Diamond Portraits: Sotirio Voulgaris

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Source: Ehud Arye Laniado

The diamond industry has always lent itself to well-told stories. The beauty, wealth, even power associated with this fantastic creation of earth easily captures the imagination. Those involved in the trade of diamonds and creation of jewelry were often unusual people, who thanks to their tendency to do things in their own unique way succeeded in their endeavors. Of the many people whose stories have been told here over the past year or so, Sotirio Voulgaris holds a unique place. His name is virtually unknown, although his eponymous brand is well known, his geographic origin is different than other central players in the industry, and the route he took was uniquely his, leaving a sublime legacy behind him.

Sotirio Voulgaris was born in a small village in the Pindhos mountain range in Epirus, Greece on March 18, 1857. His chances of surviving childhood or even infancy were very slim. He was one of 11 children born to his parents, all ten of his siblings died, leaving him as the sole survivor. The area where he was born and raised has a history of jewelry making and is known for its silversmith art. Traditionally, since ancient times, jewelry design, making, knowledge, and skills were passed down from father to son. Sotirio’s father, Giorgio, was no different, passing to his son generations of accumulated understanding of how to turn the hard, cold metal into wonderful creations of desire.

The Voulgaris family specialized in unique silver earrings, belt buckles, and sword sheaths. And in this same tradition, Voulgaris was trained in his ancestors’ craft. His grandfather used to sell his jewelry as a street vendor, but Sotirio and his father Giorgio decided to open a small store in their village.

During that period, the region was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, and the decades old hatred between Greeks and Turks had many ugly manifestations. One was a series of fires set by Turks that targeted Greek establishments, aimed to hurt them financially. In 1873, one of the stores set on fire was that owned by the Voulgaris family, when a decision was made to burn down their home village of Paramythia in order to rebuild it from the ground up. The security and safety of the local Greeks did not improve, and in 1876 Sotirio was a victim of an attempted robbery.

Those events led Sotirio’s father Giorgio to the decision to immigrate. With a desire for safety and a more peaceful life, the family left its ancestral land and moved to the beautiful Greek island of Corfu in 1877. There they opened a small jewelry store. A few years later, Sotirio met Demetrios Kremos, a Macedonian silversmith. They became good friends, and decided to try and reach further with their dreams. They left Corfu and sailed to Brindisi and then travelled to Naples, where they opened a small gold jewelry shop together in Piazza dei Martiri in 1880. Sotirio may have immigrated to distance himself from violence and crime, but at times, that bad luck kept following him around. Not long after they opened their store, it was looted. Naples suffered from a serious crime wave, and their store was broken into and robbed several more times. The two partners decide to try their luck in another place, and left Naples for Rome in 1881.

A Greek merchant who lived in Rome offered Sotirio and Demetrios the opportunity to display their jewelry in his store, making room in one of the store’s windows. Rome was going through a modernization and growth spurt, and the two jewelry makers did well. However, disagreements between them developed to the point that they decided to part ways.

Honing and perfecting his innate silversmith skills, Sotirio Voulgaris set up his first shop on his own in 1884 at 85 Via Sistina, just down the street from his previous location. As he was getting ready to open the store, he made an important business decision: to Italianize his name. He changed his name to Bulgari, the phonetic version of his Greek name, and adopted Bulgari as his company name.

Enamored with the history of ancient Rome, Bulgari developed a jewelry design style that incorporated the symbolism of the city into his designs, which were no longer limited to silver, adopting gold as his metal of choice. His designs were bold, large, incorporated semi-precious gems, and characterized by long soft lines that added grace to the large jewelry items. As further tribute to Roman history, Bulgari replaced the ‘U’ in his store name to ‘V’V, the Latin letter for U. Sotirio knew that great design would serve him well, and he trusted his workmanship to construct high-quality jewelry as well, but to really succeed, he needed a little more. In 1894, he moved the store to a new location, 28 Via Dei Condotti. Street traffic was good, and his business continued to grow, but when he found out that he could clench a store up the street at number 10 Via Dei Condotti, just by Piazza di Spagna, he grabbed the opportunity.

