We consulted the experts and came up with 10 forecasts sure to impact the jewelry industry in 2012, with topics ranging from retail to fashion to politics
In December–January issues, lots of magazines love to look at the year that was. Here at JCK, we like to look at the year that’s ahead. And we like to think big: state politics, global tourism, international fashion. So we’re thinking about the potential $300+ billion New York could receive in the next three years from same-sex weddings—and how jewelers can tap into that revenue. We’re looking at the changing face of the jewelry consumer and seeing Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern shoppers step up to the counter. We’re envisioning all the fringed, feathery, flouncy spring 2012 styles that are making their way into customers’ closets—and imagining the delicate diamond bangles they’ll be buying to go with them. So uncork the champagne (very 1920s!) and raise your glass to a shiny, prosperous 2012.
The Roaring ’20s Redux
Modern Art Deco cuff in 18k gold with diamonds, onyx, and green agate; $141,500; Ralph Lauren Watch & Jewelry Co., NYC; 877-639-7934; ralphlaurenwatches.com
One expression of the apparel industry’s current upbeat mood: the futuristic sports theme coursing through spring 2012 fashion—mesh fabrics, neon palettes, plastic clasps. Yet another: the ubiquity of gold—as seen in the prodigious use of gold chains and links, says Patty Leto, senior vice president of the New York City retail trend forecasting firm Doneger Group. But nothing says giddy good times quite like the Jazz Age, whose poster child—the saucy chanteuse with the beaded flapper dress and speakeasy sensibility—is the muse of the moment. Ralph Lauren was only one of scores of designers who “channeled the Great Gatsby, but not just in evening wear,” says Brooke Magnaghi, a New York City–based fashion stylist and frequent JCK contributor. “He showed dropped-waist dresses for day and tennis sweaters.” Fittingly, the designer also just launched his first fine jewelry collection, featuring diamonds, emeralds, green agate, and black onyx in geometric motifs that point to a Deco revival the likes of which jewelers haven’t seen since, well, the Jazz Age. While fashion’s love affair with the 1920s will translate into plenty of long pearl and diamond necklaces in sophisticated white metals, yellow gold will also hold its own, especially as a contrast to ready-to-wear’s other big trend: color, color everywhere. (Brace yourselves, because paisley is back!) Leto also maintains the importance of choker necklaces to adorn “open necklines” and mixed metals with feminine details to offer price-sensitive yet fashion-forward looks. “Fashion is playful again,” says Magnaghi, “so the jewelry and accessories will complement it.”
Tracing the Stones
For years, when jewelers were asked where their diamonds came from, they pointed to the Kimberley Process. But now that the certification scheme has agreed to allow exports from Zimbabwe’s Marange region, some say a simple KP warranty may not be enough. Since buying Marange diamonds is prohibited by U.S. sanctions and NGO activists have raised uncomfortable questions about the stones’ extraction, pressure has increased on companies to enact tighter controls over the origins of their materials. De Beers’ Forevermark brand already requires its manufacturers to show a “clean” supply chain. The Responsible Jewellery Council has, for the past two years, been studying how to certify chains of custody, and price sheet publisher Martin Rapaport is investigating the topic as well. However, because the industry never traditionally segregated products by origin, this will require adopting an entirely new mindset—along with entirely new systems to back it up. “It’s going to take a long time to do this,” Rapaport admits, “but I don’t think it’s impossible.”
Take it from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who predicted, according to Wired, that social commerce will be “the next area to really blow up.” But the trend is more than brands establishing a foothold and even moving product on Facebook and Twitter—though that is undoubtedly part of it. It’s about a new kind of consumerism, where buying becomes more of a group experience, and people share their purchases on social networks the way they now pass around news stories or YouTube videos. Experts say “electronic word of mouth” will play an increasing role in what people buy, and sites such as Amazon will soon factor in not only your past purchases when making recommendations, but also your friends’. ”Shopping—by its very nature—is a social act,” digital marketing expert and Twist Image president Mitch Joel wrote in a blog post. “It was only a matter of time before social media–like tools became prevalent throughout the e-commerce world.”
