Two new surveys on consumers’ jewelry buying habits took different routes to the same conclusion: independent and chain jewelry stores remain a healthy segment of the industry despite inroads by other types of jewelry retailers.

The first survey, conducted for Jewelers’ Circular-Keystone, asked 1,000 people nationwide about any fine jewelry and watches they bought for themselves in the first quarter of 1996.

The second survey, conducted for Jewelers of America, asked 1,204 people nationwide about fine jewelry or watches costing $50 or more that they bought for themselves or someone else in 1995.

Both surveys are nationally projectable, which means the results are statistically reliable enough to be applied on a nationwide basis with a margin of error of ±3% for the JCK study and ±3.7% for the JA study.

Both surveys found that consumers chose independent or chain jewelry stores more than twice as often as any other single type of outlet. The JAsurvey also showed that independent jewelers — with their particular combination of merchandise and service — are the preferred source among these jewelry consumers.

As for merchandise, both surveys pointed to necklaces/neckchains as the most popular jewelry item. And both confirmed the obvious — that higher incomes result in higher expenditures on jewelry.

Here’s a closer look at both surveys. Watch upcoming issues for quarterly updates of the JCKstudy and more details about the comprehensive JAstudy.


The most popular merchandise: precious metal jewelry without stones. The best price: $100 or less retail. The most-frequented retail outlet: jewelry stores.

This is a picture of jewelry sales in the first three months of 1996, based on a new quarterly nationwide survey conducted for JCK by Chilton Research Services, Radnor, Pa.

Consumers in the survey made 136 jewelry purchases in the first quarter. After precious metal jewelry without stones, the most frequent purchases (in descending order) were watches, diamond jewelry, mixed stone jewelry, colored gem jewelry and pearl jewelry.

By category, the most popular precious metal jewelry item without stones was a necklace/pendant, followed by earrings, rings, chains, charms, and bracelets tied with pins.

Where & how much: About four in 10 of the purchases of fine jewelry and watches were made in fine jewelry stores. Department stores and mass merchandisers each had about two in 10 of the purchases. Far down the list were TV shopping programs, antique jewelers/shows and street fairs.

Considering watches alone, department stores had twice as many purchases as jewelry stores or mass merchants.

Karat gold jewelry and silver jewelry are staples of mass merchandisers and TV shopping programs. But consumers in this study chose jewelry stores over mass merchandisers and TV shopping by a 3-to-1 margin for their purchases of precious metal jewelry without stones. Jewelry stores also accounted for a third more sales of precious metal jewelry than did department stores.

The largest share of consumers paid $100 or less, and the most frequent purchases were watches and precious metal jewelry without stones. The next largest share paid $501-$1,000, and the most frequent purchases were precious metal jewelry with mixed stones.

Who are these customers? The typical jewelry buyer in the survey had some college or other training after high school and was 18-34, employed full time and married without children.

Asked about pretax household income, the largest groups of participants were fairly evenly divided among three categories:$35,000-$49,999 (17%), $50,000-$74,999 (16%) and $100,000+ (14%).

Women accounted for 63% of the jewelry buyers. They mostly bought watches and precious metal jewelry without stones. Men mostly bought diamond jewelry and watches.


Independent jewelry stores were the top choice for fine jewelry purchases in 1995, based on a new Jewelers of America study.

Asked where they bought fine jewelry most often, 42% of the consumers replied independent jewelry stores. They cited independent jewelers’ “quality merchandise,” “service” and “reliability/honesty.”

Services — often a hallmark of independent jewelers — also rated high:86% of consumers said repair service was important in their choice of jewelry stores. Other services that ranked high were design (82%), appraisal (58%) and cleaning (56%).

The independent jeweler also topped all or most other jewelry sources on “selection,” “value,” “quality of items,” “comfortable to browse,” “trust” and “knowledgeability.”

Multiple-location jewelry stores, often in malls (as the study defined independent chains), also scored well. Twenty-five percent of consumers in the survey named these as the stores they choose most often for their fine jewelry and watch shopping. They tied with independent jewelers on “selection,” “convenience” and “affordability,” and rated higher than most other sources (except independents) on “value,” “quality,” “trust” and “knowledgeability.”

Here are some other findings from the study:

  • What they bought. More than half bought necklaces/neckchains (53%) and nearly as many bought earrings (48%) and rings (46%) in 1995. Other categories were bracelets (35%) and watches (32%).

