Brands, Basics, and Floating Diamonds Ruled This Year’s Yule

Brand-name products, bridal, and diamonds—particularly the floating kind—were the big 2014 holiday sellers, jewelers told JCK.

As usual, retailers reported a range of results this Christmas, although the positive comments far outweighted the negative. And while not every jewelry store felt blessed by Santa, JCK spoke to quite a few that saw sales increases of 10, 20, and even 30 percent.

It was in many ways a schizophrenic Christmas, with stores doing best with both brands and basics. Even upbeat retailers complained the market remains split in two. While high-end consumers are spending freely, the middle and low-end are still watching their wallets, favoring items such as silver and charms. 

Even so, most found consumers in a good mood—at least compared with a few years ago. Ben Mullen, manager of Swansea, Mass.–based Mullen Brothers, describes his clientele as “defiantly optimistic”: “Even though the indicators aren’t all that great, people are still committed to getting out there and spending money,” he says. “People who are okay with money are okay with spending it, but the bulk of consumers are very price-conscious.” 

Mullen’s overall sales jumped a more than respectable 30 percent, with the hottest items being bridal, diamonds, and fashion lines such as Endless and Chamilia.

The mood was very much upbeat in Edmonds, Wash., where consumers were “feeling great,” says Cline Jewelers owner Andy Cline. 

“We’re in a suburb of Seattle, and the job and housing markets are really booming now, and that has a big impact on our business,” he says.

Seasonal sales soared 15 percent. The big movers: engagement rings, bridal, diamond earrings, and custom pieces. 

Rolex was the big winner at Alexander’s Jewelers in Texarkana, Texas.

“We never had a Rolex year like this year,” says owner Van Alexander. “The [robust Rolex sales] started in March, and I’ve sold more high-end watches this year than I ever have. And people couldn’t get enough of the stainless steel green Submariner. Sales for those were way up.” 

Holiday receipts were up 10 to 12 percent, and it amounted to a “stress-free holiday” at Alexander’s.

“We were busy enough that I didn’t have time to think, Where’s that guy, where’s this guy, why isn’t he coming in?” Alexander says. “They were already there. You had to fight for it—customers still wanted their deals. But they were leaving with a bag.” 

At Jay’s Jewelry in Chickasha, Okla., it was both an exceptional and disappointing holiday.

“We were on verge of having a super-great Christmas, but with [gas] prices going down, there has been concern among consumers in the oil field business,” says owner Jason Jarnagin.

Even so, the store rang up 20 percent more business than last year. Rhythm of Love, morganite, fancy color, diamond tennis bracelets, pendants, and earrings were the top sellers.

Weather was a big help to Evan James Ltd. of Brattleboro, Vt., which enjoyed a 30 percent sales bump. 

“The biggest Christmas present was from Mother Nature,” says owner Evan James. “We had great weather this holiday. It started off strong, leveled off in the middle, and then we had some record days.”

Fast movers included Alex and Ani, diamonds, engagement rings, diamond studs, Luca bracelets, and estate jewelry.

The farm economy yielded a bountiful Christmas for McIntosh Jewelry in O’Neill, Neb., where holiday sales grew 15 percent.

“The rural area is up and good,” says owner Richard McIntosh. “Cattle prices are favorable, and the farmers are seeing big crops.” 

Diamonds were big sellers—in part due to a promotion where the owner talked about traveling to Israel to buy loose stones. “That was very worthwhile,” McIntosh says. 

The season was more of a roller coaster at Birmingham Jewelry in Sterling Heights, Mich. Says CEO Marina Pilibosian: “Some days people were lined up at the counters. Some days it was empty-ish and we were like, ‘Is this Christmas or what?’” 

Her hot holiday products included Pandora—particularly the beads, gift sets, and rings—and engagement rings in the $3,000 to $12,000 range. 

But radio proved Pilibosian’s not-so-secret weapon.

“The ads get embedded in people’s heads,” she says. “It gives businesspeople who are driving to work and listening to the all-news station some good gift ideas.” 

Lucian Lee Jr., owner of Hale’s Jewelers, Greenville, S.C., says sales were even with 2013—but he’s not complaining, as both years were good.

“It was kind of a weird season,” he says. “We didn’t sell a lot of [high-ticket] things. It was all about basics, and selling lots and lots of them.”

Among those best-selling basics: diamond stud earrings, Rolexes, engagement rings, and diamond fashion.

Christmas 2014 was also flat at Vail Creek Jewelry Designs in Turlock, Calif., shrugs salesman John Reynoso.

“The first week of December wasn’t anything to brag about,” he adds. “Then most of our business was probably that last week. I’ve been in the jewelry industry for over 40 years, and it’s a little bit better than the last few years. But the last six to eight years—you’ve seen a lot better years.”

Mary Speranza, assistant manager of Phoenix’s Jewels & Estate Gallery by G. Darrell Olson, found traffic “slow” although the store made out “okay.”

The boutique sold earrings, silver, and custom pieces, but last-minute shoppers sometimes had unrealistic expectations.

“Customers want their own styles and they think you can do it in less than 24 hours,” she laughs. “No, we can’t.”

Over in Kansas, Patti Schrag, owner of Derby-based Gemstone Jewelers, senses consumers were not as merry this year.

“There wasn’t a ho-ho-ho attitude,’” she says. “I didn’t sell any 3 caraters this year, though I did sell one 2-carater.”

Still, sales at her two stores did top last year’s, thanks to strong demand for colored diamonds, Galatea pearls, and—a surprise—diamonds set in sterling silver.

“Normally, we don’t stock that kind of thing in the store,” she says. “That’s more of a Fred Meyer or Kohl’s department store thing. But we decided we didn’t want to send customers away. Wouldn’t you know that every single piece in sterling with diamonds sold?”

She thinks the industry’s biggest competitor this year was the iPhone 6. 

“We have a hint-hint card, and a woman had three pieces she loved, from $195 to $3,000,” she recalls. “Her husband came in with all three of those cards, and said, ‘I had something else in mind—a tech toy.’ I asked him, ‘How romantic is that?’ He bought her the tech toy. It was probably for him, anyway.” (Reporting by Victoria Gomelsky, Jennifer Heebner, Brittany Siminitz, and Emili Vesilind)

JCK News Director