Holiday on Ice: Jewelers Get a Bright Christmas

Solid demand for basics, bridal, brands, and beads added up to a happy holiday season for most—but not all—jewelers.

Independents surveyed by JCK provided mixed but generally positive reports, with some of the happiest seeing gains of 10, 20, and even 30 percent.

Among the trends this year:

The consumer mood is getting (somewhat) better: Consumers were “defiantly optimistic,” says Ben Mullen, manager of Mullen Bros. Jewelers in Swansea, Mass. “Even though the indicators aren’t all that great, people are still committed to getting out there and spending money.”

…but it depends which consumers you are talking about: “The economy is very top-heavy,” says Van ­Alexander, owner of Alexander’s ­Jewelers in ­Texarkana, Texas. “Those who have it, spend it. That $1,500 purchasing range—I’m just not seeing that anymore. It seems to be either high or low.”

Shoppers are still choosy: “Customers still wanted their deals,” says Alexander. “You had to fight for [business]. But they were leaving with a bag.”

Some are turning away from low-end products: “We have been waiting for the ebb of silver sales to turn back to gold and diamonds, and that has happened this year,” says Marc Altman, owner of B&E Jewelers in Southampton, Pa. “Of course, the volume of people has diminished, but the average ticket sale is substantially higher and with that comes a better margin.”

…and some aren’t: “For the first time, we sold diamonds in sterling silver,” says Patti Schrag, owner of the two-store chain Gemstone ­Jewelers in Derby, Kan. “Normally, we don’t stock that kind of thing in the store; that’s more of a Fred Meyer or Kohl’s department store thing. But we decided we didn’t want to send customers away. Wouldn’t you know that every single piece in sterling with diamonds sold?”

Basics, basics, basics: “It was kind of a weird season,” says Lucian Lee Jr., owner of Hale’s Jewelers in Greenville, S.C. “We didn’t sell a lot of [high-ticket] things. It’s about the basics for us—your diamond stud earrings, Rolexes, some engagement rings, and lots of basic diamond fashion jewelry.”

Diamonds floated away: Floating diamonds, in various incarnations, scored big this year, but so did other kinds. “Rings, pendants, earrings…,” says Jean Graham, co-owner of J.C. Grant Co. in Milledgeville, Ga. “We love diamonds and sold a lot.”

Brands, brands, brands: Among the names most mentioned: Rolex, Simon G., Galatea, Alex and Ani, Chamilia, and Pandora.

Bracelet in 18k rose gold with 1.1 cts. t.w. colorless diamonds; $9,500; Walters Faith, NYC; 917-484-0490;

Repairs are big: “I don’t even advertise repairs—we’ve got so much repair work,” says Dan Hytrek, owner of Hytrek’s Jewelers in Eugene, Ore. “Our bench jeweler has been with us for 17 years, and he is just outstanding.”

So is custom work: “People want to do custom-made jewelry instead of purchasing from the [showcase],” says Mary Speranza, assistant manager of ­Jewels & Estate Gallery by G. Darrell Olson in Phoenix. “They want their own styles. They think you can do it in less than 24 hours. We can’t.”

Tech is nipping at the industry’s heels: “I think the biggest competitor for jewelry was the iPhone 6,” Schrag says. “We have a hint card, and a woman had three pieces she loved, from $195 to $3,000. Her husband came in with all three of those cards, and said, ‘I had something else in mind—a tech toy.’ I asked him, ‘How romantic is that?’ He bought her the tech toy—which was probably for him, anyway.”

(Additional reporting by Victoria Gomelsky, Jennifer Heebner, Logan Sachon, Brittany Siminitz, and Emili Vesilind)