JCK’s Annual Global Jewelry Industry Gathering Highlighted Business Innovation

JCK is the annual trade show fiesta for the global jewelry industry. With attendance that exceeded last year’s figures by eight percent, this year’s edition of JCK sold out and pulsated with innovative show programming, exhibitors and important design trends. Presented by RX Global, JCK attracted over 30,000 professionals from across the industry for a week of jewelry product sourcing, educational talks and panels, plus festive networking. According to Sarin Bachmann, Group Vice President of the RX jewelry portfolio, “Over 18,000 attendees from over 100 countries came to JCK this year to do business with almost 2,000 exhibiting firms.”

Staged at The Venetian and The Venetian Expo in Las Vegas from May 31 through June 5, this year’s JCK and its shows-within-the-show presented news-making gemstones, jewelry and designers, all of which attracted major retailers and international media. Luxury, the invitation-only show for high luxury jewels and upmarket retailers, engaged with invited contacts and the media from May 31 to June 1 and then opened to all others from June 2 – 5. While JCK ran from June 2-5, JCK’s “GEMS” pavilion featuring the American Gem Trade Association’s “AGTA Las Vegas” and the JCK Talks educational speakers’ program opened June 1.

Notably, JCK served its attendees’ business aspirations through showcasing smart technologies that power leading edge jewelry retailing, sourcing and information technology. The show’s inclusion of technological activations, an enhanced Innovation Hub area and presentations of industry trends and advances all delivered knowledge and experiences that confirmed the show’s overarching theme: Innovation lives at JCK. Further proving this slogan were exhibitors such as eBay, whose Global GM of Luxury, Tirath Kamdar, explained the e-tailer’s new “Certified by Brand” program, which involves partnering directly with brands and authorized dealers to bring a wider selection of authentic luxury goods to the marketplace, complementing eBay’s Authenticity Guarantee. “Listings within the Certified by Brand program will include either “Direct from Brand” or “Brand Authorized Seller” badging,” Kamdar told this writer at eBay’s bustling booth. “This enables buyers to easily identify listings in the program, just as eBay’s Authenticity Guarantee check mark helps distinguish inventory,” Kamdar said.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)

Every exhibitor neighborhood or JCK Talks Track at JCK showcased initiatives, brands and other exhibitors alive with information and action plans that benefit the planet, jewelry designers, retailers and consumers supported the saying that, “innovation lives at JCK.” A case in point was the Black in Jewelry Coalition (BIJC).

For the second year in a row, The Black in Jewelry Coalition (BIJC) presented the BIJC Collective at JCK, with grant support from the JCK Industry Fund. This gave attendees opportunities to connect with six Black-owned jewelry and loose gemstone companies. These included Dorian Webb, Deinté Fine Jewelry, James Mack Fine Jewelry, KuQala Diamonds, Nungu Diamonds and Simone I. Smith. “I’ve been going non-stop with meetings this whole show,” Oakland-based designer Dorian Webb told this writer. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to present our respective designs and products to a broad spectrum of retailers and media.”

Along with shining a light on BIPOC designers, JCK Talks tracks and specialized education sessions also focused on DEI. “At JCK and all RX Events, everyone belongs,” Bachmann said. “This was another dynamic and successful year for JCK. Our increased attendance, coupled with great keynote speakers and talks, plus enhanced education and networking received overwhelmingly positive feedback from attendees and exhibitors.”

The Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA) featured six emerging graduate designers from WJA’s Jewelry Loupe Project in the first-ever JCK Design Collective booth, directly across from BIJC. This showcase provided a platform for talented designers such as Isabel Dennis, Soojin Kim, Patty Lauritzen, Rachel Weld Newton, Alexis Pavlantos and Constance Polamalu. In addition, WJA hosted its annual “WJA Generating Community Breakfast” on Friday, June 2, with a special focus on disability inclusion in the jewelry and watch industry.

The Natural Diamond Council’s 2023 Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative (EDDI) participants represented a group of ascending talents. Through the EDDI program, created in 2021 by the Natural Diamond Council (NDC) and veteran jewelry designer Lorraine Schwartz, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) designers have gained direct access to crucial education and business opportunities, plus valuable resources. Amina Sorel, Bernard James, Gwen Beloti, Jessenia Landrum, Rosario Navia, and Ymoné Currie all showcased their collections in NDC’s Luxury private ballroom.

Trends and Design Innovations

Torques, collars and statement necklaces gleamed throughout JCK’s Design Collective. Whereas Rich Passion Jewellery’s golden torque necklace resembled botanical or coral branches, the gemstone-studded torque by Andrea Marazzini bloomed like a summer bouquet. Designed by first generation American Samoan jeweler Constance Polamalu, Birthright Foundry’s gold and diamond Ula Nifo necklace made a cultural/historical statement. Long ago in Samoa, the Ula Nifo was a whale tooth necklace worn by chiefs and their offspring to symbolize wealth and status.

Also in the Design Collective, recycled antique shotgun barrels lined luxurious rings by Chris Ploof Designs, who also showed classically attractive, hand-forged Damascus steel pendants that can be embedded with an NFC chip containing the wearer’s medical history. Ploof’s designs remind us how humans have long worn talismans to protect them from harm, while also serving as adornments. Ploof’s pendants do all this and more, by embodying health data that can potentially save lives.

