The industry had a few jitters coming into the holiday season, but overall it appears better than expected—particularly for diamonds and designer lines.
After surveying nearly two dozen jewelers, JCK found that few saw declines, and even those whose sales dropped didn’t have huge falls. But quite a few said sales were flat.
Among the trends we found this year:
– This was a last-minute nail-biting season, but in the end shoppers came through.
– As usual, jewelers griped that the weather hurt sales—but this year the problem was good weather, as unseasonably warm temperatures dampened the holiday mood.
– Gemstones and silver also did well, although JCK heard less about charm brands than in past years.
Here is what jewelers said:
“The month of December was up by 16 percent. Just the month of December, though. The year is even.… People were less hesitant about purchasing. They didn’t buy a lot more, but they didn’t hem and haw over things; they didn’t ask for discounts.” —Chris Boillot, co-owner, Michael’s Creative Jewelry, Phoenix
“Tickets were up for the year and the month compared to 2014, by about 20 percent. So there were more people in the store, but our per-ticket number was down substantially. We’re on track to be flat with December 2014 by the month’s end.” —Bob Goodman, owner, Robert Goodman Jewelers, Zionsville, Ind.
“It was a great season for us, great energy from our clients who were excited about buying jewelry. We have felt a shift in excitement as the economy has improved, people were buying big gifts this year. More than anything, the sentimentality of the jewelry people purchased was high. There was lots of personalization this year, and people were really excited about the gifts they were buying.” —Erin Bitzan, co-owner, D.J. Bitzan Jewelers, Waite Park, Minn.
“We are at or above a year ago, not tremendously, but improved.” —Howard Diamond, partner, Fairfield Center Jewelers, Fairfield, Conn.
“My holiday season was great. People were happy. This year, October and November were slower, but overall, the year was a good year.” —Reba Pilibosian, owner, Birmingham Jewelry, Sterling Heights, Mich.
“December was even with 2014, but our calendar year will show a 15 percent increase [in sales]. Here in the Midwest, we are always conservative—we never have the extremes highs and lows. But our clients are feeling comfortable, which is a good thing.” —Tom Wright, co-owner, Wright’s Jewelers, Lincoln, Neb.
“My clients were highly motivated. And they were getting their own gifts, along with Christmas gifts. They were in a generous mood. The response from men in the area was truly overwhelming; in Barrow’s history I’ve never seen such enthusiasm.” —Lisa Barrow, co-owner, Barrow’s Jewelers, Toledo, Ohio
“We’re up a healthy 20 percent from 2014…. The unemployment rate in Colorado is very low, the consumer confidence level is high. There are a lot of people who fly in and go skiing. It’s an upbeat atmosphere. The one drawback is that the price of oil is lower, and we do have some ties with oil and oil prices. So some of the oil-field guys who [usually come] in did not come in.” —Troy Thollot, co-owner, Thollot Diamonds & Fine Jewelry, Thornton, Colo.
“We were a hair under for December, but last year was our biggest season ever.” —Brad Gross, H.L. Gross & Bro., Garden City, N.Y.
“We did very well considering we are a new jewelry store. Last year was our first year, and we are way up from that. In Nashville the economy is phenomenal.” —Joey Nunley, owner, Prima Jewelers, Nashville, Tenn.
“We were up about 5 percent from last year. A couple of our competitors went out of business, so people have to come to us now.” —David Gaston, sales manager, Hal Davis Jewelers, Boise, Idaho
“We were pretty much the same, maybe a little bit better, than last year. It was okay. We had bigger sales this year: less traffic, but bigger numbers. The consumer mood wasn’t as great because of what happened in California two weeks ago, in San Bernardino. It is still a little tense. But people still came in and tried to get back in holiday mode.” —Eli Samuel Massoud, manager, Morgan’s Jewelers, Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.
“The holiday was about the same as last year. Nothing gained but given the conditions, that’s not too bad. It seemed like there was more traffic this year. I’d have thought we’d have more sales, but I think there were many sales that were smaller per sale.” —Randall Peterson, owner, Peterson’s Jewelers, Heppner, Ore.
What they bought
“We were up in diamonds and designer jewelry: Roberto Coin, Lagos, Erica Courtney, Marco Bicego. We sold some larger engagement-type diamonds. Overall we were disappointed in watches and Rolex. It seems that overseas suppliers are now selling watches over the Internet. But fortunately we were able to make it up with sales from all these other categories.” —Michael Richards, vice president, Underwood’s Jewelers, Jacksonville, Fla.
