This year’s International Jewellery Fair (IJF) was always going to be a test not only for the exhibitors and buyers but also for event organiser Expertise Events.
The global pandemic forced people to question many things, including the way they work and run their businesses. For more than two years, retail jewellers and suppliers alike questioned everything they did.
Therefore, the 2022 Sydney tradeshow – the first in three years – for many reasons needed to be seen as a reset for the local industry. Firstly, in 2019 the Australian jewellery industry was just beginning to rid itself of the division created by the Jewellers Association of Australia (JAA) announcing it would launch its own show in 2017 in direct competition to the Expertise Events’ 25-year old event.
The resulting turmoil caused enormous disunity, including a number of legal proceedings, and it eventually proved all for nothing.
The JAA board discovered something that almost everyone already knew – that a second Sydney jewellery fair was not only unnecessary, it was also doomed.
When the JAA discovered that its own buying group members would not support the event, the show was cancelled in May 2017, one year after it was first announced and just three months before the actual event!
However, throughout the previous 12 months, not only did a small number of supporters find themselves stranded, the JAA’s actions had pitted the industry against itself. By the time the 2019 jewellery fair came around the local industry was just beginning to recover from the widespread acrimony and bad blood caused by the JAA board’s actions.
Then just months after the 2019 fair concluded, the world would be consumed by the beginnings of the global pandemic.
In early 2020, the first international jewellery shows began to be postponed and then cancelled because of COVID-19. The disruption continued for 2021 and through to the start of this year.
For these reasons alone, the 2022 Sydney tradeshow effectively became a reset in anticipation for the 2023 fair and beyond.
Expertise Events managing director Gary Fitz-Roy told Jeweller he had already observed some changes in ordering patterns in the lead-up to the 2019 show.
“I think the challenge this year was always going to be the question of whether or not people were going to come and buy. If you think back to 2019, the Fair had already changed quite a lot. We were seeing a lot of people attending just to look at what’s on display and to plan for Christmas rather than just buy,” he explained.
It’s no secret that wholesalers in all retail categories have watched as stores delay their Christmas ordering until as late as possible – sometimes too late!
That would be one of the other tests for 2022 – would visitors flock back to Sydney after a three-year hiatus and more importantly, would they be willing to order on the spot?
“A lot of exhibitors have reported that they were surprised at how eager people have been to buy and I think they’ve recognised that the supply process has changed and that it’s important to get in early.
“We’ve got a lot of great partnerships with retailers because of how long the event has been running. The overwhelming feedback we received has been upbeat,” Fitz-Roy said.
He said he viewed the show’s reset to be a success and that the biggest surprise was that the opening day of the fair was a very different start compared with what had occurred in the years before the pandemic.
“It was reminiscent of fairs from yesteryear. From those that I’ve had the chance to speak with, Saturday and Sunday were both really strong days, however the first day felt more like the second we’ve become accustomed to.
“In my mind, the success of this year’s show has really reaffirmed the position that a successful tradeshow unites the industry.”
To a large extent the pandemic showed retailers and suppliers what the world would be like without face-to-face selling and networking.
“The exhibitors have really committed to this event and I think the retailers are just happy to be back seeing them. And what demonstrated our success this year, the theme with just about every trade show, from every sector, has been that they’re just happy to be back.
“The surprise has been the volume of buying we saw. At the past two or three fairs [2017-2019], we had plenty of foot traffic and lots of people coming out to take note of what’s on display but the thing that has made this year’s show stand-out has been that the buyers arrived with the intention of buying.”
Ironically, pandemic-caused supply channel disruptions might have been at the forefront of retailers’ minds. Fitz-Roy’s observations were echoed by many exhibitors.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience for our team,” BECKS managing director Greville Ingham said.
“With the gigantic rebranding effort we’ve undergone, I think we all came here feeling a little trepidation – you’re never really sure how something like this is going to be received, and now we can all go home knowing it was worth the effort.
