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Claire Baiz: Vegas Diary




Claire Baiz braves the masses and visits the las vegas shows after a five-year absence.


I am a very small fish. This might explain why, in the days leading up to the Las Vegas shows, I’m surprised to get dozens of calls asking, ?Are you going to the show?? You’d think I was a buyer for Neiman’s. I wish I could accept this as flattery, but my gut tightens when I hear the question. 

The thing is, I hate appointments. If I tell vendors I’m coming, I’m stuck. 

?I’m not sure,? I say. I justify the retort by telling myself that something could happen to prevent my trip … after all, I’m busy, and Montanans shouldn’t leave during the few moments that pass for summer up here. 

I had been to JCK/Vegas a half- dozen times when I discovered the JA/NY Show five years ago, and I haven’t been back since. So, it’s time to try again. No Broadway shows this year, no day off in Greenwich. This year it’s Joan Rivers and the Bellagio buffet. 


I am officially in training. I go to the gym regularly, but with the miles of walking that lie ahead, it’s overtime on the Stairmaster. This is jewelry’s Olympics, and I am not going to miss an event because my legs hurt. Pain now, endurance later. 



Most years there’s a controversial ?20/20? segment that comes out during the holidays. This year, there’s a major motion picture (the forthcoming The Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio). I am going ?diamond mining? in Vegas for a Canadian dealer to have in my store when the movie is released in November.  


I crave cutting-edge design, and my eye is tired of the catalogs in my studio, especially since the Platinum Guild stopped publishing their ?drool books? (which I really miss). I can’t wait to see what’s new. But with metals prices at 26-year highs, can’t JCK reschedule? There are times I can’t wait to go, and other times I swallow hard. 

Today’s the day to clear the larder. My designers need returns for their booths ? I begin offering incentives to schedule appointments after the show. It’s starting to look like old Mother Hubbard’s in my colored-gemstone case. Lots of clutter


Today I received the show guide, which I call ?the Brick?. I feel guilty ripping out the map and filing the guide in the recycle bin, unused. I could bring it to the gym for step class, but I’m already using the Quality Gold catalog for that. 

Last time I went to JCK/Vegas, I was lost. This year I’m determined. My trusty assistant Mark, who is retired military, is my scout. ?Here’s the occupied territory,? I explain, spreading the map on the worktable, assault-style. ?I want an invasion plan aimed at these targets,? pointing to company names in the small pocket showguide. 

Mark nods, and two hours later I have a laminated notebook map, with bathrooms highlighted in yellow, and a walking plan. No appointments: I prefer the surprise attack.  



I know I am in Vegas within three steps of getting off the jetway. That’s because Las Vegas is the official Ugly-Carpet Capital of the World. And the carpet looks even worse after waiting 45 minutes at the baggage carousel. Though Delta wouldn’t let me catch an earlier connection, my luggage was there before me, waiting outside the Delta kiosk, where anyone could have taken it. Sheesh!

It’s a good thing I went to the bathroom. There are literally hundreds of people in this sweltering taxi line. It says something sad about human nature that I feel better when I look at people standing behind me. Knowing someone else will be in line after I’m on my way is comforting, in an oddly disturbing way. 

I hit the AGTA show after checking in at Caesar’s, and buy a great Tahitian lariat from Adachi. This show feels like a warm-up for the main event, with buyers sniffing at color like brides at bouquets of posies. I wander upstairs for an educational seminar, but I’m between presentations. I intend to go, but for me and many of my peers, bad timing gets the better of good intentions. 

Madagascar Imports, the only Montana dealer at the AGTA show, reported a good day as I picked up a few Yogo Sapphires from their booth. I ran into a friend setting up for JCK. He’d spent much of the day tracking his Brinks shipment. He was frazzled and unhappy ? diamond papers loose in black suitcases, his assistant cowering in case a mood struck. The pressure is on everyone: vendors, retailers, and seminar presenters. Hey, this is Vegas, baby ? it’s supposed to be fun!


I don’t know why, but I find Las Vegas vaguely embarrassing. It’s like getting caught reading a comic book. ?Well, um, I really do enjoy Yeats, but Yosemite Sam has his charm.? I keep expecting to see Roger Rabbit peek out from behind a faux-marble column. Even the new Wynn feels like a luxury fantasy instead of the real thing. 

Virginia Stuller, from whom I purchase Paspaley pearls, is the quintessential Southern Belle. I swear, no matter how good I try to look, I feel like I need fixing around her. She exudes a natural elegance, and a charm worthy of antebellum clich?s.  


But there is no charm entering the first-floor exhibits. 

When a company hears they have a booth at JCK/Vegas, they must feel elated, but I can almost hear their balloons popping when they hear it’s on the first floor. With low ceilings and exposed ductwork, it feels vaguely subterranean. The space opens farther back in the exhibit hall, but these vendors still probably have their names on a long waiting list for the move upstairs. 

Tonight I meet a group of pawnbroker/jewelers from San Jose. The main buyer is spending upwards of $100,000 at the show, which includes $10,000 in sterling jewelry. Opening a new pawnshop outlet has expanded their demand for lower-end goods. Even customers who own large diamonds are exploring value options: this particular San Jose jeweler sold more than $50,000 in clarity-enhanced Yehuda goods last year alone. 

