Real Men Do Wear Silver

The market for men?s sterling silver jewelry and watches is a niche worth scratching. It?s a small segment, but it?s growing quickly. In fact, most silver jewelry producers report annual double-digit growth in recent years. They expect that to continue for the foreseeable future and are expanding their offerings in men?s accessories and watches.

?Year by year, in the past few years, men have been opening up to jewelry, accessories, and watches,? says Robert Elizondo, founder and head of Eclissi Sterling Silver. ?When any segment of population discovers something new like they have this, you should go for it. This is a growth area.?

Veteran designer Kerry MacBride, for example, has seen his men?s jewelry business grow at least 50% annually over the past few years. Alejandro Toussier, whose men?s jewelry accounts for 15% of his business, sees upcoming annual gains of at least 10%, while fellow designer David Yurman has seen his men?s business grow to 10% of total sales, or some $20 million annually. ?We?re one of the largest brands for ladies in the world, but our men?s silver jewelry business is growing faster,? Yurman says. ?Last year it grew 120%, and we expect to grow another 100% in the next two years.? Even at John Hardy, where men?s jewelry accounts for only about 4% of business, growth has averaged more than 60% annually over the past couple of years, according to Laura Brown, vice president of sales and marketing.

The market?s potential is so strong that some designers, including MacBride and Linda Hesh, have switched to designing exclusively for men. Hardy?s recent work has focused solely on the men?s market.

Change in attitude. Part of the explanation for the recent growth in sales of men?s silver jewelry and watches is the continuing popularity of white metals. There also has been what one designer calls ?a broadening of wealth? in the past decade. (Though silver jewelry is reasonably priced, some men?s watches and jewelry can cost thousands of dollars.)

But much of the increase, say designers and suppliers, is propelled by what Yurman calls ?a change in [men?s] attitude about dressing and accessorizing. It used to be considered vain if you accessorized. But that minimalist attitude is fading.?

Recently, some makers of men?s jewelry worried that the popularity of casual dress at work and more casual lifestyles in general would hurt sales of items like cufflinks, studs, and bracelets. But suppliers and designers say just the opposite is happening.

?We are seeing a return to more formal dressing,? notes Elizondo. ?You see it in the men?s fashion shows and men?s magazines; all show a shift to sharp dressing.? He says that even as men dress more casually for the office, ?they?re dressing up when they go out, and that?s one reason for [more sales of] accessories like money clips, cufflinks, and watches.?

?Men are no longer afraid to accessorize or wear jewelry,? agrees Sandra Atalla, U.S. sales and marketing manager for Tateossian of London, a company known for sterling silver jewelry and accessories for men and women. ?They?re wearing sterling silver jewelry that I never thought I?d see on them?like chunky bracelets, necklaces, or pendants. They?re paying more attention to their appearance and are not afraid of adorning themselves.?

This is true regardless of age, say suppliers and designers. ?Older men have always known how to dress well,? says Atalla. ?Younger men are doing it now, too. Elegance is back.?

Silver watches. One area of growing interest to both consumers and retailers is sterling silver watches for men. Eclissi, which since 1985 has offered mostly women?s sterling silver watches, recently has seen its men?s watch sales grow to 30% of the business. ?And it?s steadily increasing,? says Elizondo, who notes that the company didn?t solicit the retailers who sell its men?s watches. ?They came to us, and our business has really taken off in the past three years, especially our large chronograph.?

Eclissi?s watch business is growing more than 15% annually. It offers two collections, one with Swiss movements and one with Japanese movements. The watches retail for $150 to $500.

As with jewelry, says Elizondo, styling and the popularity of white metals are major reasons for the spurt in sales of men?s watches. ?Men are more open to sterling as material for watches,? he notes.

Sterling silver jewelry designers David Yurman and Alejandro Toussier launched watch divisions about two years ago. ?I saw a niche in the sterling silver watch market for good Swiss watches with sterling silver bracelets?classic watches with a fashion twist,? says Toussier, who?s based in Los Angeles. ?Not a lot of companies were doing anything [in that category], and those that were, were either very expensive or very inexpensive, from Asia.?

Men?s and women?s watches now account for 30% of Toussier?s business. Men?s watches with sterling silver bracelets and rhodium-plated stainless steel cases (to match the color) account for 10%. Sales of these watches, which retail for $225 to $600, are growing at least 10% annually, Toussier says.

A watch line was the next logical step for Yurman, whose cable-style jewelry was already successful. ?We wanted to make a substantial statement in a real Swiss luxury watch, and those are owned by the men?s world,? he says. The result was Thoroughbred, a sterling silver and steel watch that features Yurman?s signature cable design. It was unveiled in Basel in 1999. The line, which added a Lady?s Thoroughbred this year, retails for $2,000 to $3,000. Yurman says sales have been ?incredibly healthy.?

Tateossian of London recently unveiled a classically designed Swiss-made line of sterling silver watches with ostrich leather bands geared toward the men?s market. Retail prices range from $850 to $1,500.

John Hardy, which launched a collection of men?s watches in 1994, is expanding the line. The company initially offered only silver-faced watches with straps, but about four years ago, it added one with a silver mesh bracelet ($1,495 retail), and in the past year, it added sterling silver watches with adjustable, machine-made bands ($995).

John Hardy also is designing several new Swiss-made watches, including new tank styles, some with bamboo motifs. They will be unveiled next year and marketed aggressively, according to Brown. ?We definitely will be making more of a push in watches,? she says. Men?s watches account for about 7% of Hardy?s business.

