Cool Silver Equals Hot Sales

Sterling silver is a stellar growth category for jewelry, according to the Silver Information Center. In fact a growing interest in white metal pushed 1995 sterling silver jewelry sales 15% ahead of 1994.

The market shows no signs of slowing down either. Diana Shiel, public relations manager of the Silver Information Center, says department and specialty stores placed huge silver orders at the May accessories markets for fill-in summer and early fall business.

Silver’s combination of being precious and affordable has helped it to divert dollars from costume jewelry. Indeed, Lauren Parker, editor of Accent, a trade publication for the accessories market, says sterling silver jewelry sales growth has come at the expense of costume jewelry. The Silver Institute, parent of the Silver InformationCenter, agrees. It’s all part of the consumer trend toward buying products that keep their value over the long term.

Sterling silver jewelry appeals to a wide range of customers with styles ranging from $20 “Y” necklaces to designer creations boasting gold and gemstone accents and prices in the thousands of dollars. The Silver Institute reports that most of the sales growth has occurred in the high-end designer silver market, the one most suitable for fine jewelers. In fact, many fine jewelers have added sterling silver — whether high design, trendy or both — to their product mix in recent years.

Adding to silver’s fashion appeal is apparel that now shows a lot of silver. The spring/summer ’96 ready-to-wear collections featured silver chain belts, belt buckles, jewelry, buttons and shoe ornamentation. Shiel expects this trend to continue and even grow for fall.

For the future, Shiel says bigger will be better. “Size is here. It’s official: the ‘Y’ necklace is dead,” she says. Shiel has seen signs of a return to big and bold for about 18 months, but big just “jumped out from every showcase” at the recent accessories markets. The lariat is replacing the Y, and general design trends are toward ultra clean, sleek and modern or heavily ornamented medieval looks such as hearts and grape clusters. The former is created in finishes from satin to high gloss; the latter still employs matte texture and oxidization for accents.

Another noteworthy trend combines silver and red (especially rhodolite garnet) or brown (done with tiger’s- eye) to accent the browns of fall fashion. Chain belts continue, but they’re pricey (from $250 retail), so designers offer styles that double as necklaces to convince consumers of their longevity.

Jewelers, meanwhile, say customers like silver’s everyday wearability and often will try a bolder look in silver than they would in gold. Silver’s affordability also makes it a good gift choice as well as a perfect self-purchase. So it’s not surprising that more than 90% of silver sales are made to women.

A STERLING MARKET

These figures from the Silver Information Center offer an overview of the U.S. sterling silver jewelry market.

  • Retail sales of sterling silver jewelry totaled an estimated $1.85 billion in 1995, up 15% from 1994. That follows increases of 14% in 1994 and 8% in 1992.

  • 1995 unit sales also rose about 15%.

  • The U.S. uses about 15 million troy ounces of silver in jewelry annually.

  • 85% of silver jewelry sold in the U.S. is imported, most often from Thailand, Italy and Mexico.

  • Women account for 90% of all sterling silver jewelry sales; 60% is a self-purchase and 30% a gift for another woman. (Male-to-female or female-to-male gifts account for the rest.)

  • Purchasers come from all age and income groups. Working women are key purchasers. Teens are another important segment because of silver’s fashionability and affordability.

  • The silver jewelry market is divided into roughly three segments: high-end, bridge and mass. The high end features designer names such as David Yurman, Steven Lagos and John Hardy, with prices from $100 to thousands of dollars. Lines most often are sold in fine jewelry stores, along with better department and specialty stores.

Bridge jewelry features names such as Bayanihan, Nancy & Risë#-21# and Zina and most often is sold in department, specialty and some fine jewelry stores. Prices range from about $50 to several hundred dollars.

Mass products are sold in mass merchandise stores such as Kmart and at flea markets and craft fairs. Prices range from about $10 to $100.

  • There is no dominant retail channel for sterling silver jewelry. Department stores account for about 20% of sales, while jewelry stores, catalogs and large variety stores account for 10%-15% each. TV shopping is the fastest growing distribution channel.

  • Earrings are the most popular category, accounting for about 33% of silver jewelry purchases, followed by neckwear (25%) and bracelets (about 20%).

  • Silver jewelry sells for an average $38, with about 90% of all purchases under $70.

  • 60% of all silver jewelry is bought “on sale.”

Photos of innovative jewelry designs appear on pages 76-80 of the July 1996 issue of JCK.