It was right before Christmas 2013 when Hillary Randolph knew gold was coming back. That’s when a customer visited her stand at the annual Grand Central Holiday Fair in New York City and bought all the gold jewelry she had on hand—$16,000 worth. “I thought, Oh my gosh, I am only three weeks in [to an eight-week show] and I wish I had some more!” Randolph says. She and her husband, designer Somers Randolph, own Somers, a Santa Fe, N.M.–based jewelry firm that has long specialized in silver.
Many designers are finding themselves in similar situations, fielding more requests for gold than they have inventory. The news shouldn’t come as a shock, considering the price of gold has dropped nearly 33 percent in two years, from $1,752 per ounce in November 2012 to $1,180 at press time.
There are, however, other reasons the industry is loving gold again. Demand for gemstone-free karat-gold jewelry has been growing for two years, according to manufacturers, who attribute the spike in demand to consumers flocking to seemingly safe investments during economically unsettled times. Plus, the number of players in the silver category has mushroomed, creating lots of weary competitors looking for fresh direction. And it doesn’t hurt that the World Gold Council’s consumer-facing LoveGold project has been instrumental in striking up more gold conversations among the social media–savvy (i.e., millennial) set.
Hera bracelet in 22k gold; $6,000; House of Rishavy, Orlando, Fla.; 407-722-2949; houseofrishavy.com
“When I noticed the price of gold start to drop, I said, ‘Payback time!’ to everyone who started making silver when the gold price went up,” jokes Zina Sherman, the California-based designer behind Zina Sterling Silver. Sherman debuted her Z.XIV gold line during JCK Las Vegas 2014.
This momentum has paved the way for designers such as Kara Ross to move forward with gold. In the past year, she’s opened upward of 10 new accounts just for her gold jewelry, and shelved her silver line due to market saturation and greater interest in the yellow metal. “We put a hold on the silver about a year ago and are now only doing the 18 karat gold collection,” Ross says. “It was clear as the economy was getting better and gold prices were dropping that more people in general were going into stores asking for more gold.”
Square pillow ring in 14k gold with 1.75 cts. t.w. colorless and champagne diamonds; $5,500; Zina, Beverly Hills, Calif.; 800-336-3822; zinasterling.com
Case in point: Two hours before Ross’ call with JCK, a shopper phoned her year-old boutique on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with an inquiry about a one-of-a-kind $25,000 bracelet. And two days before that, another shopper bought a $3,500 pair of gold, moonstone, and diamond earrings. “I definitely think that the price of gold has something to do with it,” she says.
For Lisa Jenks, requests from her wholesale customers drove her to go gold. Around the time of the 2013 Couture show in Las Vegas, merchants started urging the Brooklyn, N.Y.–based designer—a longtime silver devotee—to make pieces in yellow. “?‘Surprise me,’ they said,” says Jenks, who obliged them with delicate 14k gold styles that start at $500 retail. “The chains are finer, and the casting is different, but still with that quirkiness that I do.”
Covet stacking ring in 18k gold with 0.37 ct. blue topaz; $395; LAGOS, Philadelphia; 877-925-4305; lagos.com
Even silver stalwarts are embracing the yellow look. Last year, about 25 percent of Somers’ inventory was gold, and this year it’s shaping up to be more like 40 percent—nearly equal to the brand’s silver sales. A percentage of the rest comes from two- and tri-tone combinations of blackened silver with high-polish yellow or rose gold. “More people want it and now can afford it,” Hillary Randolph says of the gold accents. “The price is not as insane as it was three or four years ago.”
Upon the debut of Sherman’s gold collection, about a dozen retailers placed orders. More followed up over the summer and reordered. “The reorders are what tell the story,” she says. “I don’t know the exact number, but it’s enough to keep us moving ahead in the same direction.”
Jughead loop earrings in 14k gold; $1,315; Lisa Jenks, Brooklyn, N.Y.; 646-519-7229; lisajenks.com
Lori Gadola, the U.S. distributor for Kelim Jewelry Design in Rockville, Md., introduced 14k gold this year, and at press time, was enjoying an uptick in holiday orders. She says she beefed up the largely silver line in order to break out of the silver mold she felt stuck in. “Silver has been driving our business, but now it feels like we’ve been typecast as one character in a sitcom,” she said. “We can do gold.”
That’s a familiar refrain for Liz Rishavy of House of Rishavy, which just began working with the yellow metal. The owner of the Orlando, Fla.–based wholesale operation has focused mainly on Argentium silver jewelry since her business opened five years ago. But gold was always on her wish list. Rishavy began working in 22k gold in the fall, because of both affordability and customer demand. Once the per-ounce price of gold went below $1,300, she started shopping for gold sources. Then, one week in mid-July, three stores in central Florida asked her for gold chains; hand-woven, Trichinopoly styles made without tools are her niche. To date, she’s filled orders from nine stores, including five in the Bahamas.
Necklace in 18k gold; $4,980; Kelim Jewelry Design, Rockville, Md.; 301-448-7367; kelimjewelry.com
And even though a big gold inventory can be a gamble—it’s still a lot pricier than silver—you have to have the stock to sell it at consumer-facing shows. At press time, Ross and two staffers had bags packed to visit Dallas and Palm Beach, Fla., as well as the Middle East, where the designer lacks wholesale accounts. The drop in the price of gold “allows you to think about making that extra piece or two,” Ross says.
Of course, price is only one part of the equation. Designer Steven Lagos, known for his Caviar silver bead motif, is making more 18k gold pieces in response to demand from customers who wear only gold. “We are expanding gold because our customers are asking for it,” he says.
Pangea V stacking bangle in 18k gold with 0.11 ct. t.w. diamonds; $2,500; Kara Ross, NYC; 855-888-5769; kararossny.com
And despite the obvious price difference between gold and silver, some shoppers simply see gold as a better value. “There is a greater perceived value in 22k gold than in sterling silver,” says Rishavy, who calls the metal “a dream” to work with from a technical perspective. Her entry price in 22k gold is $3,000 keystone for a bracelet. “People are not afraid to be investing again in jewelry.”