Extended Outlook: Jewels and Trends to Ring in a Rich 2013

Looking back on 2012 means looking ahead to 2013—and the progress and ­prosperity we know it will bring for our retail readers. With your bottom line (and your customers) in mind, the JCK editors gathered 10 trends, technologies, products, issues, and ideas that will soon change the way ­jewelers do business. We can’t wait to see your stores thrive in the new year. We’ll be right here every step of the way.

The Rise of the (Jewelry) Makers

In JCK’s July–August 2012 issue, we brought you news of a laser-melting machine that “grows” gold jewelry layer by layer on a plate of atomized metallic powder, according to instructions imported in a CAD file. If that sci-fi future doesn’t give you pause, consider this: Brash young design firms like Nervous System in Somerville, Mass., or Kraftwürx in Houston already are harnessing the power of 3-D printing to offer mass customization online. On their sites, customers can create their own 3-D printed jewelry in materials such as black nylon, acrylic, and sterling silver. The services epitomize what’s been dubbed “the maker renaissance,” or the movement of people combining DIY technology and entrepreneurship to produce their own cool things. For jewelers, the implications are daunting—and thrilling. “Until now, people have been creating things that could be extracted from a rubber mold,” says Frank Cooper, technical manager of the Jewellery Industry Innovation Centre at Birmingham City University in Britain. “This technology allows you to ignore all those rules.” —Victoria Gomelsky

De Beers Redux, Round 2

Will impending De Beers changes affect its retail division—which sells high-end pieces like this Imaginary Nature brooch/pendant?

De Beers is looking to reinvent itself—again. Under CEO Philippe Mellier, the company has called in outside consultants and is promising major changes. So far, though, the diamond giant is mostly staying mum on what those changes will be. Varda Shine, head of the Diamond Trading Co.—soon to be rechristened De Beers Sightholder Sales, in one of the first big changes—says the company wants to be more receptive to consumers and to “mine to demand, rather than setting demand to [what we mine].” Unlike its last big rethink, the Supplier of Choice initiative, however, De Beers isn’t planning on a “big bang.” Still, Shine says: “In 10 years’ time, you will definitely be able to see the difference in De Beers.” —Rob Bates

Full Metal Madness

When the gold price goes up, demand for less-expensive metals rises with it.

The rising price of gold has been great for sales—if you are in the alternative metal business. For those who sell the yellow metal, not so much. (Sales of gold jewelry in the United States dropped 7 percent in the second quarter of 2012, according to the World Gold Council.) In 2013, many banks think gold will restart its upward trajectory, thanks to “qualitative easing” in the United States and economic unrest elsewhere. Deutsche Bank analysts predict the gold price will pass $2,000 per ounce in the first half of 2013; a Citibank analyst guesses it will even hit $2,400 or $2,500 by the end of the first quarter. So it could be another good year for silver, tungsten, platinum, and who knows what else. Brass wedding rings, anyone? —RB

Showrooming With a View

Shoppers may be scoping out your merch (aka show­­rooming), but they’re not likely to buy elsewhere.

Retailers have been just a little unnerved lately by one of the cultural byproducts of mobile technology: showrooming. The practice—which refers to shoppers scoping out merchandise in the store (as if in a showroom), then hunting down the lowest prices online, regardless of retailer—has been ­characterized as catastrophic to the future of brick-and-mortar retail. But a study on showrooming released in September 2012 by mobile marketing firm Vibes tells a sunnier story. While 82 percent of shoppers tote their smartphones to stores, only 6 percent say they are likely to buy an item they’ve seen in a shop from a different retailer. Showroomers are also more open to trying location-based mobile services, such as faster checkouts. And while retailers are quick to make distinctions between selling online and in physical locations, those distinctions don’t exist for many consumers. That’s good news for retailers—and further incentive to sync brand messages, buyer experience, inventory, and prices between a store’s physical locations and its e-commerce site. —Emili Vesilind

Time for Fashion

The NYC in anodized aluminum and ceramic: $495; 2(X)IST, NYC; 646-484-3799; time2xist.com

Expensive Swiss watches remain in demand, but many retailers report that the most promising area of growth is the men’s fashion watch segment, where brands like Michael Kors, Burberry, Movado, and Gucci are realizing double, if not triple, digit sales increases year over year. Department stores have caught on to the trend, but independent retailers have yet to fully embrace it—at their peril. “All you see is the high-end—because the very rich are still buying—but the fashion brands really drive the market,” says Michael Pucci, president of the Abbiamo Group in Burbank, Calif., a marketing firm that recently worked with the premium men’s underwear brand 2(X)IST to introduce The NYC, a $495 timepiece designed to herald the company’s new lifestyle extension. “Independent jewelers have to start thinking about trends. What’s selling? What should I get into? They have to start improving traffic.” —VG

