Armed with consumer wish lists that include big-name fashion brands, colored gemstones, estate jewelry, and fill-ins like silver and pearls, retailers heading to JCK Las Vegas in June say they’re expecting a vibrant show. This year’s presidential race creeps into most conversations, to be sure, but most people who spoke to JCK don’t anticipate drastic changes in the market no matter who gets voted into office.
Last year’s strong jewelry industry performance is still fresh in many retailers’ minds: Sales of fine jewelry and watches in the United States were an estimated $20 billion in November and December, a 2.4 percent gain over the same period in 2014, according to the Department of Commerce. That marked a turnaround from 2014 and 2013, when sales dipped 1.9 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. Full-year 2015 results saw U.S. fine jewelry sales reach $66.5 billion.
According to Edahn Golan, an analyst and consultant to the global diamond industry, factors helping jewelry sales grow last year included a decline in precious-metal prices, a softening of polished-diamond prices due to high inventory levels, and improvements in marketing on the part of big-name brands.
Dome ring in 18k white gold with 15.64 cts. t.w. rose-cut sapphires and 0.42 ct. t.w. round diamonds; $8,650; Jye’s International Inc., San Francisco; 415-621-8880; jyescorp.com
Handmade earrings with 0.89 ct. t.w. opals and 1 ct. t.w. diamonds in 14k rose gold; $3,060; Majolie Collections, Los Angeles; 213-489-1000; majoliecollections.com
Ring in rose gold with a 0.59 ct. rose-cut diamond; $3,740; Sethi Couture, San Francisco; 415-863-1475; sethicouture.com
Conner Buxton, owner of C.M. Buxton Jeweler & Rare Coins in Missoula, Mont., says his store notched a record year last year, thanks to people buying more jewelry. Hot tickets included engagement and wedding styles and silver jewelry. Among millennial bridal customers who gravitate to nontraditional engagement rings, the store is doing well with colored stones, especially sapphires, garnets, tanzanite, and even emeralds. Couples “are looking for something that’s unique and new and really kind of artsy and different,” Buxton says, noting price points for engagement rings generally range between $1,200 and $2,800.
Alexis Padis, director of operations at Padis Jewelry, with four stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, estimates 70 percent of her customers are millennials, a group that expects an omnichannel approach. In other words, a retailer must meet them seamlessly in the virtual and physical worlds. Members of this generation conduct research online, visit brick-and-mortar stores repeatedly, expect the red-carpet treatment, and try on everything. “We have to work that much harder,” Padis says.
On the bright side, sales to millennials often command robust $8,000-to-$10,000 price tags, she says, adding that she’s seen a “huge” increase in sales of colored stones. “We didn’t see it coming,” she says, recalling that one salesperson who was devoted to colored stones became booked overnight. Turns out colored stones, such as sapphires and morganite, are a popular way for millennials to make their engagement rings unique.
As for metals, the rush for rose gold has tapered off, and while there have been more requests for yellow, white gold is still king. “There are three constants: death, taxes, and white gold,” Padis says.
Earrings in 14k rose gold with 2.22 cts. t.w. fancy-shape cognac diamonds; price on request; Dorian & Rose, Los Angeles; 213-622-8480; dorianandrose.net
Bypass ring in platinum and 18k yellow gold with 3.78 ct. fancy intense yellow diamond and 3.01 ct. pear-shape white diamond; $153,700; Norman Silverman, Los Angeles; 877-687-3985; normansilverman.com
Pendant in 14k rose gold with pavé diamonds; $3,340; Effy, NYC; 212-944-0020; effyjewelry.com
Pear-shape ring in 18k white gold with a 1.11 ct. rose-cut diamond center and 0.46 ct. t.w. brilliant diamond accents; $11,125; Coast Diamond, Glendale, Calif.; 800-523-5937; coastdiamond.com
Because of the growing pressure on diamond and watch margins, Jorge Adeler, owner and designer at Adeler Jewelers in Great Falls, Va., says his entire business is based on 48 showcases of colored gemstones. But a business cannot live on color alone. “Price seems to be the battle that the stores are fighting,” he says. “There is a definite floor, and eventually the race is toward the bottom and failure is your reward for winning; so why get into that fight?”
Although Adeler has spent 40 years in retail, he decided to get a taste of the other side: designing his own collection. There, Adeler has focused on creating one-of-a-kind pieces with unusual techniques and offbeat gems. “You cannot win the battle when the reward is the floor,” he says. With your own line, “the sky is infinite.”
Custom work has also been strong for Howard Skalet, owner of Skalet Family Jewelers in Sacramento, Calif. Coming off an “up” Christmas as well as improved January and February sales compared with the same period last year, the store has been “inundated,” he says. Some 75 percent of Skalet’s business is custom work, and he manufactures much of the inventory.
