What’s Not New?

“But there’s nothing really new!”

Walking the spring jewelry shows, JCK‘s editors heard this complaint from more than a few retailers.

To an extent, they’re right. A lot of the jewelry shown at the spring shows was a continuation of previously seen themes. Likewise, the spring fashion runways weren’t bursting with directional newness. It raises the question of whether there’s some kind of unseen force dictating when new products shall be created and when existing designs shall suffice.

To apply a common phrase to fashion, sometimes no news is good news. For one thing, the public needs a rest. Very few people have the time, money, or desire to reinvent themselves every fashion season.

As JCK has observed many times in the past, fine jewelry design is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Our product is just too expensive to be revolutionary. While there are certainly people who can afford trendy pieces in costly materials, the bulk of the buying public would like to know that a piece of jewelry they’ve just spent thousands of dollars on is going to stay in style for more than a few months. And, as we’ve discovered in our consumer focus groups over the years, while people say they want something unique, most still want both their jewelry and their clothing to be unique within a certain set of parameters. A woman may not want a plain “Tiffany”-style engagement ring, but more than likely she still wants her engagement ring to look like what most people recognize as an engagement ring. In fashion, you’re likely to incorporate the “in” color or trend of the season in a few single garments, not in a head-to-toe ensemble.

Think about automotive design. Cars don’t change greatly from year to year. The selection of paint and upholstery colors might change a bit, a slight variation may be made to the dashboard console, or perhaps a grille or sunroof is added, but the basic chassis usually stays the same for at least five years, sometimes longer. (Volvo, for example, kept its recognizable “boxy” shape fundamentally intact for more than 30 years before radically changing it at the beginning of this century.) Even then, often the changes are subtle—a more rounded corner, a slightly higher trunk.

Nobody wants or expects fine jewelry design to evolve as slowly as automotive design. But neither should it change as fast as the clothes at H&M. Remember that it takes the public’s eye a good two years to become accustomed to a style shift, so while a lot of the pieces may look old hat to you, to your customers they still look fresh.

This season, the jewelry on display was generally delicate, feminine, colorful, and—most important—just plain pretty. The shapes and silhouettes may echo those of last year, but there was plenty available to entice your customers. What woman wouldn’t want a delicious, candy-color necklace for spring? Or a delicate diamond pavé circle pendant? Or a colorful, high-fashion watch? There was plenty of merchandise in the showcases in Vicenza, New York, Phoenix, and Tucson to satisfy a wide range of consumer tastes. And by the way, there were new looks at all those shows as well.

Retailers, understandably, tend to be literal in their search for the new. They want something that’s different, but also that’s going to blow out the door as fast as it came in. On the other hand, experienced trend-trackers, like JCK senior fashion editor Carrie Soucy and luxury business consultant Paula Petersen, also keep an eye out for ideas that are directional. For example, this season Soucy noted some design leaders experimenting with wood in their jewelry, and Petersen saw lots of coral, a gem that Americans haven’t generally embraced yet.

Petersen also cited the Centurion Best Practices survey of retail jewelers, which breaks down jewelers’ product mixes. Jewelers responding to the survey said approximately 40 percent of their product mix has a fashion focus. Approximately 48 percent of their sales, however, are tied to fashion trends in some manner.

That’s an 8 percent (or greater) spread between product mix and sell-through. Over the course of a year, that amounts to quite a lot of money left on the table. This, says Petersen, is why she always advises jewelry clients to reserve 5 to 10 percent of their open-to-buy for the most spectacular trends.

Like everything else, design trends ebb and flow. This is a period of relative rest—necessary to revive the creative juices. The trick is to take advantage of the momentum of ongoing trends and be ready to wake up from the rest period in time to catch the next one.