America the Great

Ring in 14k white gold with 1.82 ct. mint-green tourmaline and 0.20 ct. t.w. diamonds; price on request; Harbor Jewelers, Chesapeake, Va.; 757-436-6766; harborjewelers.com

It wasn’t long ago that outsourcing was a major concern for many Americans, but oh, how times have changed! Once Chinese manufacturers started raising their prices, Americans began to remember the myriad benefits of stateside manufacturing: convenience and control factors, ease of shipping and repairs, and peace of mind that comes from employing fellow citizens. With a little luck—and a lot of patience and education from merchants—the American-made trend will continue to grow. “Our customers are definitely more appreciative of locally made designs more than they were a few years ago,” says Peggy Hiltabidle Wilson, co-owner of Harbor Jewelers in Chesapeake, Va. —Jennifer Heebner

The Specter of Lab-Grown Diamonds

Courtesy of Washington Diamond Co.
A lab-grown diamond from Washington Diamond Co.

After countless false starts and overhyped promises, could this be the year the synthetic diamond industry finally turns into a “real” business? A new entrant, Washington Diamond Co., claims that technology licensed from the Carnegie Institute will enable it to mass-produce white diamonds, which it likely will sell online for 20 percent below comparable naturals. Meanwhile, despite some recent corporate intrigue at Gemesis—its shareholders were recently bought out, at bargain-basement prices—the Sarasota, Fla.–based company continues to sell colorless lab-grown gems via its website. Plus, there’s Scio (formerly Apollo), which also has plans to manufacture colorless stones, as do two older companies: D.NEA and Chatham. Still, all these announcements bring out skeptics, who stress that bigger colorless gems not only remain hard to grow but also are expensive, if not cost-prohibitive, to produce. —RB

Outlet and About

Sterling’s recent purchase of Ultra Stores—which it will integrate into its Kay Outlet division—has awoken the industry to the tremendous under-the-radar growth of outlet malls. It’s no secret that consumers still have the taste for top-shelf brands, even if they no longer have the wherewithal to buy them. That’s where outlets come in, with their promises of high fashion at low prices. “It’s safe to say that outlet retailing is in a happy place these days,” crows trade publication Value Retail News, which estimates that sales at outlets rose 10 percent in the last year, while sales per square foot at outlets jumped 9 percent. —RB

Casual Encounters

Fashionistas can untighten their belts this spring as the season goes “soft”: Slouchy suits, loose-fitting pants, stripes and prints, and denim ruled the runways of the spring 2013 shows, bringing a definitively casual feel back to ready-to-wear. To complement the looks, bohemian materials such as shell, wood, and leather were prominent on the catwalks in the form of primitive, woven bracelets and oversize bangles in Lucite and plastics. Rachel Roy, Ralph Lauren, and Boy by Band of Outsiders all celebrated the laid-back luxe aesthetic, reflecting fashion’s unmistakable pendulum swing away from the baroque, gilded excess of fall 2012. For its part, the fine jewelry sphere is also embracing carefree styling, evident in the plethora of cabochon cuts, well-made gold-plated lines, and the veritable buffet of low-priced gems like drusy and quartz on the market. Chic treats for less? Yes, please! —JH

Emerald and diamond pavé bracelet; $1,395; Jordan Alexander at Fragments, NYC; 212-334-9588; fragments.com

It Takes Two

Monique Lhuillier’s Pavé Petal, Floral Halo, and Princess Double Halo rings start at $3,030–$4,550 (without center stone) on BlueNile.com.

If two heads are better than one, how about two brands? Though Target and Neiman Marcus’ holiday shop was undoubtedly the year’s highest profile partnership, 2012 was nothing if not a time of collaboration. Bridal couturier Monique Lhuillier debuted her wedding rings on Blue Nile; Damiani is making gold-studded macramé bracelets with knitwear firm Cruciani; online jewel box BaubleBar brought in designers including Anna Sheffield, Paige Novick, Gorjana, and Catbird.… The list goes on. And in 2013, it will only get longer: Tiffany and Patek Philippe just released 150 special-edition watches; Melissa Joy Manning introduces her Lucky Brand jewelry in January; and this spring, Aerin Lauder unveils a line with costume-couture brand Erickson Beamon. Note that none of the aforementioned alliances are real head-­scratchers (with the possible exception of Target and NM). “I have always embraced casual style and designed with ease and confidence in mind,” says Manning, a California native who paired up with a Los Angeles–based denim company. “Lucky Brand’s ­aesthetic is very much in sync with my own.” Partnering with another designer may be about tapping into a new market, but no one’s likely to sacrifice style in the ­process. —Melissa Rose Bernardo

More forecast features on JCKonline.com:
+ Out of Sight But Still Top of Mind: Five Mini-Trends (2013)
+ Cool Jewels for the New Year (2012)
+ 10 Things Retailers Need to Know (2011)