Gold Call: Why Retailers (and Customers) Are Seeing Yellow



Statistics on U.S. gold jewelry sales reinforce what high-end chain stores are saying: Demand for the yellow metal is on the rise.

When John Green, president and CEO of Boston-based Lux Bond & Green, visited Highland Park, Texas, a wealthy community north of Dallas, in June 2014, he was struck by the number of women he saw wearing gold jewelry. 

“They were moving away from white gold to yellow gold,” Green says. 

Fourteen months later, the World Gold Council published a report, Gold Demand Trends Q2 2015, with data reinforcing Green’s conclusion: Gold jewelry sales in the United States are on the rise. 

According to the report, the American market is “a slow and steady engine for jewellery demand.” The WGC says that the second quarter of 2015 marked the “sixth consecutive quarter U.S. gold jewelry demand has risen,” and that gold jewelry sales were augmented by the metal’s lower price in recent years. 

Alistair Hewitt, the council’s head of market intelligence, even told the media in a video that gold was “competing very well against non-precious metals but also against jewelry that is a mix of gold and silver.” But the most convincing sign of all that the yellow metal is trending? The heads of high-end chain stores are backing up the data with their own gold success stories.

Charlene Hudson, director of sales training for Fink’s Jewelers in Roanoke, Va., with 14 doors in Virginia and North Carolina, says yellow gold Italian lines like Marco Bicego and Roberto Coin are up 13 percent in 2015, while sales of other gold non-bridal lines increased about 9 percent in two years. She cites the rise of casual lifestyles and the decline of metal prices as factors in gold’s newfound popularity. 

“The designs you can accomplish in gold don’t translate as well to silver, and designers are making more casual everyday-wear gold pieces that mix well with silver,” Hudson says. “Silver designers’ price points have increased, making them think, ‘Gosh, for this price maybe I should look at gold.’?”

Enticing New Buyers

Laura Barringer, fashion buyer for Seattle’s Ben Bridge Jeweler, is seeing “double-digit increases in non-bridal gold jewelry, particularly yellow gold.” Both fun price-point styles and fine Italian branded selections are moving. 

Barringer suspects the reason behind their success has a generational bent. “Yellow gold jewelry is having a comeback because it is new to a young purchasing public,” she says. “The millennials are not aware of the high gold pricing because they were not previously in the market.” 

Green agrees that yellow gold jewelry is something of a novelty for many since the category largely disappeared when the recession struck in 2008–09. “We lost friends in Italy as some went out of business,” he says, adding that a robust in-store gold selection is essential to enticing emerging collectors. “The more variety they see, the more they will want to buy gold jewelry.” 

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Sueno earrings in 18k gold with 1.03 cts. t.w. diamonds; $5,990; Armenta, Houston; 832-486-9500; armentacollection.com

Styles That Sell

Retailers say the season’s most saleable gold styles are both classic (braided and woven chains) and contemporary (ear climbers). Barringer says shoppers are snapping up engraveable bar pieces, symbols like infinity loops and arrows, and geometric shapes. Plus, consumers’ love of layering “results in multiple sales,” she says. Yellow gold is the dominant choice, and that includes higher-karat designs. 

Stackables are another popular retail category. At San Francisco’s three-store Gallery of Jewels, they are, in fact, the strongest category—period. “Stackable combinations offer diversity and a fashion adventure,” says owner and president Bill Hoover.

At Fink’s, Hudson, too, sees a vogue for mixing and layering. “Customers have the ability to express themselves through it,” she says. She insists that keeping up with seasonal trends is a surefire way to plant seeds of interest in the minds of female shoppers. “Fashion gives people an idea of what is a modern look,” Hudson says, adding that the trend of pairing gold with gemstones is definitely cooling. “Sometimes people just want gold…something more generic that they can wear more often.”

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Golden Gate ring in 18k gold with 0.04 ct. t.w. diamonds; $2,500; Roberto Coin, NYC; 800-853-5958; robertocoin.com

A Return to Yellow

When Jennifer Perelman and relatives bought back their family’s jewelry chain based in New Castle, Pa., in June 2014, the president of King’s of New Castle struggled to convince her suppliers, accustomed to stocking King’s cases with silver, that the company was ready to embrace the yellow.

“We had a discussion with vendors…that customers were willing to pay for gold,” Perelman says. “The huge difference in metal prices is not as big as it was two years ago.”

At Gallery of Jewels, which represents upward of 150 designers—many working in silver—Hoover is also seeing a rise in gold sales. “We have silver pieces for $50 and up to $10,000 for gold items, and our average ticket has been going up 10 percent a year for the last five years,” he says. “It’s not just the market but our conscious decision to sell more gold.”

Lux Bond & Green is so committed to the gold category that Green dedicated two pages to the yellow metal in the company’s holiday catalog. Consumers will see high-polished styles, charm bracelets, lockets, and long chains—all styles that have been selling well of late. Green is also stocking brands with healthy gold offerings like David Yurman, Ponte Vecchio, and Armenta (a recent acquisition). 

“Armenta is fashion-forward and we all love it, but our customers are conservative,” Green says. “We bought a lot of gold, so we’ll see how it goes.” 

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Tempo bracelet in 18k gold with 4.78 cts. t.w. diamonds; $32,000; David Yurman, NYC; 212-752-4255; davidyurman.com

Beyond Bridal

While the metal’s declining price and its popularity among designers have helped the category grow in the United States, many jewelers point to the importance—and sometimes re-emerging importance—of gold in wedding rings. “We still sell a fair amount of alternative metal bands, but gold band sales are up 225 percent in the last two years,” notes Tony Prater, CEO of Jensen Jewelers, headquartered in Twin Falls, Idaho, with 15 stores in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming.

In some areas of the country, yellow gold never lost its luster. Retailers located far from big cities always say trends reach them late; for many, white-gold fashion never took off. “We’re in western Pennsylvania, so our customers never wanted us to stop buying yellow gold,” Perelman says. “It’s good for vendors to know so they can start producing more.”

Research from WGC shows that in the second quarter of 2015, gold jewelry imports—read: high-end Italian designs—spiked 11 percent over the previous year, and consumer demand reached its highest level since the third quarter of 2011. 

“Roberto Coin and Marco Bicego are doing well, and our David Yurman business is up a bit,” observes Ryan Berg, market president in Texas of Lee Michaels Fine Jewelers in Baton Rouge, La., with eight stores and three Pandora franchises throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. “We’re seeing our average price point rise though transaction numbers are down. Gold has a perceived value to the general public.” 
 

Top: Lunaria necklace in 18k gold; $19,100; Marco Bicego, San Francisco; 866-424-2346; marcobicego.com
 

Model photo: Photograph by Tom Corbett, Styling by Catherine Peridis

Market Editor: Jennifer Heebner. Makeup by Alexis Williams for The Brooks Agency. Hair by Gusléne Bubak. Manicure by Angela Marinescu. Dress by Cushnie Et Ochs.

Fringe choker necklace in 18k gold with diamonds, $14,500, Fern Freeman, NYC, 917-217-1727, fernfreemanjewelry.com; partial crinkle disc earrings in 18k gold, $3,300, Jonathan Cohen and Lizzie Mandler, Brooklyn, N.Y., 646-370-3860, jonathancohenstudio.com; twisted cylinder ring in 14k gold-plated brass, $285, Jennifer Fisher, NYC, 888-255-0640, jenniferfisherjewelry.com