“We’re still seeing halos—God bless them,” he says of the ever-popular engagement ring style. “And my estate case is kicking ass.”
Skalet says he’s surprised that he’s getting more requests for pear- and marquise-shape diamonds, but customers have been asking to set them on the horizontal.
The legalization of same-sex marriages in California has also proved to be a boon for business. “Same-sex marriage sales are solid and great!” he says, pointing out that he often sells not just two wedding rings, but two engagement rings for the big day. “It’s a really cool experience for all parties involved.”
An Nguyen, owner of Atelier N Fine Jewelry in Durham, N.C., and also a custom jeweler, is planning to pick up novelty lines in Las Vegas that complement his own lines as well as satisfy the taste of his conservative Southern clientele. He plans to fill in with sterling silver as well as yellow gold, which is enjoying a resurgence. Diamonds and sapphires have always been a strong staple, but there’s been an increased awareness of tourmaline.
Magic price points range from $1,500 to $3,000, with novelty gifts coming in around $500. And pearls from overseas are nice to have on hand, he says.
“Pearls have always been a good value for me, through the ups and downs of metal,” Nguyen says. “I mix them with black diamonds and sapphires.”
Ring in sterling silver with natural ruby; $248; Eva Stone, Gdansk, Poland; email@example.com; evastone.eu
Lexington 42-inch chain in sterling silver with natural sky blue topaz and simulated diamonds; $595; Charles Garnier Paris, Los Angeles; 213-892-0075; charlesgarnier.com
Artiste collection ring in sterling silver with hand-painted Italian enamel; $195; Belle Étoile, Emeryville, Calif.; 415-626-9223; belleetoilejewelry.com
Aside from custom work and colored stones, big brand names appear to be holding their own nicely. Clayton Bromberg, president of Underwood’s, with four stores in northern Florida, has seen the disposable income of the middle class slowly diminish. But designers such as Marco Bicego, Ippolita, David Yurman, Roberto Coin, and John Hardy continue to draw interest. And he expects sales of Forevermark diamonds to grow, thanks to the brand’s promise of responsible business practices, support for “the advancement of women,” and protection of the natural world—all of which strike a chord with young engaged couples.
Bromberg cautions that business conditions can vary, even from one store to the next. “One store had too much yellow gold, one store didn’t have enough,” he says. “We’re getting conflicting signals, and that’s one of the more frustrating things.”
As for the rest of this year, Bromberg has an analogy: “I would equate this to bull riding. I’m trying to get the bull rode. I’m not trying to do anything more than that right now.”
Designers are also hot at Bailey’s Fine Jewelry, with four stores in North Carolina. Forevermark, Phillips House, Temple St. Clair, and Elizabeth Locke are popular. But in the event things get soft, the company is prepared to be aggressive.
“Sometimes you gotta dig deep and find a way to do more business, get more creative, work hard, and work your loyal customers, and then you can really beat the odds,” says Trey Bailey, third-generation owner and director of operations.
It’s a sentiment echoed by many retailers. Anthony Pampillonia, owner of -Pampillonia Jewelers in Richardson, Texas, has hit his stride after 11 years, thanks to a strong referral business. He looks at building trust and loyalty in his clients as a long-term investment and the foundation for his future. That said, he also has maintained a healthy measure of caution since the recession.
“Since 2008, I’ve revisited all of my buying philosophies in ways that I’ve never done,” he says. “When I see value and quality, then, yes, I will buy it. I’m in the business of buying and selling jewels. But I’m much more focused. I do it with a lot more intent than I used to.”
Top: Photograph by Greg Sorensen, Styling by Catherine Peridis
Market editor: Jennifer Heebner. Makeup by Alexis Williams for The Brooks Agency. Hair by Gusléne Bubak. Manicure by Jasmin Cameron using Chanel Le Vernis
Necklace in 18k gold with rubies and diamonds, price on request, Andreoli, NYC, 212-582-2050, andreoliusa.com; Impass ring in 18k gold with rubies and diamonds and Flower ring in 18k gold with black rhodium, colored sapphires, and diamonds, $5,725–$6,200, Parade Design, Los Angeles, 213-627-4019, paradedesign.com; Swirl ring in 18k gold with diamonds, $1,915, Sylvie Collection, Plano, Texas, 214-472-9992, sylviecollection.com; earrings in silver and 18k gold with amethyst and diamonds, $610, Gabriel & Co., NYC, 800-886-5422, gabrielny.com
Inset: ring in 18k white and yellow gold with a 1.86 ct. fancy yellow diamond and 1.5 cts. t.w. pavé diamonds; $90,000; Vtse, Pasadena, Calif.; 626-577-9288; firstname.lastname@example.org