When this writer stepped into JCK’s Design Collective, a cluster of retail buyers clamored around the booth of New York-based Studio Baharra as the brand’s founder, designer and goldsmith Bahadir Alphan, took orders for his diamond and colored gemstone-studded jewels. The 22-karat gold on rough silver or gold Studio Baharra designs look like antiques while suiting the current cultural climate of stealth wealth. While these luxury jewels are artistic, featuring intricate engraving and precious stones, they also have a timeless, heirloom appearance.

Advances in Sustainability

This year, JCK programmed numerous talks on sustainable topics that are urgently relevant to our planet, its life forms and the jewelry industry. JCK also showcased innovators and designers who are involved with sustainable sourcing of precious metals and gemstones. Presenting a breakthrough in this realm was Oregon-based jeweler Toby Pomeroy, founder and director of the non-profit organization Mercury Free Mining (MFM). Pomeroy showcased the GOLDROP, a small, portable and relatively inexpensive piece of gold mining equipment that uses a simple water-flow system to separate gold from dirt and minerals.

As Pomeroy related, “Artisanal miners in developing countries have little choice but to use toxic mercury in their gold-extraction process, even though its effects on themselves, their communities and our world is devastating.” While mercury causes neurological disorders, birth defects, and numerous other illnesses, environmentally contaminating mercury “is also very difficult to remove from the earth,” Pomeroy said. “Mercury used in gold mining pollutes our atmosphere, rivers, oceans, and the fish that millions depend on for their protein, but the good news is that future health and environmental impacts of mercury pollution can be minimized with the elimination of mercury for gold mining.”

The GOLDROP system, however, poses a sustainable solution to using toxic mercury for artisanal mining. Developed by John Richmond of Oregon-based Sluice Goose Industries, the GOLDROP is a portable, easy-to-use, cost-effective device that, according to laboratory findings, can capture more fine gold than traditional processing methods, including those using mercury. Recent successful field-tests of the GOLDROP system for mercury-free processing of gold ore represent advancements in the effort to safeguard the health, safety and economic outcomes of the 15 to 20 million artisanal, small-scale gold miners (ASGM), who use mercury, which inevitably harms community health and degrades the planetary environment.

The field tests, Pomeroy explained, were conducted with approximately 60 miners in three communities in Colombia’s Chocó and Antioquia departments in mid-April 2023. “These tests took place after several years of planning and technical analysis by the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) and MFM,” Pomeroy said, “and we were supported by a grant from GIA, the Gemological Institute of America.” One of the field-test participants, Unión Panamericana gold miner Juan Camilo Megía Mosquera, told Pomeroy and the GIA, “I can see that GOLDROP produces some of the highest fine gold recovery I have ever seen.”

“The miners we collaborated with were genuinely excited about the GOLDROP system, foreseeing improvements in their gold recovery rates and a reduction in their reliance on mercury,” said Pomeroy. “Initial results using the GOLDROP system are very promising with fine gold recovery as well as mercury from whole-ore amalgamated concentrates. Further analysis will quantify specific data proving GOLDROP’s effectiveness over various mining locales and ore types.”

Avi Levy, president at International Gemological Institute (IGI) of North America commented to this writer, “The GOLDROP is a potential alternative for the 15 to 20 million ASGM who use mercury, a potent neurotoxin and environmental poison, in their gold extraction process. It’s an environmentally sustainable technology as well as an economic and cultural boon to gold miners and their communities. “Mercury Free Mining is finding solutions to the mercury mining problem,” Pomeroy said, “and with the help of our lead sponsor Lashbrook, plus grants from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), we are testing the GOLDROP in artisanal mining communities around the world.”

In a GIA press release, GIA President and CEO Susan Jacques commented, “The encouraging results of this test are a testament to the value of innovation and commitment. This great success helps protect ASGM communities and addresses the growing consumer demand for greater sustainability in the gem and jewelry supply chain.” MFM’s next research endeavor, targeted for completion in 2023, is a pilot project to analyze the GOLDROP system’s efficiency across select mining communities in Peru and Colombia.

As Bachmann noted, “JCK is where relationships are formed, news is made and the jewelry industry shares knowledge, advances underserved communities and offers opportunities to various industry stakeholders.” Exemplifying Bachmann’s point was New York-based designer Stephanie Gottlieb. During an awards dinner sponsored by the non-profit organization Diamonds Do Good, Gottlieb explained, “I joined the board of Diamonds Do Good in January 2023. I’m thrilled to contribute to the marketing efforts of this wonderful organization because it supports education, healthcare and entrepreneurial programs to develop and empower people in communities where natural diamonds are mined, cut, polished, and sold.”

Toward that end, Gottlieb sells a Diamonds Do Good Bracelet on the Stephanie Gottlieb Jewelry website. This bracelet features black matte onyx beads accented with four black diamonds equally placed around the bracelet, “To symbolize unity and equality,” she explained. A green tsavorite garnet graces the pulse point to symbolically represent life and rebirth. On the opposite side of the tsavorite,” she continued, “is a champagne diamond representing the light within each of us.” For every purchase of the Diamonds Do Good Bracelet, Stephanie Gottlieb donates 100% of profit to the Flaviana Matata Foundation in Tanzania, which supports health and educational initiatives for women and girls. While there were several other events at JCK in support of jewelry-related charities, the Diamonds Do Good dinner’s speakers and awards presented a compelling view of how jewelry designers like Gottlieb; retailers and other industry stakeholders are giving back so that positive outcomes can prevail. “JCK is a highlight of the year,” Gottlieb said. “It’s a great gathering for raising awareness and helping others by sharing our stories.”