Boulder, Colo., Jeweler Rocks With Pearls

Walters & Hogsett Fine Jewelers isn’t like most jewelry stores. In the prime square footage to the right of the front door is the store’s pearl jewelry displays. And behind these displays you’ll find owner Don Janson, the resident expert on pearls. In part two of Retail Details’ month-long blog series on retailers specializing in pearls, learn how Janson built his store’s pearl inventory, the goods he specializes in, and why pearl jewelry makes up a larger-than-average portion of his overall inventory.

When Janson joined Walters & Hogsett Fine Jewelers in 1991, he brought many years of experience in retail jewelry sales. Part of that work history included his passion for pearls and the pearl vendor relationships he established early in his jewelry retailing career. 

“I’ve always loved color,” says the Boulder, Colo.–based jeweler. “And pearls go right into that.”

From Janson’s chair, pearls are a fairly straightforward product category to build on with most female customers. A young woman typically receives a traditional pearl necklace as a high school or college graduation gift, allowing for plenty of time throughout her life to upgrade, either to a finer quality strand of white pearls, or pearl jewelry that makes a fashion statement.

That’s why Janson’s top two pearl categories are Akoyas and Tahitians, the latter in a variety of colors and even multicolor strands. As women become stronger-income earners, they’re upgrading from their first traditional pearl necklace of good quality to a strand necklace of fine Akoyas. And because today’s women are more interested in making a fashion statement, Tahitian pearls fit that bill. If retail jewelers beefed up inventory in these two pearl categories, they could capture more pearl sales.  

Don Janson

Don Janson with a sampling of his store’s pearl jewelry 

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Most retail jewelers carry very little pearl jewelry. “A few strands, some stud earrings, and pearls set in jewelry from their fashion jewelry designers, but that’s it,” says Janson. “A lot of jewelers are afraid to do more with pearls because they don’t think they know enough about them.”

At Walters & Hogsett Fine Jewelers, things are a little different, as pearls make up 5 percent of the store’s overall inventory. Of that, 40 percent are Akoya pearls (ranging in size from 6.5 mm to 8.5 mm), 30 percent Tahitian (specializing in graduated strands ranging in size from 9 mm to 12 mm), 15 percent freshwater, and the remaining 15 percent a combination of specialty Keshi pearl necklaces strung with black diamonds (retailing for $1,500–$2,500), South Seas strands, and multicolor strands.

Janson makes it a point to find numerous sources of multicolor pearls for most of the goods his store carries, including Tahitian, South Seas, and freshwater varieties. “Multicolor pearl necklaces and matching jewelry, namely earrings, are that first step a woman takes toward wearing more unusual one-of-a-kind jewelry,” says Janson.

Encouraging customers to experiment and try new pearl varieties, colors, and shapes, is a practice Janson learned from trusted pearl vendors over the years. Vendors Janson has had a good relationship with often give him nontraditional pearl jewelry—namely multicolor pearls and baroque pearls in freeform shapes—on consignment.

And when certain pearl products sell well, Janson reorders them and pushes the envelope bit by bit to determine if the more adventurous customers will try new pearl products or unique color combinations.

“When a woman buys a multicolor strand of Tahitian pearls, I usually hand them two pearl stud earrings that are a mismatched pair in terms of color but go with the multicolor pearls in the necklace,” says Janson. “Not everyone goes for it, but some do.”

Pearl specialties

On the neck form is a fine strand of South Seas pearls and the store’s signature pearl necklace: Keshi pearls with diamond accents   

As for the nonperforming pearl inventory, he simply returns it, or repurposes it somehow.

In recent years, Janson feels vindicated for his longtime passion for pearls, given the volatility of gold and diamond prices. With the exception of over-production in Tahiti, and the occasional market dump of freshwater pearls from China in the 1990s, for the most part, by category pearl prices have remained fairly stable over the last 10 years with finer goods.  

And pearls are a good jewelry value for the dollar for today’s price-point–driven consumer, especially affordable freshwater pearls. At Janson’s Little Black Dress event last October, superlong strands of freshwater pearls (96- to 100-inch strands), received prominent placement in print ads.

“These necklaces are another staple for us, as women can buy freshwater strands at these layering lengths from $100 to $300,” says Janson.

JCK would like to thank the Cultured Pearl Association of America for its assistance with this month-long blog series.