In 1905, Bulgari opened the second store with the help of his two sons, Costantino and Giorgio. Bulgari wanted to attract British and American tourists heading to the Spanish Stairs Fontana della Barcaccia, famous tourist destinations. This location later became the Bulgari flagship store of today.

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This Just In: Jewelry Retail Sales Are Improving

Image Courtesy of Edahn Golan

Image Courtesy of Edahn Golan

Author: Edahn Golan

The most pressing fundamental issue for the global diamond industry today is the decline in consumer demand. Hopefully, this is changing, as US retail sales of fine jewelry have posted several consecutive rises recently, signaling a turn for the better.

In August of this year, fine jewelry sales increased 2.4% year-over-year, the fourth consecutive month of increases. Fine jewelry sales totaled an estimated $4.9 billion and overall jewelry and watch sales an estimated $5.5 billion.

JEWELRY RETAIL SALES BREAK RECORDS

This level of sales is significant in a number of ways: first, because it is already a clear trend. When sales increased year-over-year in May for the first time in five months, it might have been a fluke. When trade figures are first published, they are preliminary and tend to be later revised. However, unless there is a major revision that updates figures a few years back, these figures are final and very solid.

Another reason these figures are significant is the month-over-month trend. It is in sync with buying trends of past years showing that even if the figures are revised a little up or down, they are still in line with consumer behavior.

Read more at: Edahn Golan

China demand makes diamond too pricey

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Source: The Economic Times

Author: Sutanuka Ghosal

KOLKATA: India’s expanding middle class may now have to spend more to own a piece of diamond-studded jewellery. Prices of smaller diamonds (10 cents and 6 cents) have gone up due to a surge in Chinese demand.

Vipul Shah, chairman, Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, told ET: “Prices of polished small diamonds (10 cents and 6 cents) have gone up 5% as demand for these categories has risen in China, Hong Kong and the other Asia Pacific regions. But demand for larger diamonds, known as sawn diamonds, has been sluggish as the US and Europe, the major consumers, are not purchasing them in big volumes.

Prices of polished diamonds may go up further as demand is increasing in the Asia Pacific region and supplies are not enough to sustain this demand.” The annual Global Diamond Industry Report says global consumption will help the worldwide value of diamond sales surge from £10 billion in 2011 to £17 billion a year in the next seven years. This boom will be fuelled by the rising middle class in India and China.

Demand from these nations is expected to soon surpass the US consumption. Vijay Jain, CEO, Orra, said: “Gold has witnessed a dramatic rise in price. But diamond has not seen such a huge appreciation . Though there is volatility in diamond prices, it is not as significant as gold. Therefore , the price hike in diamond is more acceptable to the consumer as it has been a steady rise.”

Bachhraj Bamalwa, past chairman of All India Gem and Jewellery Trade Federation, said: “Jewellers will now try to offload older stocks of diamond-studded jewellery before they introduce jewellery with new prices. By that time, consumers will get to know that prices have gone up and they will get prepared to shell out more.” Vinod Hayagriv, MD of C Krishniah Chetty and Sons, said: “If demand comes down, prices of diamond will fall. But that is not going to happen in near future.”

Companies are now looking at introducing products that are affordable to customers and yet have the look of an original high-quality diamond. The Orra CEO said the company has launched the Aquila range of diamond studded jewellery that have the look and feel of a one-carat diamond (100 cents make a carat). “Such items are being bought by aspiring middle class youngsters.

The industry will have to come up with innovative products at a time when diamond prices are rising. This has happened in gold too. Most jewellers have come up with lightweight gold jewellery with a heavy look.”

Jewelry Store Sales +12%, Best Dec. Performance Since 2007

Courtesy of RAPAPORT

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RAPAPORT…

U.S. jewelry store sales in December 2012 surged 11.8 percent year on year to $6.301 billion, which was the highest monthly total since $6.5 billion in December 2007. Taking into account that consumer price inflation (CPI) for jewelry fell 2.9 percent in December, the sales increase reflected even a stronger environment.

