Andrea and I originally cancelled our annual jewelry/gift-buying trip to Europe where it would appear to most that we roam aimlessly through Germany, Holland, France, Italy and finally Spain for some R and R. Over the last few years we honed it to an efficient working plan that still involves lots of travel–be it by plane, train, water craft, automobile, moped, and once even horseback. Before we fine-tuned our trips, the learning experiences involved unexpected moments of confusion mixed with absolute terror. (For instance, when we got hopelessly lost in a whiteout during a June snowstorm high in the notorious Swiss Alps, or when I strayed off a mountain trail and nearly plunged off a sheer cliff not far from where I am sitting now.) These moments were followed by the joy of making acquaintances and discovering new places and treasures for our discerning clientele.
The negative 2010 business barometer caused by the economy had us considering scrapping the entire trip this summer. We thought about the alternative: hang around Marco and endure the dreaded months of August and September. Any island business owner will agree with me that the ninth month of the year here is painfully SLOW.
September! If we had the choice of staying here or an hour dipped in honey up to our necks in the sand, we’d take our chances with the fire ants, if the booby prize was Europe. I think you got my point–I’m outta here!
Day one, we landed in Düsseldorf, Germany to visit my wife’s family. Düsseldorf is one of the world’s high fashion centers as famous as Milan or New York City. Then we took a five-hour drive south to our favorite jewelry factory in Pforzheim, the “city of gold”, seeking unique, cutting edge designs in gold and sterling silver. We bought carefully; mostly sterling pieces with accents of gold. The high-end diamond designs were fresh and exciting but the problem is, with gold prices at an all time high, the demand for gold jewelry is, at this time, at an all time low. We still couldn’t resist buying some of the newest designs; but it would be unwise for us to buy too much.
With our business completed early, we strapped ourselves in for an invigorating two and a half-hour high-speed drive on the autobahn to the city of Munich. (To all you car enthusiasts out there: the rush of being behind the wheel of a high performance automobile traveling at 100 mph-plus on a flawless flat surface is indescribable, and I’m grateful my Mom’s not sitting in the backseat!) You cover a lot of miles in a short time. When slowing down near the city limits of Munich, we unconsciously discovered it was the opening day of “Oktoberfest 2010”. Das ist a wundebar surprise! Ya Hoo!!
Besides partying in the streets with thousands of beer and food enthusiasts, we honestly browsed the jewelry stores in the fashionable old town looking for new trends and display ideas that have not yet hit the states. The long chains with large charms worn by the Bavarian women in traditional dress, was a big fashion look first in Europe, and then in major U.S. cities. The popular theme beaded bracelets, are still strong here. When we had our first humble jewelry store on Marco, we learned the hard way that if we purchased what was the rage in Europe it would basically have a short attention appeal or fail miserably at first, and then more often than not it would take off and sell out quickly.
It’s obvious to many merchants that many islanders of a certain age bracket (I’ll tread lightly here) have kind of unwaveringly conservative taste. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that a lot of islanders aren’t hip or interested in what’s new and exciting. Oh! Who am I kidding? Yes, I am.
On a good note… since opening our second store: “Richard’s Reef”, at the Marco Walk Plaza, our clientele is an interesting mixture of hip and fashion-conscious, islanders and tourists alike. They rave over our choice of “rage pieces” and show them off at home before their hometown jewelers or clothing stores are even aware of the styles. We have even awakened a few hard core conservatives. And that is why we are over her– to stay ahead of the fashion curve, and to keep it interesting for all.
Because of a chance connection with an Italian Murano glass importer at a gift show in Atlanta, we were saved a side trip to Venice, Italy where we usually load up on the exquisite Italian glass sculptures and such. It’s just as well for we avoided a long drive through the Alps, but it was a little disappointing in a way, as Venice is one of our favorite destinations.
This past summer, Andrea and I attended numerous buying shows, from Boston to Las Vegas, that included the latest and some dramatic domestic gifts, both ladies and men’s apparel, and American designer jewelry. The jewelry biz in the U.S. is a bit stagnant because money is tight, so there are no real “must have” pieces being flaunted by celebrities that I have noticed.
The Europeans, on the other hand, seem to be inching out of their recession and many troubled retail shops are busy once again. However, I noticed that the upscale jewelry stores are lacking the same thing as in the U.S… buying customers! (Gold is $1300.00 an ounce, no matter if you are in Timbuctoo or Newark, N.J.) On a good note, while we were there, the German government announced that their unemployment rate was the lowest in twenty years; maybe they could share their simple solution with the folks on Capital Hill?
We flew into our final destination, Palma, Mallorca in the wee hours of the morning. I was still feeling the effects of Overoctoberfesting in Munich. And schlepping baggage around the airport wasn’t helping. (Have we even been to bed yet?)
Mallorca is always the last stop of our Euro-trip. It is the location of getaway homes for Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas, Michael Caine, Goldie Hawn and Paris Hilton (who?), not to mention innumerous international super models. Here, they can blend in and enjoy the island comforts without being harassed by the media.
Mallorca is also the birth place of the Spanish now world tennis great, Rafael Nadal, whose family lives in the town of Manacor.
Another thing Mallorca is famous for is the pearls they manufacture. Yes, I said “manufacture”. They use a secret process where natural and man-made materials are combined, then ground up fine and bonded to glass beads. The end result is an amazing cultured pearl look-alike that costs a fraction of the price of a pearl. The tourists buy them like hot cakes over there. Yet they sold like fur ear muffs on Marco Island so I no longer stock them. Pearls, for reasons that escape me, are not a huge fashion statement in Southwest Florida; you would think that women living in an ocean side community would be awash in pearls… but you’d be wrong.
When this is published we will be back on the island. It will thankfully be October, and time for us to seriously get back to the grindstone and play the hand the economy has dealt us. This trip has given us the opportunity to slip a few aces up our sleeves so to speak.
Please remember to patronize your island business owners. They need your support more than ever.
Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and owner of The Harbor Goldsmith and Richards Reef on Marco Island. He welcomes your questions about all that glitters. 239-394-9275