Capitalizing on the American-Made Jewelry Movement



In December 2010, Amanda Jaron received an eye-opening piece of mail: Her monthly FedEx bill for shipping designs to and from the Chinese factory that manufactured her A. Jaron Studio line for the Home Shopping Network totaled $30,000. “I was spending more time and money on FedEx than on designing,” she recalls.

Anxious to have more say over the production of her collection and eager to return to her artistic roots, the former jewelry and watch designer for Avon opened A. Jaron Fine Jewelry in Naples, Fla., in 2011. She expected a slower pace than her days as a mass merchandiser, but instead, she struggled to keep up with demand. As she soon learned, jewelry not made in China was a hot seller.

“If I buy $30 rings in China, I have to buy 100 units and then drag $70 out of 70 people to make a profit,” she explains. “But if just one client comes in to have something made, I net that amount in one lump sum. The largest and most profitable jewelry I now make is right here in town.”

Earrings in 18k yellow gold and sterling silver with patina, 5.7 cts. t.w. fancy-cut diamonds, 2.39 cts. t.w. white brilliant-cut diamonds, and 1.71 cts. t.w. raw diamonds; $34,320; Todd Reed, Boulder, Colo.; 888-474-8787; toddreed.com

Considering that American-made goods generally cost more than those made overseas, Jaron’s conclusion is all the more inspiring.

But remakes and custom work aren’t the only things bringing customers into stores. Motivated by a desire to support American jobs, consumers are bolstering sales of domestically produced merchandise across-the-board—and jewelry is the latest beneficiary.

JCK spoke to retailers around the country, who had tons of praise for the myriad benefits of promoting products “made in the U.S.A.”

Control of workmanship. Shorter delivery and lead times, better quality control, and timelier inspections give both vendors and merchants an edge when merchandise is made stateside. Bony Levy, owner of L & L Diamond Co. in Los Angeles, learned these points through trial and error. Ten years ago, 90 percent of Levy’s jewelry was made overseas compared with 65 percent today. A supplier to department stores nationwide, Levy started moving production back home when the prices of gold and diamonds increased. “We really weren’t saving any money making jewelry in China,” he says.

Todd Reed ring in 18k yellow gold with sterling silver and 20.25 cts. t.w. raw diamond cubes; $5,995

Ditto for Novell Design Studio, which pioneered the push toward American-made jewelry when it started heavily promoting its Rahway, N.J., manufacturing facility several years ago (see sidebar, “Garden State Savvy”). “Novell has always been made in America,” explains Rick Mulholland, marketing and public relations manager. “And when we merged our manufacturing operations with Lieberfarb, retailers wanted to see more.”

For 30 years, Edward Mirell and parent company Spectore Corp. in Deerfield Beach, Fla., have made all their proprietary titanium alloys in the U.S.A. Fourth-generation manufacturer Adam Rosenberg, vice president of business development and sales, says the strategy has less to do with a commitment to keeping jobs stateside—though they are pleased to employ 120 workers at their 40,000-square-foot facility—than with bolstering the strength of the brand. “We are actively involved in creating the product,” he says. “It’s all made under one roof.”

Standing out in the market. When R. Grey Gallery in Boise, Idaho, opened up shop 26 years ago, a handful of mass-produced pieces were among its offerings. But three years into the venture, co-owners Robert Grey Kaylor and Barbara Kaylor decided to make a greater impression on the market by narrowing their inventory to strictly handmade goods. Ninety-five percent of their stock is made in America (the exceptions are a few Canadian and German vendors), and 100 percent of the Kaylors’ REALSTEEL line of repurposed steel nail jewelry is made domestically—right in the back of the store, as a matter of fact. (The Kaylors began to wholesale REALSTEEL in 2011.)

