World Jewelry Center on hold

The 2-million-square foot World Jewelry Center is losing some sparkle.

The project, which was scheduled to start construction in 2009, is on hold. Developers have also abandoned an idea to include upscale residential condos in the project.

"We've cut back substantially on our plans at this point," Robert Zarnegin, principal and developer of the World Jewelry Center project, said Wednesday.

Zarnegin said he doesn't know when the project will be revived.

"The status is that we intend to move forward with the project when the economic climate is back in order," he said. "It would be imprudent for anyone to guesstimate when the world will become more clear."

The World Jewelry Center proposal calls for a tower that would be home to jewelry makers as well as office condos, restaurants and offices. The center is in the plans for the Symphony Park development, a 61-acre master-planned project downtown that includes a concert hall, brain research center and proposals for hotels, casinos and residential and office developments.

He hopes to have new agreements with the city to extend the project timeline within six months.

But with plans for the World Jewelry Center on hold, is there still room for luxury in a postbling world? That's the question Michael Beaudry is asking as he unpacks millions of dollars worth of jewelry in a villa at Wynn Las Vegas.

Beaudry, a jewelry designer and manufacturer, is one of hundreds of luxury jewel and watch specialists in Las Vegas this week.

"Even the superwealthy are on the fence," said Beaudry, displaying custom-made rings and bracelets that can cost nearly $1 million. "They are in wealth-preservation mode."

Beaudry is displaying his collection, made in a style he calls "new vintage," at Wynn Las Vegas as part of Couture 2009, a trade show for luxury jewelry makers and buyers scheduled to run today through Tuesday.

Across the street at The Venetian and the Las Vegas Sands and Convention Center, JCK Las Vegas, a larger jewelry show, is scheduled to start Saturday.

Beaudry expects to walk as many as 100 potential customers through the latest editions to his extensive collection, although at the price point where Beaudry, who started his company in 1984 and recently introduced a line of Swiss-made watches, says turning a showing into a sale can sometimes take years even in good times.

And lately, it's getting harder to move such high-end merchandise.

Everyone from Wall Street traders to corporate CEOs to hip-hop artists are getting by on less money these days -- or at least appearing to do so.

The rise of faux jewelry is even causing a stir in the hip-hop world, with writers and rival artists trying to call out rappers they think are posing with fake ice.

"The day of conspicuous consumption is gone," Tamara Connor, stylist to rap stars and women's fashion magazines, recently told the urban fashion magazine SoJones. "We're still going to see some bling, but it's just not going to be as much. Instead of four diamond necklaces, it might just be a diamond bracelet, and it's a piece the celebrity wears all the time. They're not changing their jewelry out every day."

Beaudry says he's cut a roster of about 100 craftsmen and women he had on board during the economy's peak by two-thirds.

But he's hopeful the industry may rebound and possibly bring some new jobs to Las Vegas.

"The consensus is we've seen the worst of it, but when will things come back?" he says.

If the World Jewelry Center does get back on track, it would mean thousands of construction jobs in the short-term and the potential for hundreds of skilled-labor jobs that jewelry-makers such as Beaudry would import if they moved to the center.

"I think it would take some time to get that community built," says Beaudry of getting a critical mass of industry people that could make a World Jewelry Center functional.

But he said Nevada, with lower taxes and labor costs than jewelers face in Los Angeles, would be worth the investment if developers can deliver a facility.

"You have an ideal infrastructure," Beaudry said.

Contact Benjamin Spillman at or 477-3861.