Twenty-three new ways to wrap your customer in diamond jewelry

Have we at last found the next tennis bracelet?

That icon of success start-ed as a fad, grew into a trend and finally reached “classic” status all because Chris Evert Lloyd dropped her diamond line bracelet on a tennis court.

Since then, the quest for another product with that kind of staying power has been the industry’s search for the Holy Grail. Subsequent trends, such as hoop hangers and Y-necklaces, sold like gangbusters for short periods but lacked longevity. The hinged hoop earring has potential, even though at the moment it’s involved in patent and trademark controversies.

But one year ago, De Beers launched its Diamond Solitaire Necklace campaign, hoping an updated, right-for-the-’90s version of a classic diamond pendant will give women a new reason to visit the nearest jeweler.

Diamond Promotion Service research determined that to create the kind of demand tennis bracelets did, a product has to be easy for manufacturers to produce, easy for retailers to stock and easy for consumers to identify.

Industry focus groups suggested several diamond product “brands,” including solitaire bangle bracelets, diamond heart pendants, right hand rings, fancier tennis bracelets and the diamond solitaire necklace. The solitaire necklace was selected because of its classic styling, everyday wearability and need for a quality stone.

Roll-out of the campaign came in three phases:

  1. Fuel the trend, which the Diamond Information Center did by getting celebrities to wear a solitaire necklace and getting key consumer fashion magazines to feature them.

  2. Launch to the industry, which was accomplished with the Solitaire Splash party at the 1996 JCK International Jewelry Show in Las Vegas.

  3. Launch to consumers, which began with a Mystery Celebrity contest and magazine advertising in the fourth quarter of 1996.

Jewelers’ opinions of diamond solitaire necklace’s selling power are mixed.

Is it destined to become a classic? Yes,they say.

Is it The Next Tennis Bracelet? That’s debatable.

“I think it will be a jewelry wardrobe basic and important in the neckwear category,” says Ruth Fortunoff, vice president and jewelry merchandise manager of Fortunoff’s, Westbury, N.Y. “It’s gaining in popularity and trending up, but I don’t know if it will go to the extent of the tennis bracelet.”

Adds Jeff Pfeffer, senior vice president of Bank Leumi, New York City, “It’s meeting expectations, but it’s

not taking off as quickly as the tennis bracelet did.” Pfeffer keeps a close eye on jewelry sales trends. He feels consumers aren’t quite as convinced about the necklace as they were about tennis bracelets. He thinks the diamond solitaire necklace lacks a certain newness that the tennis bracelet had, even though neither was a new invention.

Right for the times

The style and quality of the diamond solitaire necklace fit today’s lifestyles perfectly. The simple, tailored look of these necklaces is right for the dressed-down ’90s mentality. Aesthetically, it goes well with minimalist styles of office or evening clothes and works equally well with jeans for more casual lifestyles or weekend wear. Quality-wise, the general U.S. consumer mind-set has shifted to buying “fewer but better,” and since it’s hard to hide a poor-quality diamond when it’s front and center, the promotional quality “frozen spit” stones that made tennis bracelets available for $99 are going to be tougher to sell in solitaire necklaces.

Michael Gordon, vice president of Zimmer Bros. in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is optimistic. “We did very well with them. We got on it last summer when it became apparent that De Beers was going to make a big push for them,” he says. “I do think it will be the next tennis bracelet. Tiffany has been doing similar things for a while, so we figured it’s going to be the next hot item.”

Gary Thrapp, owner of G. Thrapp Jewelers in Indianapolis, Ind., says the real strength of the category is in the fashion end. He cites designers such as Penny Preville, whose style features delicately proportioned matte metal with an architectural influence that keeps the line from looking too frilly. He also sells a necklace that’s a cross between a solitaire and a station chain, where small accent diamonds along the chain end in a central solitaire.

“Still, how can anything compete with the tennis bracelet?” he asks.

Limitations

What may prevent diamond soli-taire necklace sales from reaching tennis bracelet status is that in many cases, it’s a remount sale. And once a woman has one, does she really need another?

“Just because you have a ring doesn’t mean you can’t have more than one,” says Marcee Feinberg, marketing manager of Lazare Kaplan Inc., New York City. “You don’t have to wear them together, but one day you might wear one with a bezel and the next day one with a fancier design and multiple stone accents.”

Laurie Harris, buyer for Tapper’s Fine Jewelry, West Bloomfield, Mich., says her company is making some complete diamond solitaire necklaces but that most people have their own stones. “We’re selling simple mountings for necklaces, either a minimalist bezel or designers like John Atencio or Cinnamon Designs,” she says. But chain necklaces with bezel-set diamond stations sell much better, she adds. These styles are inspired by Tiffany & Co.’s famous Diamonds by the Yard, created by Elsa Peretti in the 1970s.

