Jewelry: Luxury or Necessity?

During the past few months, TV financial commentators and business press writers have said the jewelry retail industry would be negatively affected because of the luxury nature of the products. It’s funny, isn’t it, how we seem to accept as gospel whatever we hear on television or read in a respected journal? A 60-second sound bite can make or break a political campaign, an image, or a perception—even our perception of an entire industry.

The notion of jewelry as a luxury product is well founded. Stories of kings and queens giving and receiving jewelry, the lore of gemstones connected to luck, and the attention paid to celebrities arriving at the Academy Awards decked in diamonds—all these enhance the image of jewelry as a luxurious purchase. In a sense, we all identify with the lifestyles of the rich and famous when we purchase jewelry.

We tend to generalize about the nature of the market we serve. We describe the business from our own perspective. But reality often is otherwise. Think about events that take place every day in which jewelry is an integral expression of love, admiration, affection, and congratulations. Start with a high-school class ring. It may be gold or steel. It might cost $50 or $500. Is this a luxury? Or is it a visible symbol of accomplishment?

Consider the engagement ring: luxury or necessity? Is the wedding ring that will accompany the engagement ring and that is part of every marriage ceremony a luxury or a necessity?

What about a three-stone diamond ring that calls us to think about the past, present, and future. A clever advertising line? Yes, but also a reflection of emotions, feelings, and memories of a lifetime together that is celebrated by a bit of metal and three diamonds symbolizing the importance of things that are hard to put into words.

Lately, we’ve seen a growing number of stories about women who have always wanted a particular piece of jewelry. For whatever reasons, they have denied themselves the joy of owning and wearing something beautiful that expresses their personality, their accomplishments, or their sense of style. Is this truly a luxury purchase or is it a necessity?

Defining a luxury product or industry must take into account more than price and perception. Just by casual observation you will observe that jewelry is an integral part of nearly every human’s life. We want recognition. We want to be distinguished from others no matter what our income, ethnic group, or marital status.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, have brought home to many the importance of basic values. The expressions of love in so many telephone messages that day showed all of us that we need to take better care of our relationships.

Jewelry has always marked special events in our lives regardless of the price we paid for the item, and that renewed attention—despite the dire prognostications—will see the industry through again. The jewelry

industry was built upon expressions of love, admiration, affection, and congratulations. These core values are the bedrock of every retailer’s and manufacturer’s business … and they have nothing to do with luxury.