Who Is Today’s Platinum Consumer?

Platinum?s recent reemergence on the fashion scene, largely inspired by the 1992 founding of the Platinum Guild International USA, marks a significant sales opportunity for the jewelry industry. Over the past eight years, jewelry sales of this rare and beautiful precious metal have soared more than 1,000%. Aside from computers or cell phones, few other consumer items have enjoyed this type of growth spurt in recent memory.

Ten years ago, platinum jewelry was produced by only a few manufacturers, and the metal was offered ?by special order only? from most bridal ring producers. All that has changed greatly. ?In the United States, there are more than 25,000 retailers stocking platinum jewelry in their product assortments today, compared to just 150 in 1992,? reports Laurie Hudson, president of PGI USA. Helping them fill their showcases are more than 500 domestic manufacturers of platinum jewelry and another 100 importers. At the consumer level, it?s hard to open an upscale lifestyle, fashion, or home magazine without seeing an ad or article featuring platinum jewelry.

Who is the customer for all this merchandise? Is it the young couple about to be married, who choose platinum for their wedding set and may continue buying platinum jewelry thereafter? Is it an older, Baby Boomer career woman who relates to the elegance and status of platinum and rewards herself with high-quality jewelry? Or is it a wider range of consumers, who are seduced by the romance and rarity of platinum and are following the current trend toward buying luxury products? According to recent research, it is all of these?and more.

Brides ignite platinum growth. Taking the lead in platinum jewelry sales are bridal rings (see story on p. 72). Today, more than 25% of all bridal jewelry sales are all-platinum or part-platinum rings, compared with less than 1% less than eight years ago. According to a survey by Modern Bride, 44% of today?s couples consider platinum for their engagement or wedding rings.

Today?s so-called X and Y generations are the best-educated and most affluent market segments of any time in history. Consumer panels reveal a large portion of young brides say they want something different from the rings their mothers own.

On this subject, there is more good news. These same focus groups indicate young men like the heft and color of platinum wedding rings. Because many own sporty steel or two-tone watches, the sleek look of platinum is a good match for jewelry they already own. This is an important fact because, say the top two bridal magazines, an estimated 90% to 98% of today?s grooms will receive a wedding ring.

Boomers want style, status. Also weighing in heavily on platinum jewelry sales are the 77 million Baby Boomers, ages 35 to 53, who are currently in their peak earning years. One of the most influential and highly watched consumer segments of the 20th century, this group is motivated to buy jewelry primarily for its value and quality, attributes stressed by current platinum marketing.

The maturing of this important age group is not lost on marketers of luxury products. Designers are creating chic, contemporary platinum pieces aimed at attracting attention. Orlando Orlandini and Roberto Coin, two top Italian designers known for their intricate work in gold, are now introducing platinum collections.

Orlandini?s handmade pieces capture the whimsy of his gold work: openwork, hand-textured designs that are at once chic and unusual. He says he loves the pure white color and tensile strength of platinum and plans to introduce more items to his collection.

Roberto Coin, known for his colorful interplays of white, pink and yellow gold, unveiled his first platinum and diamond collection this spring. Consisting of bracelets, rings, and necklaces, this neoclassical collection features a geometric design in which softly brushed platinum sections alternate with sparkling squares of diamonds.

Inspiring fashion collections from notable designers is the latest phase of platinum promotion in Italy, explains Wilma Vigano, manager of PGI in Milan, Italy. ?We began our campaign with the basics, such as wedding rings and platinum chains,? she says. ?Then, we expanded into pieces for a girl?s 18th birthday and now into fashion categories such as earrings, bracelets, and pendants from important designers.?

Who buys what? According to a JCK survey conducted last year, 1.5 million consumers buy platinum jewelry per year. Painting a tantalizing picture for retailers are the survey?s findings that 80% of platinum jewelry is purchased by men as a gift and 67% is purchased by women for themselves.