Annual jewelry store sales in the U.S. rose 5.7 percent year on year to $30.797 billion and that was the highest value since reaching $30.82 billion in 2007. But the industry has lost many retailers since that time, so surpassing the $30 billion mark for the first time in five years was a great achievement. Furthermore, while the CPI remained at a historically high level in 2012, it did continue to cool as the year progressed to record an average increase of only 1 percent.

In other industry trade news, U.S. jewelry exports in 2012 jumped 12.4 percent to $10.2 billion, while jewelry imports declined 1.9 percent to $12.1 billion. Exports of watches and clocks plunged 14 percent to $396 million, while imports were flat at $4.8 billion. As Rapaport News reported on February 12, the net diamond account in 2012, reflecting the value of polished and rough diamonds that stayed in the country, plunged 21 percent to $3.25 billion, led by a 23 percent drop in net polished imports. Net rough imports, however, were flat at $202 million.

Cultured by Luxury Jeweler, Black Pearls Became Chic

We publish courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

Author: Stephen Miller

Gemological impresario Salvador Assael elevated black pearls from curiosities to luxury jewels.

Mr. Assael, who died April 1 at age 88, moved easily in society circles, where he cut an elegant figure, praising the beauty of his pearls while bestowing small samples on lucky hostesses.

Although he dealt in all sorts of luxury jewelry, Mr. Assael was sometimes called “The Pearl King” for his near-monopoly on gumball-size black pearls he cultured on a private atoll on the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia.

“He created a market for them from zero to a well-known global desirable product, and that’s pretty rare,” said Thomas Moses, an executive at the Gemological Institute of America.

Black pearls—more of a dark green-grey according to some—are produced by black-lipped oysters native to the South Seas. They commanded premium prices: In 1992, an Assael string of 23 South Sea pearls in the range of 16-20 millimeters sold for $2.3 million at Sotheby’s in New York.

When Mr. Assael’s pearls first appeared in a window display at Harry Winston in New York in the mid-1970s, they caused a sensation.

Pearls were always white, Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy pearls,” said Stephen Bloom, author of “Tears of Mermaids,” about the global pearl trade. “The black pearl is saucy and naughty. It’s got this sense of pungent sexuality.”

But it formerly had been a rarity, hardly a jewel at all—and most black pearls were dyed, not natural. Only after Mr. Assael lobbied for it did the gemological institute produce a certification standard that buyers of high-price jewelry could depend on. Soon Mr. Assael was advertising them in fashion magazines with the slogan “A new gem is born.”

“Mr. Winston put them in his Fifth Avenue window with an outrageous price tag,” he said in a press release. “Mr. Winston sold them all!” Van Cleef & Arpels and Tiffany soon boarded the black-pearl bandwagon, and Mr. Assael made a fortune.

Mr. Assael was born into a family of Sephardic Jews who fled Italy prior to World War II to settle in Cuba, where they set up shop in the family jewelry business. After the revolution, they relocated to New York.

Mr. Assael’s father sold Swiss watches to American soldiers, and was left with a huge inventory at the end of the war. Salvador Assael took the watches to Japan, where he bartered them for pearls, then set himself up in the pearl-importing business. He became a big buyer of South Sea pearls that came in a of rainbow hues, including silver and pink and green.

He dabbled in other jewels as well and once paid $3 million for a pair of uncut Burmese rubies.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Assael teamed with a French businessman to start his pearl-farming business.

“You make money by being a producer, because when you produce you control the market,” Mr. Assael told Forbes in 1995. He founded what is said to be the only Sephardic synagogue in the South Seas at Papeete, Tahiti.

Mr. Assael’s competitors sometimes complained (mostly anonymously) of his aggressive business practices, but his famous customers appreciated his rare jewelry. Mr. Assael’s office walls were festooned with signed photos of him with presidents going back to Richard Nixon and other politicians, as well as socialites like Evelyn Lauder and Brooke Astor. Also on the wall was Elizabeth Taylor—who the never-shy Mr. Assael claimed had named her signature Black Pearls perfume after his preeminent product.