to stabilize in the future. We see a recession looming, sure, and that’s bad for all branches of the luxury tree — but it looks like many businesses are feeling better-prepared this time around, and weathering yet another economic storm won’t trigger the tornado of closures and market shrink that happened in the 2008 downturn.

Many designers and manufacturers have created simple, appealing lines in sterling and/or 14K, which will keep prices for the mid-tier and lower a bit more steady. Leaving our personal opinions at the door for a moment, it’s also possible that lab-grown diamonds (alongside lab-grown color) will find its place in fashion jewelry during this time, since the lower costs will also reduce the barrier for entry into fine and demi-fine jewelry. It’s possible the industry will manage to retain some of the market share it captured from travel and other accessories during two years of lockdowns, which will in turn provide a bigger share of repeat customers in the future. How’s that for long-term thinking!

And that’s more optimism than I’ve seen in awhile, with such positivity especially prominent over at the Couture Show. In those hallowed halls, high-end design and materials reign, presented by beautifully-turned-out people who know the best when they see it. These fine folks were confident that the higher end of the market would remain largely unscathed by economic uncertainty, and given the target clientele and the display of stunningly unique jewelry I spotted, I can’t bring myself to disagree.

My return to the scorching heat (110 daytime highs) was well-rewarded with new friendships, some exciting opportunities, and zero hangovers. I’d call that a success.

*The “Hamilton Remix” show for JCK Rocks was… an experience. Some extraordinarily talented people were tossed together with a few enormous egos, which made for some awkwardness alternating with ovation-inducing Broadway belting. The small but vocal contingent of Hamilton fans like myself certainly enjoyed those relevant numbers, and the rest, well, I’m happy to erase it from this narrative.

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