“People really attended this fair with the intention of buying – that was clear from the opening of day one, and when you’re an exhibitor dealing with people eager to buy and sign on the dotted line, that’s exactly what you’re hoping for.”
Ingham said his team were rejuvenated and revitalised by their experience at the tradeshow.
For Ingham, this year’s event was doubly important. For years visitors were traditionally greeted by the large presence of the Peter W Beck stand at the entrance, and the company’s rebranding to BECKS, with a strong red-and-black design, was the latest move from the South Australian-business following the passing of founder Peter Beck in 2021.
“I know it’s my first major fair since 2001 and loved every minute,” Ingham explained. “Late on the third and final day you could see everyone on our team laughing and smiling – we’re all exhausted but now all the work has been worth it based on the reception we’ve had.”
Owner and director of the Ikecho Pearl Company, Erica Miller, also recognises the value of face-to-face events.
“We always have a lot of fun at the Fair, it’s a great chance to have a laugh with old customers and start relationships with new ones.
“Sunday was a very successful day for us – by far our best day. “We’ve connected with plenty of new customers this year which is always great,” she told Jeweller.
This sentiment was echoed by the Nationwide Jewellers buying group, who reported a pleasing level of attendance – matching that of 2019, with more than 320 members taking part in the Fair.
Nationwide Jewellers membership manager Erin Keller said it was a thrill to see so many suppliers and buyers united in one location once again.
“Our attendance numbers exceeded our expectations and we were pleased with the turnout,” Keller said.
“We have had positive feedback from both members and suppliers assuring us that nothing quite beats the face-to-face interactions of the trade fair, and that they considered the event a success for their business.”
This year’s Fair was a busy one for Duraflex Group Australia (DGA), one of industry’s longest running jewellery and watch suppliers, as the business celebrates 60 years since it was formed.The company has evolved from watch straps to European branded jewellery, a diamond range, and more recently Swiss watches, launching a partnership with Edox at this year’s Fair.
Duraflex managing director Phil Edwards told Jeweller: “The overall experience at the fair was extremely positive with excellent attendance. Our customers were pro-active with their agendas and feeling confident about the upcoming Christmas trading period.”
He explained that despite the three-year break between events, Duraflex didn’t change its core focus to the Fair.
“Our primary aim was showcase our brands and present new season collections, to meet with our valued retail partners and build further awareness of our multi-brand offering and ultimately maximise sales [such as] the new DGA ‘Created Diamonds’ lab-grown range.”
The success was not restricted to local suppliers. Of the more than 140 exhibitors, there were around 40 new companies, many of which were first-time overseas exhibitors.
Veer Diamonds was one of many international exhibitors travelling to Sydney from New York.
President Kaushal Shah said, “We’ve had a wonderful time, not just at the Fair, but in Australia quite generally.
“Australia is clearly a fantastic country with so many opportunities for growth as a business and the people have been very kind and welcoming. It’s been great to see so many young people involved in this jewellery fair in particular,” he said.
“Young people enter the world of jewellery with new ideas and those that are keen to put their own unique stamp on the industry like to do things their own way, which is exactly what we need.
“It’s been a great fair and we’ve loved our time here as a guest of Nationwide. We had a very busy day on Sunday in particular.”
Virtual Diamond Boutique was another first-time international exhibitor.
Karishma Nagpal, vice president explained that the Fair provided “tremendous exposure in terms of genuine jewellers from not only pan-Australia, but New Zealand as well.
“It was exciting to witness how Australia, as a country, has bounced back after the COVID crisis and is ready to embrace technology as a mandatory solution to customer service.”
She added, “The fair was organised impeccably and considering I travelled all the way from India, the need to prepare was almost not needed. We are pleased to be part of the trade fair and look forward to 2023.”
For jewellery and watch distributor Timesupply – which serves more than 800 retailers in Australia and New Zealand – the expectations heading into the IJF were clear.
Director Ken Abbott said “Our expectations heading into the weekend were to simply reconnect with our customers face-to-face and hopefully connect with some new people, and we’ve achieved both of those goals so we’re happy.