Most of the men in the survey were probably buying engagement rings, but what are the women buying? According to research by PGI, 10% of all the women over the age of 18 in the United States, or 10.5 million women, currently own a piece of jewelry containing platinum. Another 21 million women claim ownership of 10 or more pieces of fine jewelry. Research has shown that these jewelry lovers are twice as likely to purchase platinum jewelry than any other consumer.

How do you reach this potentially huge audience? Consider the occasions for buying jewelry and consumers? attitudes toward it. According to PGI research, the top four occasions for buying jewelry are Christmas, cited by 36% of respondents, birthdays, by 13%, wedding anniversaries, by 11%, and engagements, by 10%. The high level of response for the top three indicates the potential for the sale of fashion pieces rather than wedding or engagement rings.

Jewelry is a gift associated with sentiment and romance, said two-thirds of consumers polled. While this information should not come as a surprise, it presents an opportunity for retailers to stress the rarity and durability of platinum jewelry, an especially good technique when presenting special gifts such as anniversary rings. JCK?s research on platinum preference by age supports this theory.

Now at popular prices. Moderately priced platinum jewelry sold on home-shopping television channels, which retails from less than $100 to $250, is making an impact among a cross section of consumers. Call-in viewers say they buy for a variety of reasons: Their wedding set is platinum and they want more pieces to match it. They inherited a piece of jewelry and they have discovered they like the look and feel of platinum. Or they simply want to reward themselves with platinum jewelry for a personal achievement or milestone.

Platinum jewelry manufacturer Terry O?Malley, president of PMI Diamonds, Dallas, says the way to grow the platinum jewelry business is to go after a broader consumer segment with a new product mix. ?We shouldn?t cheapen the image of platinum by selling it by weight, but we have to offer more moderately priced merchandise that appeals to female self-purchasers and the teen market,? he says.

Among the best items for these customers are necklaces, bracelets, and earrings they can wear all the time. This type of everyday platinum jewelry presents a potentially strong source of sales in addition to bridal rings and upscale diamond jewelry. However, caution must be taken to avoid turning platinum into a commodity.

Also noting a strong response to sales of platinum chains are Aurora Platinum Imports, Los Angeles, and Herco, San Francisco. All of Aurora?s rope, omega, and serpentine chains and fashion links are imported from Italy. Company president Raffi Yepremian says, ?Since the beginning, our best-sellers have been cable and snake chains in 16- to 18-in. lengths because they?re perfect for all types of pendants.?

Herco is offering a blend of basics as well as more stylish pieces, some with modern, architectural lines and others reminiscent of art deco. Observes Zehava Itelman, company principal, ?Women are buying platinum jewelry for themselves because it?s not ostentatious and can be worn all the time. Today?s woman buys what pleases her.?

Bolstering the awareness and desire for platinum jewelry are the growing numbers of celebrity endorsements. For example, Oprah Winfrey, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Courtney Love own platinum jewelry and have been photographed wearing it. ?Platinum jewelry has a timeless appeal that today?s woman understands,? says Hudson. ?She?s willing to spend a little more to have something of better quality.?

On the Air with Platinum

Over the past year, I have appeared on QVC six times as a spokesperson for platinum. I don?t actually sell merchandise, I just provide information about platinum?its rarity, durability, and quality?and answer questions from the host or consumer callers.

It all began in April 1999, when I received a call from Laurie Hudson, asking if I would go on the show as a PGI spokesperson. QVC wanted someone who was knowledgeable about the subject, but not anyone who had appeared on any other TV shopping show. She was unable to do the show herself.

I agreed, and in May 1999, I appeared on QVC?s first hour-long platinum event, entitled ?Platinum Aspirations.? It was a huge success and sold close to $500,000 worth of platinum jewelry in one hour. These are astounding numbers, considering most of the merchandise was basic chains, band rings, pendants, and hoop and ball earrings in the $50 to $250 range. Since that time, I have done another five shows, all with merchandise in the same price and style range.

Most interesting are the viewer comments about platinum jewelry. During the shows I have done, all callers were women. Some had a little basic knowledge about platinum; others just liked what they saw and decided to buy themselves a gift. All said they were delighted to be able to afford a piece of platinum jewelry at popular prices?and several said they bought more than one piece.