Necklace in 18k gold and square head steel nails with 8.47 cts. t.w. blue moonstone cabochons and 2.17 cts. t.w. diamond-cut Ceylon sapphires; $9,100; REALSTEEL, Boise, Idaho; 208-385-9337; rgreygallery.com

“The consumer is looking for something different and well-made,” says Barbara. A case in point is a couple who came into the store earlier this year asking for REALSTEEL rings with low profiles to suit their active lifestyles. The Kaylors outfitted each ring with 0.33 ct. t.w. diamonds, and sold them for $1,500 each. “They wanted an alternative metal look and didn’t want something mass-produced,” Barbara says.

Higher profit margins. Since Liz Rayon, co-owner of Prime Time Fine Jewelry & Watches in Solana Beach, Calif., opened her store last year, she’s noticed an unusual trend: Male shoppers opting to wait weeks for $250 hammered titanium bands made by small local firms rather than buying $60 in-stock numbers manufactured overseas. Her custom business also is booming for a similar reason: Shoppers, many of whom are military personnel, want to know where their jewelry is made. “As soon as you tell a customer something is made in the U.S.A., they get a lot more enthusiastic,” she says.

Earrings in 18k green gold with 0.60 ct. t.w. rubies and 0.26 ct. t.w. diamonds; $2,275; A. Jaron Fine Jewelry, Naples, Fla.; 239-293-2932; ajaron.com

On the flip side, Rosenberg has seen buyer’s remorse among some clients trying to save money by stocking less-expensive, imported titanium ­jewelry. One retailer from the Midwest, who was lured away by memo goods from another titanium jewelry maker, sheepishly returned to Spectore after an eight-month break because he realized the inferiority of the other product. He even apologized. “They generalized us as a category,” says Rosenberg. “If you want value, you pay a little more.”

Ironically, even overseas buyers are beginning to appreciate American-made jewels. At press time, Rosenberg was gearing up for the September Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair, where he would be exhibiting his titanium jewelry for the first time. “It will be so nice to export something to China!” he says.

Small circle monogram pendant in 22k gold on sterling silver; $325; Mannin Insignia Collection, Los Angeles; 310-396-2170; manninfinejewelry.com

Cultivating an appreciation for better work. When goldsmiths Peggy Hiltabidle Wilson and Ignacio Bernal teamed up five years ago to open Harbor Jewelers in Chesapeake, Va., the plan was to carry all their own handiwork. But when the economy took a nosedive, the co-owners scrambled to offer less-costly merchandise—namely silver. Unable to build every piece themselves, the pair looked to other American jewelry artists to fill the void: Sierra by Sonoma Art Works, Sherry Tinsman, and Rare Earth Designs are among the brands the store now carries.

Their biggest impediment to sales? A lack of client education about the value of American jewelry artistry. “So often, consumers don’t understand that most of what we have is made right there in the shop,” says Wilson. “It’s all about education. We’re in a neighborhood that’s not used to that, but they’re learning.”

Suzanne Donegan, the designer behind Mannin, a 3-year-old collection of classic 18k gold jewelry drawn from Donegan’s graduate studies in the history of decorative arts, also had to contend with a learning curve this past year when she began work on a lower-priced line, the Mannin Insignia Collection, which retails from $175 to $575. “I wanted to hit a lower price point, but I was concerned with how to keep the integrity of the line,” she says.

Ring in sterling with three nail heads and 0.38 ct. t.w. diamond-cut Ceylon sapphires and 0.10 ct. t.w. melee; $1,175; REALSTEEL, Boise, Idaho; 208-385-9337; rgreygallery.com

Donegan’s first effort led her to a factory in China. She said the company she chose was a quality operation; the sample pieces they created for her, however, were not. The workmanship simply didn’t live up to Donegan’s expectations. So she went with her gut and asked her longtime bench jeweler—an Armenian man who works with his daughter, Vanna, in a workshop in downtown Los Angeles—to take on the Insignia line, a monogrammable collection of dog-tag pendants, signet rings, cigar bands, and chain-link bracelets made in sterling silver or sterling with a sleek 22k gold overlay.

Although Donegan had to sacrifice some margin to work with a domestic manufacturer, she has no regrets. “The relationship you have with the people you work with far outweighs the margin,” she says with a smile. “It’s affordable bespoke jewelry handcrafted in L.A.”

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