The industry used to view websites and brick-and-mortar stores—or e-tail and retail—as very different entities. But now there’s a growing overlap, thanks in part to mobile technology. Not only do certain apps let consumers comparison-shop from anywhere—even from inside a retail store—they also give neighborhood stores a way to dangle electronic offers in front of nearby shoppers. In addition, the two types of commerce are becoming increasingly complementary, as more consumers learn about subjects online, then bring that information to traditional stores, and vice versa. And so, experts say, it’s become more important than ever for stores to maintain a consistent message across all channels. “Retailers need to carefully think through the entire shopping experience or risk confusing and alienating consumers,” said a blog post from the retail practice of Applied Predictive Technologies. “The idea that different channels need to be managed independently is defunct.”
It’s a Colorful Life
Peacock earrings with 6.5 cts. t.w. multicolored sapphires and 1 ct. t.w. white topaz in 14k gold with black rhodium; Madhuri Parson, New York City; $6,500; 917-740-3391; madhuriparson.com
If ever there was a time to promote color, it’s now. With fashion in the midst of a major chromatic moment and De Beers no longer subsidizing generic diamond jewelry advertising, retailers have every reason to maximize their sales of colored gemstones—and not only in fashion jewelry. The bridal category is also ripe for reinvention. For one thing, color gives a consumer in the market for a sizable engagement ring the opportunity to go big without sacrificing quality or breaking the bank. Plus, colorful accessories remain a perfectly respectful way for consumers to convey affluence, not to mention exuberance. “Big-ticket items are not going to be bright, but small luxury goods are going to be colorful,” says Leslie Harrington, executive director of the Color Association. “Things don’t seem like they cost a lot of money when they’re small.”
Let’s Have a (Sort-of) Old-Fashioned Wedding
Small and large eternity bands with rainbow-colored gemstones in 14k white gold; $5,100 for set; Anna Sheffield, New York City; 212-925-7010; annasheffield.com
David Yassky, co-founder of bridal fashion website The Aisle New York, is an unconventional bridegroom. That is to say nothing, however, of his taste in bridal jewelry. “I’m a 30-year-old gay man,” Yassky says. “I plan on getting married and when I get married, it will be desperately traditional—way more traditional than people would expect.” For example, Yassky has no doubt that jewelry will accompany the occasion. “I like simple, traditional rings,” he says. Calling all jewelers: The bridal jewelry market—worth about $12 billion when sales of engagement rings, wedding bands, and wedding-day jewelry are combined, according to analyst Ken Gassman—is about to swell in size, thanks to the growing acceptance of same-sex unions (now legal in six states plus the District of Columbia). To accommodate the new business, it’s important to acknowledge that jewelry preferences among today’s bridal consumers are as varied as contemporary definitions of marriage itself. “One of the things that same-sex couples pride themselves on is they don’t have to do things the way opposite-sex couples do,” says jewelry and style expert Michael O’Connor. “They’re putting their own stamp on it. Like two women I know who wore tuxes to their wedding and everyone else wore white.”
The Golden Globe
“Chinese tourists seem to be everywhere, yet the Chinese tourist boom is only just beginning,” wrote The Economist in a September 2011 article about the impact Chinese consumers are having on luxury retailers around the globe. JCK examined the phenomenon in our October 2011 issue, but it bears repeating in 2012—and deserves a postscript: As America’s population grows increasingly diverse, consumers from all cultural backgrounds will become more common in stores. “The Hispanic jewelry consumer now represents an $8.7 billion market, a sixfold increase over our JCOC 2005 Hispanic market study,” says Liz Chatelain, president of MVI Marketing LTD, citing June 2011 research that touts the coming wave of Hispanic diamond buyers. To prepare, retailers should consider offering basic fine jewelry information, such as the 4Cs of diamond grading, in Chinese, Spanish—and Hindi, for that matter. If you think foreign visitors with cash to burn are limited to the Chinese, then consider this conclusion, drawn from Travel + Leisure‘s October 2011 issue: “The shape of travel to come is largely a function of money—who will have it, and how much.… This explains why the next nomads will be Chinese and Indian, with Middle Easterners to follow.”
