Who Needs Jewelry?

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs. Man’s basic needs are physiological (food, water, etc.). Next, he needs safety—protection from physical and emotional harm. Then come social needs like affection, belonging, acceptance, and friendship. After that comes esteem, or ego—driven by autonomy, self-respect, achievement, status, recognition, and attention. At the top is the need for self-actualization, achieved only when all the other needs are met.

Jewelry is not on the list.

Or is it? You can’t eat jewelry, but you could trade it for food. In terms of safety, precious gems have been worn as protective talismans since ancient times. Socially, what better way to show affection and bind a friendship or commitment than with a ring or other gift?

Consider the next level—esteem. How often is jewelry used to reward an achievement or convey social status? Wearing it as a reward or symbol of wealth is a popular reason for buying it.

What about self-actualization, or doing what you truly love? Obviously a lot of people in this industry love what they do—how many of you visit jewelry stores even while you’re on vacation?

Times like these have prompted many Americans to rethink their priorities. After last fall’s tragic events, there has been a documented rise in year-over-year sales of home-and-hearth goods, ranging from turkey roasting pans at Williams-Sonoma to soft, cozy furniture (reportedly outselling sleek modern styles). At press time (the week after Thanksgiving), hard evidence showed Black Friday sales were up over last year, and anecdotal evidence from jewelers was positive. Not one jeweler queried had any complaints about sales so far, as shoppers sought meaningful, high-quality gifts for loved ones.

Quality is the key. In previous recessions, consumers often traded down gem quality in favor of size, but jewelers now report the opposite: Customers want the better-quality stones, but when price is an issue, they’ll compromise on size to keep the quality. They don’t want a diamond bracelet that looks like rock salt just to be able to say they’re wearing five carats.

In this issue, we report the findings of a consumer focus group study JCK commissioned last year. Publisher Frank Dallahan and I sat behind a one-way mirror and listened for four hours as 14 engaged and recently married couples talked about their experiences shopping for rings. Much of what we heard—about the importance of trust and reputation and service—was no surprise. Nor was the fact that independent jewelers fared better than chain stores, department stores, or discounters. Or that most couples were suspicious of jewelry pricing—wary of “bargains” that seemed too good to be true but afraid of being overcharged.

The surprise was that nobody mentioned going to their family jeweler. Most people have a family doctor, dentist, and plumber, but it was disconcerting that nobody mentioned buying a ring from a jeweler who’d often served their parents or who takes care of all their jewelry and watch repairs.

People need a sense of connection, a sense of community. No matter what the environment, they also need to express themselves and express their emotions. The “past, present, and future” of De Beers’ three-stone diamond ads is a theme that can resonate with all consumers—not just couples—because jewelry is a link that can tie together past, present, and future generations. A fine-quality gemstone shows the value and respect the wearer has for herself and the esteem a gift-giver has for the recipient.

People do need jewelry. They also need a jeweler they trust to provide high quality, fair prices, and good service.

They need you.