“It’s like we have two separate businesses now: diamonds and everything else.” —Debbie Fox, owner, Fox Fine Jewelry, Ventura, Calif.
“Lots of diamonds and diamond jewelry. As always our estate department did well.” —Laura Stanley, vice president, Stanley Jewelers Gemologist, North Little Rock, Ark.
“Diamond jewelry—including necklaces and diamond stud earrings. Shimmering Diamonds were very popular, watches were a slower seller this year, did very well with Colore Collection by Simon Golub, including blue topaz, Swiss blue topaz, aquamarine, and sapphires.” —David Swanson, president, Swanson Jewelers, Arlington, Mass.
“Gems mined in Maine, sapphires, rubies—we sold more rubies in the last year than we have in last 15 years combined. It’s a bit of a mystery why.” —Ralph Pride, treasurer, Cross Jewelers, Portland, Maine
“Diamond stud earrings were really big and multicolor gem pieces, multicolor sapphire and rainbow pieces were really popular.” —Taylor Cowardin, co-owner, Cowardin’s Jewelers, Richmond, Va.
“Diamonds, stud earrings and pendants.” —Erin Bitzan, co-owner, D.J. Bitzan Jewelers, Waite Park, Minn.
“Diamond studs, diamond tennis bracelets, we sold a lot of classic pieces this season, Rolex, a lot of the basics. Shinola had maybe eight watches left.” —Brad Gross, H.L. Gross & Bro., Garden City, N.Y.
“We sell mostly silver; [consumers] still have a little sticker shock when they have to buy something gold.”—Randall Peterson, owner, Peterson’s Jewelers, Heppner, Ore.
“We did very well with Roberto Coin, and we did a lot of great things with watches—basically, Rolex.” —Eli Samuel Massoud, manager, Morgan’s Jewelers, Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.
“Classic diamond merchandise like tennis bracelets and hoops. And watches were really big: Rolex was our top-selling brand. And another really good thing for us was colored stone jewelry. It did really, really well. We do more exotic gems like Paraiba tourmalines and blue zircon. We carry the classics—ruby, emerald, sapphire—but more of the exotic stones did really well for us.” —David Gaston, sales manager, Hal Davis Jewelers, Boise, Idaho
“Diamonds, diamonds, and more diamonds. We sold more $10,000 2 ct. stud earrings this Christmas in 20 days than we have in the past year and half. I don’t know what it was—I had a great supplier and a great price point, I guess. With entry-level gold and diamonds, we have a partnership EKG Pendants, and the heartbeat/zigzag line necklace, which is priced at around $300, was really popular. We sold dozens of them. They were featured in our direct mailing, and we had several people bring in the mailing and ask for them specifically. It’s a great $300 price-point item, was easy to replace, and easy to reorder. And we had strong engagement ring sales—Christmastime seems almost busier than bridal season these days.” —Troy Thollot, co-owner, Thollot Diamonds & Fine Jewelry, Thornton, Colo.
“Chan Luu and Ed Levin were brands that both sold well. We also sold a few MeisterSinger watches. Diamond rings and diamond studs were down.” —Bob Goodman, owner, Robert Goodman Jewelers, Zionsville, Ind.
“Lots of engagement and promise rings. Gifts were your normal diamond earrings and diamond necklaces, studs, upgrades.” —Reba Pilibosian, owner, Birmingham Jewelry, Sterling Heights, Mich.
“We had the diamond circle pendant, and we had the Pandora-style charms from Quality Gold. They both sold really well.” —Lisa Barrow, co-owner, Barrow’s Jewelers, Toledo, Ohio
“I had several customers come in specifically looking for platinum. I noticed a lot of people paying attention to diamond cut. The Stuller Ever & Ever Collection did really well. People liked to be able to choose their own concept.” —Joey Nunley, owner, Prima Jewelers, Nashville, Tenn.
“Small pendants, crosses with no diamonds, and diamond studs.” —Chris Boillot, co-owner, Michael’s Creative Jewelry, Phoenix
What they spent
“The reality of it was that there were very few significant sales. It was hard to sell anything expensive—even the $1,500–$2,000 range. The sweet spot was $300–$500. And that’s not our typical sweet spot during Christmas. Our sweet spot is [usually] higher.” —Bob Goodman, owner, Robert Goodman Jewelers, Zionsville, Ind.