Remember when supermodels covering Vogue was the rule, rather than the exception? Neither do we. These days, editrix Anna Wintour picks Twilight‘s Bella of the ball Kristen Stewart, Harry Potter schoolgirl-turned-fashionista Emma Watson, and The Great Gatsby‘s delicate Daisy, Carey Mulligan, to don the hottest haute couture. Celebrity fave Donatella Versace is designing studded neon shifts and skin-tight velvet leggings for fast-fashion chain H&M. Oscar winner Marion Cotillard currently stars as a temperamental handbag-tossing diva in a five-minute Lady Dior “movie.” Shu Uemura recently collaborated on a makeup line with ultra-stylish film director Wong Kar Wai. And Barneys New York just transformed an entire floor of its Madison Avenue flagship into Gaga’s Workshop. (Because nothing says “happy holidays” like a $285 pair of Lady Gaga–inspired spiked leather moto gloves.) If the above isn’t enough to convince you that society’s obsession with the celebrity juggernaut is all-consuming—and, for retailers, ever more lucrative—consider how the topic has all but devoured the media: Between 2009 and 2010, star-driven mags such as Cosmopolitan and InStyle saw their circulations climb more than 20,000 each. From 2008 to 2010, Us Weekly jumped nearly 60,000, and Vanity Fair nearly 70,000. And January will see the launch of Reality Weekly magazine—taking celeb obsession to entirely new heights (or perhaps depths). Now you’ll finally be able to keep up with all 82 of the Kardashians!
Follow That Gold
When the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the landmark legislation that overhauled the financial sector, was signed into law in July 2010, few imagined it would also send shockwaves through the jewelry industry. But a little-noticed provision required public companies to declare whether their supply chain includes so-called “conflict minerals” from the Democratic Republic of Congo—and that includes gold. Since its approval, figuring out just what the law will require has proved a challenge—and not just for the big public jewelry companies. The SEC has repeatedly delayed issuing “final rules” on the subject; Reuters recently reported that federal regulators have been “struggling” to draft specific regulations. Still, no matter what happens with Dodd-Frank, the industry hasn’t heard the last of this issue. California just passed a law on conflict minerals, and human rights activists warn other states and towns might soon follow.
What Men Want
Men’s Spinner Ring in rhodium- and rose gold–plated sterling silver; $295; Stephen Webster, New York City; 800-981-8862; stephenwebster.com
Among jewelers of a certain generation, men’s jewelry inevitably conjures images of 1970s gold chains and pinky rings—the used-car salesman/Vegas pit boss school of accessorizing. But based on anecdotal reports from designers, trend forecasters, and retailers, the long-neglected category represents one of the industry’s most promising growth opportunities—if, that is, retailers can get their acts together. “Fifteen percent of sales are now men’s jewelry,” says Eddie Rosenberg, president and chief executive of Spectore, a manufacturer of titanium jewelry in Deerfield Beach, Fla. “I defy you to walk into a jewelry store and find more than 3 percent of jewelry dedicated to men.” As today’s boys mature into men, however, demand for fine jewelry is expected to grow with them. A number of jewelers have already discovered they have some serious catching up to do. Take London’s Stephen Webster, for example. Having just launched his first bridal jewelry collection, the designer has been overwhelmed by the response to the men’s gold and platinum bands based on designs from his popular silver collection. “Men are loving it,” he says. “They’re the best. They’re so very loyal. So even though I don’t carry enough fine jewelry men’s wedding bands, we’re converting.”