  • How much they bought and paid. The average consumer bought close to five items each and paid a total $1,690. Women bought a few more pieces than men (5 vs. 4.5), but men spent more ($2,050 vs. $1,320). Not surprisingly, consumers with higher incomes spent more than those with lower incomes ($2,180 vs. $1,080).

  • How loyal are they? Loyalty for the different types of retail outlets was fairly constant (measured by whether consumers shopped there before, shopped there this time and would shop there again). The basic differences involved gender and age. Women were more loyal than men to mass merchandisers and department stores. Generation X’ers weren’t loyal to any store type, Baby Boomers showed high loyalty to all major store types, 50-64-year-olds (the study calls them Pre-Boomers) showed high loyalty to all but mass merchandisers, and retirees showed especially high loyalty to independents and department stores.

  • Who shops around? One-third of consumers in this study visited only one store before making a purchase, while another third visited four or more stores. Retirees were most likely to make their purchase in one day and visit only one store. Generation X’ers were most likely to take at least a week and visit more than one store.

  • Those who visited more than one store said they were looking for the “right item” more often than the “right price” (48% vs. 21%). Consumers ages 50-64 and higher income earners were more likely to shop for the “right item.” Low earners were more likely to shop for the “right price.” And retirees shopped for “price and item.”

  • Why they bought. Of the purchasers in this study, 42% said all the jewelry they bought was for someone else, 40% said they bought some jewelry for themselves and some for someone else and 17% said they bought only for themselves. Women were more likely than men to have bought jewelry only for themselves (27% vs. 7%). Men were more likely to have bought only for someone else (64% vs. 21%).


Designers who attended Basel ’96 in April noted a great interest in the implications of precious metal clay.

The material, created by Mitsubishi Material Corp. of Japan, is an organic binder containing tiny gold particles. When shaped in the form of jewelry and fired in a kiln, the binder is burned off and the gold particles fuse together into a form that is strong but significantly smaller than the raw model. A group of American designers experimented with the material at a workshop last year (see “Will Precious Metal Clay Revolutionize Jewelry Making?” JCK, December 1995, pp. 84-87).

A Japanese designer, Sanae Asayama, has already created a line of wearable jewelry with the material. Her designs are definitely for the jewelry connoisseur who likes something unusual. But they’re wearable and salable, not totally off the wall.

Engineers from Mitsubishi and the World Gold Council say the clay is likely be a designer tool more than a mass-market tool. It also may be used to create certain components more economically than with flat sheet metal. But shrinkage remains a factor; designers, engineers and metalsmiths will have to adjust their designs to compensate.

The clay is distributed in the U.S. through Rio Grande, Albuquerque, N.M.; (800) 443-6766.


Total Men Women
Independant jeweler 42% 42% 42%
Multiple locations 25% 23% 28%
Department store 17% 18% 16%
Mass Merchandiser 5% 6% 5%
Wholesale club 2% 2% 2%
Catalog show room 1% 2% 1%
TV home shopping 1% 2% 1%
Pawn shop 1% 1% 1%
Mall kiosk 1% 1% *
Mail Order 1% 1% 1%
Other 4% 2% 3%

*Less than 0.5%.
Note: Retirees column exceeds 100% because of rounding. Source:1995 survey by Jewelers of America Inc.
Gen X’ers Baby Boomers 50-64 Retirees
Independant jeweler 39% 43% 41% 47%
Multiple locations 32% 25% 19% 14%
Department store 15% 16% 22% 24%
Mass Merchandiser 4% 6% 6% 8%
Wholesale club 1% 2% 1% 2%
Catalog show room 2% 2% 1% 0%
TV home shopping 1% 1% 3% 2%
Pawn shop 1% 1% 0% 0%
Mall kiosk 1% * 1% 2%
Mail Order 0% 1% 2% 2%
Other 4% 3% 4% 0%


*Engagement and wedding rings
Note:Total adds to more than 100% because of multiple purchases.
Source:Jewelers of America Inc.
% of consumers who bought these items in 1995
Necklaces/nechchains 53%
Earrings 48%
Rings (non-bridal) 46%
Bracelets 35%
Watches 32%
Rings (bridal*) 23%
Charms/medals 22%
Lockets/pendants/pins 20%
Cuff links/tie tacks/other 3%