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About J in Milan opens in gloomy economic climate

By George Appleshaw

MILAN, February 22, 2009 - About J, a trade fair for high-end international jewellers preceding Milan Fashion Week, kicked off today with a strong presence of buyers from around the world, notably Eastern Europe, but jewellers warned that the economic crisis continued to haunt the industry.

More than 250 foreign buyers and around 400 Italian buyers filled the sleek black

corridors of About J, a trade event held in a converted former aircraft factory known as the East End Studios on the outskirts of Milan.

Organisers talked of strong representation from former Soviet countries, Europe, notably Spain, the United States, the Middle East, and China, although Japanese buyers were few. Italy's leading upmarket jewellery brands, such as Roberto Coin, Picchiotti and Marco Bicego, were present, as well as a few non-Italian names, including Yvel and Rodney Rayner, totalling around 70.

The buyers, exhibitors and media stayed in the ultra-luxury, art deco styled Hotel Principe di Savoia in the centre of Milan, but the opulence of their surroundings did not hide jewellers' concerns over the grim economic backdrop.

"We cannot hide the fact that there is a period of crisis," Domenico Girardi, Chief Operating Officer of the Vicenza Fair, organiser of the About J event, told Jewellery Outlook in an interview.

He said growth in sales of Italian gold and silver jewellery to the United Arab Emirates, Italy's number one foreign market, had slowed down.

He added that jewellery inventories held in Italy's main overseas markets were depleted.

"They (retailers) are making small orders. They will increase their inventories, but the question is when," Girardi said.

He noted that orders of Italian jewellery from Russia, a strong growth market of recent years,

had slowed down in the period from October 2008 to January 2009. "But the Russian buyers are here. Let's see what happens," he said.

He declined to forecast the trend for Italian gold and silver jewellery export sales."The last months of 2008 were tough," he said.

Jewellers privately voiced concerns over the outlook for sales and said that strategic marketing decisions, and any plans to expand abroad, had to be considered extremely carefully in light of current market conditions.

INNOVATION

Now the focus of so-called "Made in Italy" brands was on design innovation and differentiation of products, Girardi said. "The crisis increases incentives for creativity," he said.

One young designer on display was Delfina Delettrez, whose abstract insects, frogs and starfish, as well as skeletons and lips, were a talking-point on the first day of the fair.

Girardi said the Vicenza fair and About J were firmly committed to promoting "Made in Italy" brands as evidence showed that many final consumers of jewellery around the world still love Italian style.

"The sentiment of U.S. consumers towards 'Made in Italy' products remains positive," he said. Girardi said he believed that the global economy could show the first signs of recovery in the middle of 2009 if there were no unforeseen shocks to the system.

"If there are no nasty surprises, mid-year could see an improvement," he said.

www.aboutjevent.com