What’s on jewelers’ wish lists for 2012? Yellow gold, platinum bridal designs, more custom work, and “lots and lots” of colored stones. Oh, plus a little help from the economy, thank you very much.
Volatile stock markets, high unemployment, and soaring metal costs continued to plague jewelry retailers nationwide in 2011, motivating owners to fine-tune their product assortments in preparation for the new year. JCK informally polled establishments from Maine to California and found that boutique owners watched stones and metals carefully this past year, chose designers prudently, and paid more attention to service, marketing events, and store renovations. Turning the corner into 2012, yellow gold and colored stones showed momentum. In a macroeconomic sense, however, the most significant trend appears to be the widening disparity between middle-of-the-road and affluent consumers. The 1 percent is driving quite a bit of business, indeed.
Platinum bridal mounting with 0.63 ct. t.w. square-cut diamonds, pavé-set petals, and diamond-set band; $6,290 (also available in 18k white, yellow, or rose gold); Tacori, Glendale, Calif.; 800-421- 9844; tacori.com
Retailers across the board decried competition on the Internet and looked for ways to differentiate themselves. Some had begun sinking money into their own websites. Those carrying higher-ticket items said customers still feel more comfortable purchasing in person. “Right now, it’s still the great unknown,” says Margarita Szekely-Lusso, co-owner of Servis & Taylor in Los Angeles. For now, Szekely-Lusso continues to promote features that are unique to her store, including the recycled metals and fair trade, conflict-free stones she uses in her custom business.
Overall, stores reported solid sales, ranging from flat to record bottom lines—a far cry from the darkest days of the economic crisis. Still, others said their staffs are working harder to reach sales goals.
Gail Friedman, co-owner of Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers in Los Angeles, packed her calendar full of in-store events and trunk shows to help drive traffic to her Westside boutique. “We’re not complaining because we’re busy all the time, but we work way harder for where we are,” she says.
“We’re not complaining, because we’re busy all the time, but we work way harder for where we are.”
—Gail Friedman, Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers
While there wasn’t one big product or specific metal that stood out in 2011, Friedman says despite the cost, gold was outpacing silver. In the store’s core bridal business, average diamond sizes bounced back to the 1–2 ct. range, raising the average diamond ring sale to $12,000–$15,000. In 2012, Friedman says she will make small adjustments, like paring back trunk shows to only the traffic builders like Tacori and Simon G, and will rein in the bead business based on her customers’ lukewarm response.
“I had the best bottom line in my 80-year history.”
—Jim Rosenheim, Tiny Jewel Box
Jim Rosenheim, owner of the Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, D.C., also reports strong sell-throughs of yellow gold and increasingly larger diamond sales. “I had the best bottom line in my 80-year history,” he says, attributing the impressive results to maintaining better control over his revenue streams and keeping expenses down. “While my top line isn’t where it was in 2006, my bottom line is way better.”
Mosaic ring in 18k gold with 3.46 ct. green tourmaline and 0.21 ct. t.w. diamonds, $7,925, 21 mm ring in 18k gold with 2 cts. t.w. sapphires and 0.53 ct. t.w. diamonds, $7,825, Ocean earrings in 18k gold with 0.32 ct. t.w. diamonds and 1.50 cts. t.w. sapphires, $6,400; Alex Sepkus, New York City; 212-391-8466; alexsepkus.com
Fashion jewelry from designers such as Alex Sepkus and Marco Bicego and “lots and lots” of colored stones gained traction, as did custom work, Rosenheim says. In fact, the custom business was so strong, the store was often forced to push back delivery dates. “If anything, I was probably oversupplied in the middle market with silver items,” Rosenheim says, noting that people marginalized by the economy in 2008 haven’t returned. He also faced difficulty keeping pace with the demand for gold watches, thanks to the industry’s short supply of the costly metal.
