In March 2011, a longtime client came to Barton-Clay Fine Jewelers in Mountain Brook, Ala., after a trip to Las Vegas. Instead of table winnings, however, she brought back a cellphone photo of a heavy, unbranded gold and diamond bracelet that she'd seen at a store on the Strip. "She wanted to know if we could get one similar to it," explains Alison Freeman, a sales associate who had previously sold the 40-something woman a $12,500 diamond necklace and an 18k gold Patek Philippe timepiece.
After searching three weeks for a match, Freeman turned up an 18k gold link bracelet weighing 74 grams from a California manufacturer, which shipped the piece to the store for inspection. The style was right, save for some diamonds, so the customer special-ordered a white gold model peppered with 15.30 cts. t.w. pavé diamonds. By June, the $48,400 bracelet was ready. "It was one of our best sales of the year," says Freeman.
At the time, gold hovered around $1,400 an ounce—hardly a bargain. Barton-Clay credits customer loyalty and employee attentiveness for the success. It has a history of accommodating clients such as the bracelet buyer: In 2003, the store remade her necklace twice before she was satisfied. This sale had less to do with cost than with patience and know-how. "She was okay with the price," Freeman says. "We just had to make her happy."
At a time when jewelry sales are challenging and gold prices remain high, any jeweler would be delighted to score such a big-ticket gold sale. But many retailers are doing just that—much more often than you may think. What are their secrets?
Limited-edition Venetian Checkerboard Euro Flex bracelet in 18k brown and yellow gold with 0.60 ct. t.w. diamonds; $18,000; Henderson Collection, Charlotte, N.C.; 800-605-3035; hendersondesigns.com
Make It Special. "It takes a lot of confidence to close gold sales today," says Doug Spradlin. The 40-year veteran and manager of Adolf Jewelers in Richmond, Va., calls his style a mix of comedy (e.g., bringing out yo-yos and stuffed animals for kids) and comfort. Being flexible with margins—up to 10 percent lower than they were in the boom years—lets him offer sweeter deals, especially on higher-priced items.
A few months ago, during a two-day trunk show for the Henderson Collection, Spradlin put his salesmanship to the test—and ended up selling three $18,000 gold and diamond bracelets. "The word pricey was used," says Spradlin, referring to conversations he had with clients during the show. "But I said, 'Feel the piece—it's not light or tinny. Look at the design and warranty that comes with it.' " And when Spradlin put the sample around the wrist of one of the buyers, her reaction was just what he was looking for: "She said, 'My gosh, that feels wonderful!' "
All three bracelets were flexible, checkerboard-pattern combinations of 18k brown and yellow gold with six white gold bars of 0.60 ct. t.w. F-VS diamonds. After the third sale, "we had to suggest other items so we did not overload the Richmond market," says Henderson Collection designer Lecil Henderson.
The gold price may prevent retailers from fully stocking showcases, but the climate is ideal for some memo. "It's a good time for special events," says Spradlin.
Necklace in 24k gold with 51.85 cts. t.w. Australian opals and 0.05 ct. t.w. diamonds; $16,500; Kurtulan, Istanbul; 90-212-526-4716; kurtulan.com
Love at First Sight. When a first-time customer walked into Mediterra Collection on Manhattan's Second Avenue and asked to see an opal and 24k gold necklace—a bib style with Australian opals from Istanbul designer Kurtulan—Sema Tekinay was thrilled (of course!). On a summer afternoon, the woman tried it on once and swore she'd be back in a few hours. Upon returning, "she asked if she could take a picture of it and send it to her husband," recalls Tekinay. After 10 minutes waiting for a return message from her husband, she told the store manager to wrap it up. "She just fell in love with it," explains Tekinay, founder and CEO of nine leased-space department jewelry boutiques in clothing stores and hair salons throughout New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Other factors likely helped close the sale, including the story of the workmanship of the piece (hand-fabricated in a Turkish studio) and the in-store merchandising: Tekinay places her jewelry amid antique-looking vases and rocks, "like they were just unearthed from a tomb," she says. "We don't use traditional neck forms." Though the original price was $16,500, Tekinay knocked off about 20 percent to move the necklace then and there. Sold!
Hammered 40.5 mm 18k yellow gold bangle with 1.04 cts. t.w. diamonds; $14,995; Herco, San Francisco; 415-543-1580; herco.com
Be Quick About It. Last May, a 60-something retired school board exec came to see Cindy Caskey at Caskey's Inc. in Morehead, Ky. The woman, a customer for 30 years, was looking for a wide yellow gold bangle—no occasion whatsoever. "It was a 'to me, from me' purchase," says Caskey, vice president of the 54-year-old sporting goods and pawn shop that also houses a 35-year-old jewelry division. With nothing to the client's liking in store, Caskey pulled out her supplier catalogs, including one from Herco. Inside, she discovered a 40.5 mm hammered and hinged number in 18k yellow gold, sprinkled with 1.04 cts. t.w. colorless diamonds. "When she saw this one, she had to have it," says Caskey. With the customer beside her, Caskey called Herco, which promised to overnight the bracelet to Caskey's—and would also allow the woman to return it. "This customer does not shop online and wants to see a piece before she pays for it," says Caskey. When the client saw it in person, she bought it that day. "The whole thing was very quick—it all happened in less than five days," says Caskey, adding that the swiftness of the transaction undoubtedly facilitated the sale. "She was very impressed that it happened so quickly. And if we had to wait longer, she could have talked herself out of buying it."
The price of the bangle was $14,995, but Caskey gave her a 20 percent discount. The woman also brought about $2,000 worth of gold jewelry to cash in, but that, Caskey says, played a minor role in the purchase. She bought the piece for want, not need—although gold was nearly $1,500 an ounce: "She even told us, 'Oh, I know it's going to be high because of the price of gold, but I want to see it anyway.' "