“Saturday was very strong in terms of orders and then Sunday was even stronger again, which is exactly what we hoped to see.”
His expectations were met to such a degree that he added, ”there was little reason to delay confirming a return in 2023.
“It was great to see so many people face-to-face – especially those from New Zealand who for obvious reasons we haven’t been able to see for a long time.”
Fitz-Roy said while he could see that the show had delivered better than expected, he was surprised at the ‘rebooks’ during the final day and immediately after the show closed.
“Not only have people been very quick to reserve their place for next year, I’m now dealing with the nice problem of many wanting to upgrade their position to larger size.”
He said he understood the need for many suppliers to take a cautious, wait-and-see approach to this year’s show, but he has been taken aback by the number immediately requesting a larger presence at next year’s Fair.
“Better still, the three buying groups, Nationwide, IJC and Leading Edge are already talking to us about their activities for next year,” Fitz-Roy added.
Meet and greet
Not all exhibitors attend trade fairs to sell products; for some it’s a necessary ‘flag waving’ and branding exercise.
William Gant, managing director of LJ West Diamonds Australia, said it was an opportunity to increase industry awareness of rare beauties, such as natural pink and other premium fancy colour diamonds.
“Our presence at the Fair is a little different, we aren’t only here with a direct focus on selling based on the nature of our products,” he said.
“We also come to meet our partners and to spend some time educating people on the rarest and finest natural colour diamonds and everyone at our stalls has enjoyed their time.
“You get the chance to meet all walks of life at IJF, this is an industry that’s made up of all kinds of people and personalities and we think it’s great to be here and be a part of it.”
Lachlan Renshaw, managing director Centrestone Jewellery Insurance, told Jeweller it has been an exhaustive – but rewarding – three days.
“We’ve had a very positive experience at the Fair,” he said.
“Obviously our position is a little different in attending, we’re here aiming to spend time with our customers face-to-face more than anything. We were extremely busy on Saturday in particular which was great.”
Fitz-Roy knows that, as the industry’s number one event on the calendar each year, it comes with certain obligations.
“Tradeshows should be a unifying force. They are a chance for an industry to come together all under the one roof to celebrate, and I recognise our [Expertise Events’] responsibility to encourage and act to unite not only buyers with sellers but rejoice in their achievements.
“Therefore we had more pressure on us this year than any other year I can remember. Something I found very humbling, in terms of the feedback we’ve received, was the number of people who went out of their way to tell me that we’ve done well to survive the past few years.
“It’s not a competition about who had it the hardest during COVID, of course, but many people recognised that our company had nothing to sell. We had been effectively closed since 2020. So many of our old friends thanked us just for being here,” he explained.
There was also an acknowledgement about running small state-based shows throughout the pandemic when they could occur, some of which he says were unprofitable.
“I think it was also an recognition that we weren’t going to give up on the sector when things got tough. The industry knows that when we say we’re going to do something, we do it.
“This industry is an ecosystem and we all depend on one-another. We judge people on how they carry themselves in the down times, and we had a lot of people sticking with us during the pandemic.”
Next year’s fair moves to Halls 5 and 6 in the top level of the International Convention Centre. It’s a longterm move and has the advantage that the halls are columnless – which offers unecemumbered views – and the lighting is better as the ceilings are lower than in the downstairs halls.
“Next year should be a great year. We’ve got the Fair in March and that will be a chance to reconnect again following the busy holiday selling period – Christmas and New Years – after Valentine’s Day too. We have learnt from the past few years that a trade event any earlier than March is too early; retailers and suppliers are not ready to look at new product.
Then our focus will turn to the next IJF and with that said, our planning for 2023 is well and truly underway and I think next year will surprise everyone.”
With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the theme that best summarised the atmosphere of the 2022 IJF was the large sign that greeted visitors as they entered the exhibition.
It read: ‘You’re In Good Company’ and listed the names of every exhibitor.
All of them would have been happy just to see their name on the sign given the destruction COVID caused throughout the international jewellery industry over the past three years.
MEET SOME OF THE EXHIBITORS