Running With Silver



For growth opportunities in the silver category, JCK sought the advice of those who know it best: manufacturers

With the price of gold expected to rise in the coming months, pundits are predicting that silver may be pulled up the price ladder with it. But Bob Glenn isn’t worried. As co-owner of the Cargo Hold in Charleston, S.C., a 39-year-old sterling silver jewelry manufacturing company, he’s spent decades perfecting the styles he sells—some for as little as $25 retail.

“If this election is about the economy, then holiday sales will be about ­silver,” he says. “Higher-end silver designs can occupy that $200 to $800 price point now like gold did when it was lower.

There is no doubt that silver has become a lot more valuable—both in real dollars and in its ability to fill a niche once occupied by its gilded counterpart. What’s more, the metal has become such a go-to material for ­jewelers that variations within the category are growing on par with sales. Consider the increasing number of ­silver styles featuring two-tone looks, gemstone accents, and uncommon finishes. The diversity reflects the freedom that silver bestows on artists to create designs without the constraints that come with using costlier or less-precious materials.

“Silver has always been the stepchild for most ­jewelers, but now it’s the new gold,” adds Zina Sherman, owner of Zina Sterling Silver in Beverly Hills, Calif. “But it can’t be really low-end and inexpensive; it has to be in a category with some design so that it looks like valuable jewelry.”

For specific opportunities to capitalize on silver’s growing popularity, the manufacturers that JCK interviewed shared these insights:

Two-Tone Styles Most silver inventories would benefit from at least one line with a ­secondary metal complement, say those with experience in the market. And while gold stands out as the obvious choice, copper is a fresh alternative for manufacturers looking to keep prices down. “Silver and copper offers a better price point,” says Glenn. “It’s great for impulse sales and markup—a lot of our retailers can sell it at 2.5 times.” The buzz among silver aficionados is that silver and bronze combos may be next.

Hinged cuff in 18k gold vermeil; $1,080; Charles Garnier Paris, Los Angeles; 213-892-0075; charlesgarnier.com

Andy Concool, sales and marketing manager for Charles Garnier Paris in Los Angeles, has found that his company’s 18k yellow gold–finished sterling (vermeil) styles are selling better than rhodium-plated silver ones. “There is a big push from the consumer level to buy yellow metal,” he observes.

Shawn Behnam has discovered much the same thing. The New York City–based designer’s two-tone silver and 18k gold Cydonia & Co. line with gemstones is perceived as a value to many buyers, particularly when set with diamonds, he says. “It’s sterling with solid 18 karat gold accents and diamonds and it’s bringing up the average price per piece, resulting in higher ticket sales,” Behnam says. With triple key markup and single-cut melee, the jewelry ranges from $350 to $1,500 at retail, though Behnam is introducing a second-tier line soon with full-cut stones.

Colored Gems Manhattan-based MARC has been manufacturing silver lines for the wholesale market for 30 years from its factory in Thailand, but the company launched its own label three years ago. CEO Susan Rizzo maintains that the biggest opportunity for growth is in colored stone–set silver jewelry. “We make doublets and triplets, and we know they’re selling well based on our reorders,” she says. MARC debuted its collection to members of the Independent Jewelers Organization in fall 2011, and by the IJO show this past summer, all 30 new accounts had ordered more.

Southern Gate collection silver bracelet; $225; The Cargo Hold, Charleston, S.C.; 843-723-3341; cargoholdinc.com

When the price of silver rises, manufacturers point out that colored stones will allow them to use less silver and thus maintain price points. Behnam, for one, relies on oversize hand-carved gemstones in his Natural collection, a top performer in his Cydonia jewelry line.

“Gem-set silver jewelry with an emphasis on diamonds is a key direction,” confirms Michael Barlerin, director of the Silver Promotion Service. “It commands a higher price point that the market is ready for. There is an upward migration of what the customer will pay for silver.”

Swarovski Stones Another category that’s currently benefiting from buzz is silver set with Swarovski crystals and natural gemstones. “We’re huge customers of Swarovski,” says Rizzo of MARC. “More and more of our retailers are interested in having the Swarovski name on the counter.”

Silver earrings; $150; Artistry Ltd., Skokie, Ill.; 888-674-3250; artistrylimited.com

Rizzo has begun incorporating Swarovski’s new ­marcasite offering into MARC’s collection. “Marcasite was known as an older, vintage look—but that’s not what the new marcasite is about,” she explains. “It’s colored stones with marcasite accents.”

Other manufacturers are also taking advantage of Swarovski’s wide selection of gems, both fine and faux. New York City–based Thistle & Bee, for example, has set Swarovski’s Topaz Contra-Cut in its new Tile collection.

Unique Finishes Clients of Cheryl McKay, marketing director of Artistry Ltd. in Skokie, Ill., are asking for pieces with cool contrasts and textures, such as hammered effects and polished/matte combinations. “We’re making pieces that are classic-looking but brought back with subtle, rich-looking effects,” she says.

Inside-out silver hoop earrings with cubic zirconia; $300; Core Jewelry, NYC; 212-944-8877; corejewel.co.kr

At Charles Garnier Paris, the Constellation collection is available in four finishes, including yellow and rose gold and oxidized and rhodium. In the works for 2013 is a warm brown cocoa finish as well as ones featuring texture and contrast.

Omaha, Neb.–based Borsheims was so confident in the brand that it gave more than 16 feet of showcase space this fall to Garnier’s silver designs, and Famulare Jewelers in Carlsbad, Calif., described Charles Garnier Paris as the store’s “fastest-turning collection in over 12 years,” recalls Concool.

And while Sherman’s clients are asking for product mixes consistent with others, Zina is also adding more leather and exotic skin accents to its portfolio. “We’re very much design-oriented going forward,” she says.

More on silver from JCKonline.com:
+ The Art of Sterling
+ Hera Collection, Horsecka Jewelry, and More
+ Sterling Success