IJL 2016 - A first-timer's view
It may come as a bit of a shock that in all my years working in the jewellery trade I have never attended the International Jewellery London Fair (or IJL as it's more commonly known).
It certainly shocked my partner - who has exhibited there himself more than once - despite having what might best be described as an 'arms length' approach to the world of sparkles. With a suitable sense of having 'been told', I registered as a visitor for this year's show.
The first pleasant surprise came with the realisation that this was a free show. As in - free to go, and open to all that are interested. Now, this just doesn't happen in my world. With nearly every exhibition or trade fair I attend, there is a door fee of some description. When the bigger fairs come around, there is a general scramble to get an invitation from one of the exhibitors. Not having to beg a free pass and being sent a full listings catalogue prior to the event was a definite plus!
The only problem with this came with the realisation that I was going to have to choose carefully between a number of different lectures that I wanted to attend...
The main hall of Olympia Earl's Court was filled with stands and visitors. Behind the premium stands along the central aisle of the hall was a warren of smaller stands bustling with traders, buyers and browsers. The general atmosphere of the exhibition hall was optimistic and bright - aided in part by the sun streaming in through the glass roof which characterises Olympia itself. There was a 'back to school' feeling (although this may just have been me), in the exchanging of greetings between peers seeing each other for the first time since the long summer began.
While my interest primarily lies in the world of vintage and antique fine jewellery, there really is something for everyone here. The jewellery side is dominated by contemporary jewellers, but the full range is here - from big diamonds presented by large companies through to handmade silver pieces by individual makers. If I were stocking a contemporary jewellery shop I would certainly have bought from a number of these charming people whose flair for design, interpretation of materials and presentation was a delight to see among the smaller stands in the upper galleries.
For the hobbyist or the manufacturer, the range of beads, cut stones and tools on offer was beyond amazing. I was intrigued to see a range of dyed kyanite amongst the beads on offer, this being a particularly difficult stone to facet because of its cleavage and differential hardness - I remember one lapidrist describing the process as being equivalent to attempting to cut a gemstone from the pages of a book! It was interesting to see what was on offer as the quantities of certain ranges seemed to give an indication of demand and trends behind the scenes in the manufacturing world.
While I was very tempted by an electro-plated strand of drusy quartz beads at a bargain price, I chose not to buy them - a decision that I'm now regretting, as my mind has been making them up into necklaces ever since. The huge range of options would be so exciting to a hobbyist or craftsperson. The only difficulty would come with trying to stick to a budget and not buy everything in sight!
What I personally found most useful was the range of retail services and suppliers - everything from packaging to photography solutions. As ShinyPrettyThings is reaching the point where we will be launching our shop in the near future, having the ability to wander between stands comparing finishes and prices, and actually being able to discuss my requirements with people face to face was so helpful. After dithering between a number of suppliers, we have finally fixed on one range and are in talks with the manufacturers about branding and numbers. Without IJL I doubt we would have reached this stage so swiftly.
The only possible criticism I could make of this show is that there were so many seminars and lectures that I wanted to attend but not enough hours in the day to see them all! Really, this huge range of options is a credit to the organisers, but I had to pick and choose between them which was a bit of a shame. Bring on the days of cloning so that I can see and do everything!
One particularly interesting talk was by Joanna Hardy of Antiques Roadshow fame. While I have known Joanna for a number of years, it was lovely to be present as an audience member and hear her speak about some of the most interesting and exciting jewels she has handled during her career as a jewellery expert and consultant. Her insights were amusing, informative and very much 'on point', and I can imagine that as a new-comer to the world of antique, vintage and contemporary fine jewellery it was an eye-opening discussion. There is always so much more to be learnt in this world of sparkles, and it was wonderful to have the benefit of her insights.
Overall, International Jewellery London surprised and excited me with the wealth of its offerings. As a back-to-school starter for those interested or involved in the jewellery world, this is a great place to get geared up, inspired and enthused for the start of the season. You may even find that one supplier you've desperately been searching for for months. Either way, you'll definitely find me there next September; rushing between lecture halls, browsing the beads, and ignoring the 'I told you so's from my best beloved. Hope to see you there!
International Jewellery London will be running from 3rd til 5th September 2017. For more information, please visit their website.