For Michael C. Fina in New York City, platinum has always outperformed gold in the bridal business—”We’ve seen little change in bridal,” says social media and communications coordinator Sarah Oldfield—but in the store’s burgeoning fashion business, gold has also made a comeback. The store has been pushing fashion the past few years to broaden its clientele and appeal to a younger demographic, stocking up on designers such as Temple St. Clair, Penny Preville, and Mikimoto. New Yorkers have also been asking for cocktail rings, bigger necklaces, and brighter stones.
Custom platinum earrings with 5.33 cts. t.w. Paraiba tourmaline and 170 round brilliant cut micro-pavé–set diamonds (0.70 ct. t.w.); price on request; Addessi Jewelers, Ridgefield, Conn.; 203-438-6549; addessijewelers.com
“The very wealthy are feeling more confident,” says Wayne Addessi, president and owner of Addessi Jewelers in Ridgefield, Conn. And he knows firsthand—having recently closed a deal on a pair of custom-made ocean-blue Paraiba earrings priced in the six figures. White gold and diamonds are the dominant combination in his bridal business—supplied by trusted vendors such as Asch/Grossbardt—but silver offers the price-point diversity he needs.
“In this economy, you’re either a Tiffany or a Target,” Addessi says, adding that his sales are either $16,000 or higher or scarcely more than $500. “The consensus is you’ve got to get to either side. The middle of the road is out of the question.”
Shannon Hartigan, store manager of Brown Goldsmiths & Co., in Freeport, Maine, has also seen folks gravitate toward the upper echelons of her inventory. “I have sold more pieces over $10,000 in the last five months than I did in all of 2010,” Hartigan says. However, she says she’s still hedging her bets with lower-priced materials like silver and vermeil.
“In this economy, you’re either a Tiffany or a Target. You’ve got to get to either side.”
—Wayne Addessi, Addessi Jewelers
By all accounts, demand for fancy shaped diamonds and more substantial jewels has returned. (Hartigan, for example, recently sold two 3 ct. yellow diamonds.) But there’s a downside: In order to woo the clients, retailers need to have higher-ticket items on hand. “The pieces have to be in the store,” Hartigan says. “The young brides with the lighter-weight halos—they don’t necessarily have to have it in front of them. But in the $20,000 to $30,000 [range], they have to put it on and fall in love with it.”
Leigh Jewelers, in Vero Beach, Fla., is located in a resort area and caters to an older clientele, selling diamonds 2 cts. or larger by brands such as Julius Klein and Norman G. Silver. In 2011, owner Mark Leigh expanded his offerings, adding silver and Pandora beads to eliminate threshold resistance and entice younger customers. He also hired a goldsmith in order to make his store a full-service destination.
Patravi TravelTec GMT chronograph in stainless steel case on a calf-leather strap; $10,900; Carl F. Bucherer, Dayton, Ohio; 800-395-4306; carl-f-bucherer.com
“Between the silver and the service, it has created more business and exposure,” he says. He’s also invested heavily in a storewide renovation to hang on to one of his strongest vendors, Rolex, a business he expects will only increase. (Rolex reportedly dropped a number of dealers this year for failing to upgrade dingy stores.)
Marshall Varon, owner of Morgan’s Jewelers Inc., with two stores in California, is also a believer in the Swiss watch business, having doubled the space of his Rolex shop-in-shop. “The watch industry has exploded,” he says, naming Breitling, Chopard, Carl Bucherer, and Montblanc among the biggest draws. “I’m optimistic in general [about business], but I pray that the economy turns around. The whole world’s a mess.”
“The watch industry has exploded.”
—Marshall Varon, Morgan’s Jewelers Inc.
If JCK‘s informal poll is any indication, most jewelers did much better than just okay in 2011. Aside from putting together a spot-on assortment of inventory for 2012, however, many agreed they would like one more thing: a little help from the economy. “We have half the sales staff and have gotten back to full capacity,” Hartigan says. “We’re just working our tails off, to be quite honest with you.”
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