It isn?t only silver wristwatches that are gaining popularity?there?s more interest in sterling silver pocket watches, too. John Hardy, for example, offers models with silver or gold faces and chains ($775 to $995), while Tateossian?s timepieces include classically styled models ($850 for the small dial, $1,875 for the skeleton model).

Men, women, and silver. Traditionally, women have been the primary buyers of men?s silver jewelry. According to Diana Shiel of the Silver Information Center, men buy less than 10% of all men?s jewelry sold. But that?s changing. Designer Kerry MacBride holds a number of trunk shows annually to promote his men?s-only sterling silver collections, and he reports that men?buying for themselves or others?account for many of his sales. And Shiel notes that while women still buy most silver jewelry, there is growing evidence of self-purchases by men and more ?male-to-male? gift giving in the country?s major metropolitan areas.

As for the jewelry itself, cufflinks and studs remain the strongest sellers, and there is what one supplier calls ?tremendous? business in bracelets. For example, bracelets account for 25% of John Hardy?s business in men?s jewelry.

Selections of men?s silver jewelry set with semiprecious gems also are expanding, notes MacBride. He cites the men?s fashion industry?s ?enthusiasm recently for color, such as colored ties and colored shirts? as the primary reason. MacBride?s own enthusiasm for color has resulted in a series of men?s jewelry featuring iolite, onyx, garnet, citrine, amethyst, and moonstone. John Hardy recently added a ?mineral-driven? series featuring garnet, black jade (deep green), and amber, and Tateossian has added 12 new colors to its lines. ?There is a whole color explosion in fashion,? notes Atalla, who believes that men are no longer ?afraid of colors like pink, magenta, or orange.?

Sales of other categories are rising, as well. ?The market is good and growing for silver luxury gifts for men, retailing for $100 or more, and not just in jewelry,? says Shiel. Some products?like silver chokers for men?are edgy, others more traditional. Personal accessories such as money clips, key rings, belt buckles, fobs, travel articles, and desk items are important elements of the men?s silver jewelry classification. So, too, are novelties such as John Hardy?s silver flashlight and shaving mirror and Leonore Doskow?s golf and tennis accessories. Since early this year, says Shiel, ?the novelty and executive toy categories have picked up steam in terms of growing consumer interest and new product offerings.?

Overview of the U.S. Sterling Silver Jewelry Market

The U.S. market for sterling silver jewelry is strong and expanding.

  • Retail sales continue to grow at a double-digit pace, as they did for most of the decade.

  • Sales topped $3 billion in 1999, up from $2.7 billion in 1998 and $1.4 billion in 1993.

  • Roughly 73 million pieces were purchased in 1999, compared with 67 million in 1998 and 38 million in 1993.

Women are the largest group of silver jewelry purchasers.

  • Six out of 10 silver jewelry purchasers are women buying for themselves.

  • Three of 10 are women buying for other women. Men buying gifts for women and women buying gifts for men account for the remaining 10%.

  • Working women are key purchasers, the result of their desire and ability to build a jewelry wardrobe.

  • Because silver is both fashionable and affordable, teens are another key segment.

  • Purchasers come from all age groups and represent all income levels, a consequence of silver?s availability at all price points.

Department stores account for the largest percentage of sterling silver jewelry sales (25%.)

  • Jewelry stores account for the next largest percentage (17%).

  • Mail order represents 11%.

  • Mass merchandisers account for 10%.

  • Home shopping television networks, especially QVC, are another important buying channel.

More than 40% of U.S. households buy three or more silver jewelry pieces annually.

  • The most popular items are earrings, which account for almost one-third of all purchases. Neckwear follows at 25%. Rings and bracelets represent roughly 22% each.

  • The top three factors influencing sterling silver jewelry purchases are price/sales, style/design, and impulse.

  • Approximately 60% of purchases are self-purchases (usually for no special occasion), and 40% are gift purchases (usually for Christmas or a birthday).

Affordability is still the key to sterling silver jewelry purchases.

  • Approximately 95% of all silver jewelry purchases cost less than $100. The average price paid per item (covering all retail channels) is $41.

  • Nearly 60% of all silver jewelry purchases are made on sale. The remaining 40% are at regular price.

Other facts of interest:

  • The U.S. market consumed more than 39 million troy ounces of silver in the form of jewelry in 1998, the most recent year for which figures are available.

  • More than 80% of sterling silver jewelry products sold in the United States are imported from other countries, most notably Thailand, Italy, and Mexico.

Source: Silver Information Center

The Structure of the Market

The U.S. silver jewelry market is divided into three parts:

High End

  • Products appealing to high-end consumers typically are associated with ?designer? names (e.g., John Atencio, Steven Lagos, John Hardy).

  • Products are sold in better department and specialty stores as well as fine jewelry stores and departments.

  • Prices range from $100 to thousands of dollars.

Bridge Market

  • This market represents the middle-range category between high and low ends.

  • Brand names (such as Carolee, .925, Samara, Zina) are sold in the bridge area of department stores and specialty shops.

  • Prices range from $50 to several hundred dollars.

Lower Level

  • Products appealing to this audience are sold primarily by mass merchandisers (e.g., Wal-Mart, Kmart) or at flea markets and craft fairs as well as teen-oriented specialty shops.

  • Items are mostly mass-produced and imported; a smaller percentage is handmade for flea markets and craft fairs.

  • Prices range from $10 to $50.

Source: Silver Information Center