“The prices were either high or low. It seems like middle is gone. We sold tons under $500 and many items over $1,000.” —Laura Stanley, vice president, Stanley Jewelers Gemologist, North Little Rock, Ark.
“People were in the $280 or the $460 zone—numbers that weren’t rounded, which matters to a client. The $300–$500 price range was the most popular. And also the under-$100 price point—sterling stud earrings with blue topaz or citrine. As long as you have the genuine stone in it, they’re interested.” —Lisa Barrow, co-owner, Barrow’s Jewelers, Toledo, Ohio
When they bought
“Most of the sales were the last two weeks leading up to Christmas. Black Friday and that weekend was kind of slow, but the end part of the rush was when everything happened. That is pretty typical.” —Taylor Cowardin, co-owner, Cowardin’s Jewelers, Richmond, Va.
“The rush hit last minute. It seems like it gets later every year. The 19th was probably the first day I thought, ‘Okay, we’re really picking up momentum.’ It’s that ratchet effect—every day gets busier leading up to Christmas. But the wheels of the bus came off around the 19th! We definitely saw higher traffic than we did last year.” —Bob Goodman, owner, Robert Goodman Jewelers, Zionsville, Ind.
“For us, being in Minnesota, we didn’t have snow this year, so I think the mentality of the season did start a little later. After Thanksgiving it started building, but we got a great rush at the end.” —Erin Bitzan, co-owner, D.J. Bitzan Jewelers, Waite Park, Minn.
“75 degrees on Christmas eve didn’t put anyone in the Christmas spirit, but they still came out all month, and especially on the 22nd and 23rd. Those were our biggest days.” —Laura Stanley, vice president, Stanley Jewelers Gemologist, North Little Rock, Ark.
Marketing and promotions
“We offered a 10 percent off voucher in the newspaper that was really more about reminding people that we are here.” —Lisa Barrow, co-owner, Barrow’s Jewelers, Toledo, Ohio
“Marketing never ends for an independent store. We have a constant presence on social media. We save money for billboards and direct mail. We did a lot of great co-op advertising with partners, and it seems to have paid off very well. It’s important that you don’t ever really let the gas off, so to speak.” —Troy Thollot, co-owner, Thollot Diamonds & Fine Jewelry, Thornton, Colo.
“We sent a couple clients a $100 gift card and had such a good response from that. We had probably 30 percent of the people we sent them to come in. It was the first year we tried it. We got a new marketing agency, and it was their idea, and everything in here is more than $100, so it really worked out well for us.” —David Gaston, sales manager, Hal Davis Jewelers, Boise, Idaho
“We had a party this year in early December where we gave out a prize, which was a Rolex, and people were happy to see that; it drew some people in. It was a big prize and a big party for customers.” —Eli Samuel Massoud, manager, Morgan’s Jewelers, Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.
“We’re just going to hold tight and see how it goes. We are not expecting a big year, just hoping that it is marginally better than this year.” —Taylor Cowardin, co-owner, Cowardin’s Jewelers, Richmond, Va.
“My marketing is going to change. We’re going to get in tune a little more with the digital. We’re launching a new website. We were one of the first to put up a website 15 years ago, and it’s archaic now. It will have e-commerce on it. [My biggest concern] is finding new help. I need more employees as sales increase, and finding qualified sales help is a challenge.” —Chris Boillot, co-owner, Michael’s Creative Jewelry, Phoenix
“In 2016, we’re going to do more billboards, and we’ll try to do more with social media, like Facebook and putting different advertisements on there, because that helped us a little bit. We were getting a lot of clicks.” —Eli Samuel Massoud, manager, Morgan’s Jewelers, Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.
“We’re probably going to push bridal more earlier in the year, and we’re projecting for 2016 an increase of about 10 percent due to our competitors going out of business. There are two fine jewelers left in Boise. Two went out of business in back-to-back years. They retired—it wasn’t due to bad business. We always had really good working relationships with these stores, and they sent letters of recommendation to their customers saying they should visit us for their fine jewelry needs.” —David Gaston, sales manager, Hal Davis Jewelers, Boise, Idaho
Additional reporting by Victoria Gomelsky, Jennifer Heebner, Logan Sachon, and Emili Vesilind
(Golden Gate ring by Roberto Coin, photo courtesy of Roberto Coin)