Unlike that enthusiastic buyer, a group of tired jewelers from Kessler’s Diamonds in Wisconsin were disappointed in the selections from the Continental Buying Group at Caesar’s. ?There’s nothing new?, lamented one buyer, rubbing his eyes and nursing a drink at the pool bar.  

I am the World’s Most Boring Human Being. I feel sorry for my poor husband. While others look forward to parties, I am happy to get back to the pool, where I can sit with my laptop, take cool dips every half hour and decide where to get take-out to eat in my room. I love to travel alone. I love my family, but this five-day respite is a chance to sleep when I want, eat what I want, and see some of the most beautiful (as well as some of the most atrocious) jewelry in the world. I’ll crash tonight happy and exhausted, catalogs strewn on the floor, the half-eaten Caesar salad on the night table beside the bed. 


I am determined to look good for the Polygon breakfast. At my age this takes an hour, curling my hair in two sessions with tiny travel rollers. More than 80 Polygon members show up at the Stage Deli. David Geller, the jewelry business guru, is there to greet the crowd. The breakfast is Mikki Rainey’s idea, and she graciously offered to foot the bill. I don’t know if she was expecting 80 people, but I appreciated her hospitality, and the chance to finally meet Wink Jones and say hello to the wrong Doron (don’t ask). 

I’ve given up on the un-findable shuttle. Today I’m sharing a cab with my new pal from the Polygon breakfast, David Tedrow. 

David’s store is in South Carolina. He was robbed a month ago (shudder), with a decent ending anyway ? goods recovered, business is hopping. David’s home also burned down in December, and I wonder why he’s in such good spirits. I visit him for half an hour before finding out about his ?twin tragedies?. The worst thing, according to David, was losing his beloved Italian greyhound in the house fire. ?After that, the robbery was nothing,? he said.  

Butterflies are fluttering when I reach the Signature Salons. Madeline Albright would swoon, but the ladies in my hometown, who may admire the craftsmanship of four-inch butterfly pins, won’t buy them. I remember jewelry in my own showcases that, although it moves slowly, helps to sell everything else.  

I strike up casual conversations, and many jewelers share their concerns about micropav? rings: their delicate beauty is offset by high maintenance and the sparkling trail of half-pointers that may lead Hansel and Gretel back to their jewelry stores. I’ve seen enough micropav? here to cover a gingerbread house. Let’s hope we don’t get baked inside. 

I’m trying to sniff out the next big thing, but I haven’t seen it at the Shows. Maybe INSTORE will send me to JA/NY and I’ll come back with big news. 

The Signature Salons have an entirely different mood than JCK. The aisles aren’t congested, and I hear meaningful discourse at the ample, upscale booths. This venue intimidates browsers, unless perhaps you are Solomon Brothers or Tivol. Hearts on Fire, Mikimoto and Kwait occupy entire theme rooms. I don’t want to waste their time or mine entering these lairs, so I politely avoid going in. 

I am a little sheepish entering John Atencio’s corner booth. I need to make a nice buy and I’m not sure I’ll have enthusiasm for the new collection. 

Boy, was I wrong! I have to restrain myself. Atencio have been undergoing a creative explosion, and have re-structured their wholesale division. Price points are great, even for a small-town jeweler on a modest budget, and several designs that looked nice in the promotional materials look even better in person. 

Every retailer understands feeling obligated to buy from a supplier, and hoping the selection will sell at holiday. No worries here. Look out Santa, here comes John Atencio. 

Next stop, Sam Lehr. Sam has a style that I dub ?electric Deco?. The first time I saw it, I was on the way to the ladies room at a JCK Show. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to re-locate his booth, so I delayed my pit stop. Half an hour and $5,000 later I had begun my love affair with this prickly, protective talent (no web page, no catalog).  


Everyone seems to agree that this year’s show is less crowded. Theories abound: too many venues, from the Rio and Caesar’s to the Wynn and JCK, plus the ballroom exhibits and AGTA show in the Venetian. Then there’s precious metals prices, pressures on the dollar, 110-degree heat… 

It’s my last day at the Show, and as I walk back to Caesar’s I hit Sephora, the cosmetics superstore. I have to bring paper money, because I am tempted to run up the bill if I bring plastic. The joy of finding just the right foundation after a half-hour with a makeup expert is a highlight of my day. 


My flight leaves in an hour, and I’m reviewing my trip. Meeting Matt Stuller outside his Plumb Club booth was a coup. When I pull out the catalog at the shop, now I can casually mention ?I know him?. The backpack that Rocket Red Box gave to passers-by is top-notch, and I’ll never forget the lady working their booth with the sore ?Rocket Red Feet?. Nikki Cohen’s enthusiasm for her new line actually got me excited, and I’ve got a pile of Canadian-diamond packets to read. Dinner on Olive’s patio, watching the Bellagio fountains, I felt like a princess. I won’t forget the invisible shuttle that nearly forced me to miss Joan Rivers. She was a hoot and a half. JCK had to know she’d offend anyone in earshot, and she delivered in spades. Watching the audience react was priceless.  

For me, the last day of the show is the first day of Holiday Countdown: 171 shopping days until Christmas! It may be 106 degrees in Vegas, but as I board the plane for home, my feet are sore and mind is on the ice I’ll be selling in December.  

CLAIRE BAIZ owns Big Sky Gold & Diamond in Great Falls, MT.



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