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Last year we had a typhoon, then came the political protests. This year the talk leading up to the March show in Hong Kong was all about a virus. While many who planned on attending the show weighed the pros and cons of going, the decision was made for us when the show ultimately cancelled its March dates, promising a show later in the year. Swiftly the world made plans to go into lockdown, every country dealing with the impending COVID-19 pandemic in its own way.

By March 17th, I found myself at home, unable to go to work, and wondering what work there was to do anyway. The future of the estate jewellery trade is seemingly changed forever. Six months into the health crisis, I spoke to some colleagues to discuss some of the impacts of COVID on our business.

Traditionally the estate trade relied on international shows several times a year to display inventory for sale in addition to selling and trading with other exhibitors and attendees. Since March, when it all started getting crazy, several major shows would have taken place - several in Hong Kong and one in Las Vegas. The cancellation of these shows due to risks and challenges associated with COVID has no doubt affected dealers.

Catherine Mancuso Boyack who has a wholesale estate jewellery business based in Los Angeles, California said that prior to COVID her business was mostly dealer business, shows, and traveling to New York every couple of months to buy and sell. “The shows were very important to my business; you see people you never see regularly at these shows. With that many people in one room it’s hard to not do business.” said Boyack. Shows like the Las Vegas Antique Show had hundreds of dealers from all over the world attending and exhibiting. Diana Singer, whose estate jewellery business D & E Singer is based in New York, agrees saying the face to face aspect of shows were important for building relationships.

“The shows were and hopefully continue to be useful for a number of reasons. It was a necessary evil, no one liked it, but you did it because you knew that you were going to do business, and it became something everybody depended upon. It was a shared experience.” Singer said. Both Boyack & Singer believe there is a future for the show business but that it’s not going to be so simple. Boyack points out that a further hindrance is the potential health threat that goes hand in hand with traveling, meaning those who are in a higher risk group could be further penalized.

Brenda Kang, who has a showroom selling vintage and antique jewellery in Singapore called Revival Jewels, said that shows were important for networking and seeing what goods were out there and keeping current on pricing. With the absence of shows, she is seeing a shift in the way her suppliers are doing business. “I’m seeing more of my suppliers going online from wholesale to retail. I don’t blame them; however, it does make me cautious about how I source.” said Kang. “Clients are definitely getting more comfortable with buying online. Dealers are also more comfortable listing their stock online and I think that’s not going away.” COVID brought about a huge shift in all industries, where work from home, Zoom meetings and shopping online became the new normal. Jewellery dealers are also moving towards a digital way of doing business. Boyack believes that dealers must now have heavier presence on an online platform whether its Instagram or a website. “You need to reach out to people in a way that that shows concern, but also letting them know that there are other ways we can do business,” she said.

Laurie Geller’s of Geller & Company in Los Angeles was very active on Instagram prior to COVID, but said she has definitely paid more attention to her social media since the lockdown. “In the beginning of lockdown, it was very different. I felt weird posting when people were losing so much, it was a very hard thing to share things again,” she notes. Once she felt comfortable to post again, she said, “I’m more devoted to social media time, but now I’m taking more time to give a bigger range of price points and not just what I think is amazing.” Geller said it has been interesting not having one on one contact with clients but has adapted in some ways having customers do drive-by drop offs or pick-ups. She has also opened up some new local relationships with stores. Similarly, Kang said she is focusing on developing her local market working with stores and local magazines. But she adds that customers are happy to buy online or via WhatsApp or WeChat.

Despite the challenges of the lockdown, and the continued uncertainty of the future, everyone agrees there is business out there. While buying new inventory is still a challenge, Boyack said it’s all about who wants what and what you have at the right time and that private clients are still buying. Singer, who is also the President of the Society of American Jewelry Historians is confident in the future. “I think people have always wanted jewellery and always will want jewellery. This has been a constant for thousands of years and there have been wars, and pandemics and social crisis hundreds of times. People still continue to want jewellery, so I think that people are going to have to find a way of adjusting to a new way of reality but still understand that the desire for jewellery is a constant.”

Like many other industries, both the wholesale and retail jewellery industry will find a way to move forward and the key might be digital technology. Very recently we have seen several WhatsApp chat groups emerge, members can share new inventory, source product, or share information. Facebook groups of dealers (whether diamond dealers or watch dealers) are also sharing pieces for sale. This may not replace the robust activity of a show, but it does keep people in contact with each other. Without the ease of world travel, COVID reminds us that our international friends are far away, but we can close that gap with the smart use of technology.

Dana Kiyomura is an antique and estate jeweler and owner of Keyamour in New York, find her on Instagram @keyamour

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