The falling price of gold is luring some designers away from strictly sterling styles, and encouraging others to get more inventive with the white metal
Sara Freedenfeld introduced silver to her largely 18k gold Amáli line in 2012, when gold prices hovered at $1,700 per ounce. Her rationale was simple: “I did not have to compromise big looks in order to cut costs,” she explains.
But now that gold prices have tumbled to $1,200 an ounce, Freedenfeld and many other designers are reevaluating their silver positioning to either make way for gold or use the white metal more effectively. Silver has inherent qualities like oxidation that some love and others tolerate. And since it is lighter than gold and costs less, silver permits bigger looks, often at prices with an undeniable appeal and ability to reach more customers—particularly those without karat-gold budgets.
“The fact that silver oxidizes means it has an antique effect that I use a lot in etching,” says Adel Chefridi, a designer based in Woodstock, N.Y. “I don’t hide the characteristics of silver; I take advantage of them.”
Though Freedenfeld has been minimizing silver’s presence in her line, she concedes that some customers continue to ask for it to reduce costs. Gold pendants on silver chains and mixed-metal pieces are among her most popular requests, though “gold still runs the show,” she says.
Pendant necklace in oxidized sterling silver and 18k gold with labradorite; $1,300; Amáli, NYC; 718-789-8976; amalijewelry.com
Lincoln, Neb.–based designer Sydney Lynch is adding more 22k gold to her two-tone line. She says 2014 was a banner year with more retailers buying one-offs and pricier pieces “without quivering about spending the money.” Because of that, she’s reversed the gold diet she started when the metal hit $1,800 an ounce: “I’m not hesitating to use more 22 karat bezels. I’ve always had a market for it.”
The Mix-and-Match Game
Tustin, Calif., designer Alishan Halebian knows retailers are selling more gold due to price and style trends (’70s fashions are big for spring), so he’s pondering using more of the yellow metal even as he remains devoted to his largely oxidized silver line. “I still like the contrast of the black,” he says.
Andromeda cuff in blackened silver and 18k and 22k gold, with 88 ct. labradorite and 0.7 ct. t.w. black diamonds, and tourmaline accent; $4,840; Sydney Lynch, Lincoln, Neb.; 402-435-2920; sydneylynch.com
So do shoppers at Style by Max in St. Louis Park, Minn. Owner Ellen Hertz steers some price-conscious shoppers to silver with “bits of gold to make it pop a little more,” she says. The tactic is far easier than persuading “someone to go from a $200 piece of silver to a $1,000 gold necklace,” she adds. Among her favorite two-tone lines: Adel Chefridi (“We can’t keep it in stock,” she says), Ten Thousand Things, Emanuela Duca, and Carolina Bucci.
Blackened silver also works well for men’s jewelry, says Dharmesh and Namrata Kothari, the husband-and-wife designers behind Fort Lee, N.J.’s Syna. They make cufflinks in blackened silver to maintain the casual aesthetic (“Gold is too dressy,” Namrata says) and to hit gift-giving price points. “When women are buying gifts for men, they won’t spend $10,000 on gold cufflinks, but they will spend $1,650 on silver, or $3,300 for silver with diamonds,” she adds.
Owl pendant necklace in oxidized silver and 18k gold with 1.25 cts. t.w. champagne diamonds and tsavorite accents; $9,900; Syna, Fort Lee, N.J.; 201-585-2021; synajewels.com
Laurie Kaiser in Nashville, Tenn., says the blackened silver pieces in her collection give her overtly feminine styling an edge, but there’s always a gold tie-in. “I don’t want to take away from my gold collection, but bringing it to the silver makes the pieces more layerable.”
And because gold prices have been consistently lower over the past year and a half, gold-only showstopper pieces are more accessible, with the silver styles acting as hard-working support staff. Chefridi recognizes this trend. One of his accounts in Boulder, Colo., sells multiples of Chefridi’s silver pieces daily, but the designer insists it’s the gold that keeps shoppers coming in. “A woman is thinking about the $5,000 gold ring, but in the meantime, she buys the $300 silver piece until she’s saved up enough to buy it.”
Syna large Baubles cufflinks in blackened silver and 18k gold with 4 cts. t.w. black onyx and 1.2 cts. t.w. champagne diamonds; $3,300
Still, for others, silver is the only metal that can deliver a knockout look. When the Kotharis want to wow their clients, they often load up on large sterling objets d’art with diamonds and colored stones, sometimes blackening pieces for dramatic effect. “Our core line has no silver, so we are using it to make one-offs,” Namrata explains. “In silver, we can make more exciting, heavier pieces that we can’t make in gold.”
For proof, look to Syna’s hulking owl pendant with 18k gold accents, champagne diamonds, and tsavorite garnet eyes. At $9,900 in silver, the style would have been prohibitively priced in gold. “We’ve sold a lot of owls,” Dharmesh adds.
Anecdotal evidence aside, not everyone is convinced the falling gold price will affect silver sales. Heather Hanst, owner of Silverado Jewelry Gallery in Bend, Ore., thinks customers just buy what they like. “If someone loves gold and can’t afford it, they sometimes buy gold fill,” she says. “Silver lovers only like silver, and it’s hard to get either to switch. I have never had a customer who is a silver lover turn to gold just because it is priced less—though I can sometimes lure them into a nice two-tone option based on a designer’s style.”
Indeed, a truism of the market is that desirability depends less on materials than on design, and consumers ultimately end up mixing metals to make a personalized statement. “The majority of consumers are returning to multimetal pieces,” Halebian confirms.
|Ring in oxidized silver and 18k gold with 0.36 ct. t.w. rose-cut diamonds, $1,595, 2.25 ct. red zircon and 0.06 ct. t.w. colorless diamonds, $2,260, 1.84 ct. watermelon tourmaline and 0.05 ct. t.w. diamonds, $2,420; Alishan, Tustin, Calif.; 714-730-1140; alishanonline.com||Round Seeds of Harmony pendant necklace with 0.73 ct. t.w. blue sapphire and diamonds; $700; Adel Chefridi, Woodstock, N.Y.; 866-428-8777; chefridi.com|
X cuff in blackened sterling silver and 18k yellow gold with 0.23 ct. t.w. diamonds; $2,500; Laurie Kaiser, Brentwood, Tenn.; 615-373-7713; lauriekaiser.com
Among its aficionados, silver has a character and sensibility—a personality—that differs from other metals, and can be used with or without gold to great effect. Much like platinum, silver can be manipulated to capture details and charm, but in a way that’s more understated and, therefore, more casual.
“Women are looking for a feeling, an emotion contained in something,” Chefridi says. “Silver is a container for those nice feelings.”