Despite a year’s worth of industry trepidation, jewelry store sales over the 2015 holiday were largely positive—if not overwhelmingly so. In a post-season check of more than 20 independent jewelers, JCK heard of only a few declines, though a number said sales were flat and varied from month to month.
Among the trends:
Diamonds shone. The biggest seller at Thollot Diamonds & Fine Jewelry in Thornton, Colo.: “Diamonds, diamonds, and more diamonds,” says co-owner Troy Thollot. The same was true for Ventura, Calif.–based Fox Fine Jewelry: “It’s like we have two separate businesses now: diamonds and everything else,” co-owner Debbie Fox says.
Among the biggest holiday sellers nationwide: studs, pendants, and engagement rings. “Christmastime seems almost busier than bridal season these days,” Thollot says.
Sales runner-up: gemstones. “We sold more rubies in the last year than in the last 15 years combined,” says Ralph Pride, owner of Cross Jewelers in Portland, Maine. “It’s a bit of a mystery why.”
Colored stones also did well at Hal Davis Jewelers in Boise, Idaho. “We carry the classics—ruby, emerald, sapphire—but more of the exotic stones did really well,” sales manager David Gaston says.
Silver is still strong. “Consumers still have a little sticker shock when they have to buy something gold,” says Randall Peterson, owner of Peterson’s Jewelers in Heppner, Ore.
Don’t forget designers. Many jewelers pointed to designer names as strong sellers, with several singling out Roberto Coin.
Like the economy as a whole, sales were bifurcated. “Prices were either high or low. It seems like the middle is gone,” says Laura Stanley, vice president of Stanley Jewelers Gemologist in North Little Rock, Ark. “We sold tons under $500 and many items over $1,000.”
At Robert Goodman Jewelers in Zionsville, Ind., however, the average price point sank. “There were very few significant sales,” co-owner Bob Goodman says. “It was hard to sell anything expensive—even the $1,500 to $2,000 range. The sweet spot was $300 to $500. And that’s not our typical sweet spot during Christmas. Our sweet spot is [usually] higher.”
The season was a nail-biter. This was a last-minute Christmas in general, but particularly for jewelers. “It seems like [the rush] gets later every year,” Goodman says. “The 19th was probably the first day I thought, Okay, we’re really picking up momentum.”
The (good) weather hurt sales. Usually, jewelers gripe about how winter storms or cold weather depressed holiday sales. But December’s spooky warm temperatures weren’t any better. “Seventy-five degrees on Christmas Eve didn’t put anyone in the Christmas spirit,” Stanley says. “But they still came out all month, and especially on the 22nd and 23rd.”
Some prosper as the herd thins. “We’re projecting for 2016 an increase of about 10 percent due to our competitors going out of business,” says Gaston. “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 to their customers saying they should visit us for their fine jewelry needs.” (Additional reporting by Victoria Gomelsky, Jennifer Heebner, Logan Sachon, and Emili Vesilind)
Other Holiday Results
• Signet Jewelers had a strong holiday, with comp sales rising 4.9 percent. Standouts included the Ever Us two-stone ring concept (“a slam dunk,” raved CEO Mark Light); diamond earrings; jewelry “for the wrist”; and Signet’s stable of brands, including Vera Wang and Neil Lane. Sales were particularly strong at Kay and Piercing Pagoda, which both saw 7.2 percent comp jumps.
Kay Jewelers’ Tolkowsky set with 1 ct. t.w. diamonds in 14k gold; $4,099.99
• Birks Group’s U.S. holiday sales increased 2.4 percent from last year.
• J.C. Penney’s comps for November and December periods rose 3.9 percent.
• News was not as good at Macy’s, where comps fell 5.2 percent, mostly due to poor sales of winter clothes thanks to unseasonably warm weather. The chain plans to cut 4,500 jobs.
• According to MasterCard Advisors, a last-minute surge caused holiday sales to rise 8.9 percent. Online sales rose 20 percent.