Simple styles tend to be remounts, says Thrapp, while the more fashionable looks tend to sell complete. He tries to turn small-stone remount sales into trade-ups by suggesting the woman match her existing stone to make a pair of stud earrings, then selling a larger necklace to go with it.

Emil Girardin, owner of Girardin Jewelers, laughs about how long it takes for fashion trends to reach his town of Valdosta, in southern Georgia. He’s still selling traditional diamond pendants, prong-set with “rabbit ear” bails. His customers are just beginning to express interest in the more modern bezel-set varieties. So far, that’s been remount business only, but he expects the category will be bigger by Christmas ’97.

The quality issue: One thing the tennis bracelet has is across-the-board appeal. Though upscale jewelers cringe at the thought of 1-ct. total-weight promotional bracelets, such heavily advertised pieces did bring diamonds to the masses and put them on the radar screens of many Americans. The diamond solitaire necklace may have the same reach.

Having the category touted on QVC might make more consumers aware of it, says Keith Shaw, vice president of Elleard B. Heffern in St. Louis, Mo. But it’s up to fine jewelers to prompt people to want higher quality once they’ve seen the product. De Beers will try to prevent a significant drop in acquisition price by stressing quality stones and necklaces of 0.5 carat or more in its advertising, says Andrea Halberstadt, marketing manager of the Diamond Marketing Group, a division of the De Beers account at J. Walter Thompson Co.

Thus far, higher quality is the norm for this category. Shaw says his diamond solitaire necklace sales are all 1- to 2-ct. Lazare Kaplan diamonds, G to I color, VS to SI clarity. Thrapp’s typical sales are from 0.5 to 1 carat, G to I color, SI clarity. Shaw and Thrapp say these usually are male-to-female gift sales.

Other jewelers, aiming for the female self-purchase customer as well as male gift buyers, cite $400 or so as the entry-level price point. Ruth Fortunoff calls these “throw it on” sizes, beginning from 0.20 ct., where a woman can just toss the necklace on and it works for every day. At Zimmer Bros., Gordon also starts with 0.25-ct. pieces for around $400, but his typical sale is $1,200 to $1,900.

Most of Fortunoff’s sales are in the H color, SI clarity range. “It’s definitely a fashion purchase. It’s not as sentimental as an engagement ring and not as expensive,” says Fortunoff.

SOLITAIRE NECKLACE: MORE TRENDS

To help keep inventories trim, many jewelers make their own diamond solitaire necklaces. They stock loose diamonds for engagement ring sales, so it’s easy to keep chain and bezels on hand.

  • Rounds are the most popular shape. A few jewelers report sales of bezel-set princess cuts or prong-set heart shapes, but not often.

  • Yellow gold is the most popular setting, but white metal is gaining. White bezel/yellow chain is a favorite at Fortunoff’s.

  • Sales of diamond studs are picking up, often in bezels to match the chain.

  • Jewelers have already begun to advertise the category, either in newspaper or radio ads or by including examples in their holiday catalogs.

  • This is still largely a male-to-female gift purchase, but it’s a category that lends itself well to female self-purchase, especially for divorcées who want a nice diamond piece but not a ring. De Beers’ advertising is aimed at the gift market, but is in a broad-based selection of magazines and will be seen by all women.

  • While jewelers do stress quality and consumer education, the solitaire necklace sales presentation isn’t usually as extensive as for engagement ring sales.

DE BEERS’ PLANS FOR DIAMOND SOLITAIRE NECKLACE

De Beers has designed its 1997 marketing agenda to encourage growth of the diamond solitaire necklace category. The crux of the plan is increasing diamond solitaire necklace advertising into a full-year freestanding campaign.

Last year, several products, including rings and earrings, were included in the national print campaign for women’s diamond jewelry. But this year the necklace will have its own separate schedule. The multi-product campaign will also have its own ad schedule.

Both efforts are targeted to married women with household incomes above $50,000. They are meant to stimulate desire for more diamond-intensive, quality jewelry by conveying the feeling of wearing these kinds of diamonds.

The full-year advertising plans will continue the theme, “The Next Classic.” De Beers will also continue using celebrity public relations placements and is currently planning a second “Mystery Celebrity Contest,” to follow last year’s very popular campaign using Vanessa Williams. Retail promotions connected to the contest will generate further consumer excitement and the Diamond Promotion Service plans to step up the involvement of retailers in the promotion.

DPS is developing several “packages” for jewelers concerning the diamond solitaire necklace. Each will feature information on the consumer research De Beers’ ad agency J. Walter Thompson Co. has conducted; a look at the consumer ads it has developed; point of sale materials; and new education packages on how to sell this category. One package will concentrate on a “solitaire plus” campaign to promote solitaires complemented by side stones.