A Growing Taste for Platinum

As the millennium turns, there’s hardly a soul who doesn’t immediately recognize the initials “www.” And soon, everyone will know what “Pt” means, as well. Worldwide demand for platinum jewelry seems to be growing at a rate surpassed only by the demand for Internet access.

In the United States, the fastest-growing Western market for platinum jewelry, sales were up 25% last year from the year before, to a total of 200,000 ounces, according to James Courage, head of the Platinum Guild International’s worldwide jewelry division.

Both domestically manufactured and imported platinum jewelry showed significant increases, Courage told visitors to Italy’s VicenzaOro I fair in January. Platinum now accounts for 25% of the bridal jewelry market, up from 15% in 1997. Bridal rings are the strongest-selling category of platinum jewelry, though interest in non-bridal and non-ring designer platinum jewelry has increased significantly.

Courage attributed this growth to a variety of factors. In 1994, only one-third of American jewelry manufacturers offered all-platinum jewelry lines, whereas by 1998 that figure had risen to almost half. Also, major jewelry retail chains have substantially increased their stocks of platinum jewelry, provided increased marketing support for the category, and pushed sales of platinum bridal jewelry at the counter. Television shopping networks have introduced platinum to a wider audience, boosting sales of less-expensive varieties of platinum jewelry (mainly neckchain) and popularizing the metal among average Americans, not just upscale consumers.

Courage also cited successful efforts by PGI’s American office in creating greater visibility for platinum jewelry through its Platinum Pavilions at major trade shows and its development of an effective consumer ad and educational campaign. As a result, he said, platinum sales increased at a higher percentage rate than any other jewelry category, and with noticeably increased consumer response to PGI’s Web site and 800 number.

Worldwide, China is the fastest-growing market for platinum jewelry overall: Sales shot up almost 39% in 1998 over the 1997 level. The Chinese market is dominated by chains and rings without gemstones. Though imports from Japan and Italy have increased, the majority of jewelry in China is domestically produced, with a new platinum jewelry manufacturing center in southern China.

For the European market, Courage put the growth figure at about 7% and highlighted some upcoming promotional plans. A bilingual catalog of platinum jewelry by German manufacturers is slated, with widespread distribution to German retailers and key export markets. Germany remains an important exporter. Domestically, there is demand for two distinct German styles: the avant-garde geometric and matte looks for which the country is well known as well as classic looks, introduced within the past five years by the German PGI office and attracting rising interest. The market for classic design is expanding among retailers as well as consumers.

Italy, growing as a platinum exporter, is becoming an important domestic market as well. Jewelry consumption increased almost 73% between 1996 and 1998, from 75,000 ounces to 130,000 ounces. It’s quite an impressive figure for a country traditionally devoted to gold.

Much of the growth is being driven by the “Platinum Pure and Simple” campaign (see page 66), which capitalizes on a global trend toward simplicity and streamlining one’s life. Additionally, PGI Italy is working to establish the 18th birthday as a new gift-giving occasion for platinum jewelry.

Despite its economic woes, Japan remains the world’s largest market for platinum jewelry. While platinum jewelry unit sales dropped 3%, the metal actually increased its market share of jewelry sales overall for 1998. Growth was focused on neckchain, bracelet, and earring sales.

Globally, Courage believes, platinum is aimed at a new generation of consumers and is positioned to cash in on the growing trend away from price and toward value, as well as the ongoing popularity of white metal jewelry fashion.

Coco Chanel once said, “Elegance means reducing everything to the most chic, costly, refined poverty.”

Though Chanel was French, the Italians are no slouches when it comes to style, and certainly not when it comes to jewelry. The Platinum Guild International’s Italian office has launched a new campaign focusing on platinum jewelry that is understated, simple, affordable, and appropriate to be worn at any time.

“Low-key and affordable?” you ask. Are we talking about platinum here? Isn’t it usually worn with mega-carats of diamonds?

Yes, say the Italian fashion experts, we’re talking about platinum, and there’s plenty to choose from this year. With its refined elegance and pure, essential lines, the newest platinum jewelry includes rings with domed surfaces; small, geometric earrings; delicate chain and mesh necklaces; and bangle and mesh bracelets. – Nancy Pier Sindt

Note: In some areas, the Italian telephone system has changed. Traditionally, callers from the United States would drop the local “0” prefix from the city code, but recently it has been required to complete some overseas calls. If your call does not go through, try adding a “0” to the beginning of each city code; thus, Le-Gi Milan would be (39-02) 864187, and calls to the Vicenza region would be (39-0424) or (39-0444).

Back on the Chain Gang

The humble chain may be the next major growth area for platinum jewelry. That’s what the Italians are betting on with a new platinum chain catalog, launched at VicenzaOro I. The catalog is being supported by the Platinum Guild International in conjunction with the Italian Trade Commission and other PGI offices worldwide.

Major Italian manufacturers have already invested in substantial production facilities for platinum chain, with an increasing range of designs and growth in the category of smaller-scale, hand-finished goods.

In Japan, chain represents 25% of the market in unit sales, while internationally, chain is a 25-ton market second only to rings. Neckchains are the fastest growing segment of platinum jewelry in China and Japan. In Europe and the United States, there is opportunity to build on the existing platinum jewelry market, according to James Courage, head of PGI’s worldwide jewelry division.