Jewelers Have Mixed 2012 Holiday Season

If the numerous news reports are to be believed, retailers are anything but jolly after this holiday season.

U.S. holiday sales grew by just 0.7 percent from Oct. 28 through Dec. 24 after a 2 percent growth in the same period last year, according to a MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report quoted by Bloomberg. The report cited consumers’ anxieties about the fiscal cliff, and the fallout from Hurricane Sandy as reasons for a sluggish holiday.

Jewelers interviewed by JCK described a mixed holiday season hampered by the same uncertainties plaguing all retailers. Those who reported strong seasonal sales emphasized a focus on custom designs, estate jewelry, and higher price points.

Bruce Watters, owner of Bruce Watters Inc. in St. Petersburg, Fla., says business was much better than last year thanks to sales of large diamonds mounted in right hand rings or pendants. But he doesn’t think the jewelry industry is out of the woods yet.

“I think in 2013 people are still going to be conservative when buying,” he says. “We’re waiting to see what the president does.”

At Mark Knipe Goldsmiths in Concord, N.H., the 2012 holidays saw better foot traffic and sales than 2011, reflecting a general trend for the year, “except for the slow summer,” owner Mark Knipe tells JCK.

Knipes says that customers were more upbeat than in the past years. “As far as 2013 goes, we have to wait and see about the economy and fiscal cliff,” he says. “I think people are still hesitant.”

Penn Dodson, owner of Dodson’s Jewelers in Spokane, Wash., says that the store’s holiday sales were “fabulous” and sales for the year are likely to surpass 20 percent. “What made a big difference this year is that we had the right merchandise for those people who wanted to spend a lot of money,” says Dodson. “We did a Christmas show with one vendor who came in with very high price points, and we had people respond to that.”

Likewise, Howard Skalet, owner of Skalet Jewelers in Sacramento, Calif., says that customers didn’t have “sticker shock” as in 2011 when he had to raise his prices because of the skyrocketing cost of gold. “I think customers are starting to get the gist of it,” he says. “I think people, at least in my area, had a better year, and home prices are going up. We were up 10 percent for the year.”

For Jacqui Ullmer, vice president of Weber Jewelers in Dayton, Ohio, sales are also up, with popular price points falling between $250-$1,000. She says the store’s estate department did well, thanks in part to an estate show they had in the beginning of December. “It’s too early to tell, but we’re hoping the momentum continues in 2013,” she says.

Amy Johnson, manager, Johnson Jewelers, Puyallup, Wash., says sales were up, and that they sold a lot of silver, a lot of pieces that they made themselves, like color and relative one-of-a-kinds, and custom work. “We sold a wide variety of merchandise, so there was no clear-cut, best-selling style,” she says. “We did well with prices around $300, and then another price point was around $800, and sales were up from there.”

But for scores of retailers, 2012 was a tough slog and the holidays confirmed it.

“It wasn’t a great year,” says a jewelry store owner in Tucson, Ariz., who asked that her name not be mentioned. “Nobody’s doing well here. The days of selling fashion pieces are long gone, and they’re not back yet. We’re probably down 20 percent.”

The jeweler says that halo engagement rings are still popular, and Hearts On Fire products do well with people wanting finer pieces. She also says that budget priced engagement rings, referring to rings that cost $5,000 for a 1 ct. diamond in a simple solitaire, have performed well, but that the action has remained strictly at the low and high ends of the market. “Nothing in the middle,” she says. “Cases of beautiful semi-mounts go untouched.”

At V. V. Vick Jewelers in Columbus, Ga., “sales were not so good this year,” says owner Penny Calley. “People came in, but most of them just looked and didn’t buy. Our traffic was mostly standby customers.”

Calley says the store sold sterling silver, but people shied away from gold. “The price range we sold was $250-$600 dollars,” she says. “Sales were the same as 2011, but we’re hoping next year will be better.”

For Jock Goodman, owner of Kamuela Goldsmith in Kamuela, Hawaii, 2013 can’t be any worse. “The year 2012 was the worst year of my career,” he says. “But the month of December 2012 was better than the past two Decembers.”

Goodman saw more customers wanting to sell off their jewelry than buy it. After a decent first week of December, sales slowed from Dec. 10-15, he says.

Goodman sold diamond stud earrings offered at 20 percent off, as well as pearls, opals, a new silver line, and some custom pieces. “Price points that sold were in the medium to low price range, between $400–$1,500,” he says. “We didn’t have any big pieces sell this year.”

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