Jewelry Puts on Its Fashion Face

Fashion and jewelry go hand-in-hand, yet few women think of their local jeweler as a place to find fashion-forward jewelry. That’s because few jewelers understand a key element of the fashion business. Retail management consultant Kate Peterson, of Performance Concepts, Montgomery Village, Md., explains:

“Most jewelers don’t have a handle on fashion, because it’s a seasonal business and they’re afraid of it and don’t know how to sell it,” Peterson says. She acknowledges that trendier jewels have a shorter shelf life than, for example, bridal jewelry, but she says jewelers who don’t embrace fashion will miss a huge part of the market.

Selling seasonally doesn’t mean drastically discounting merchandise to make room for new goods at the end of each season, which is the practice in the apparel business, says style consultant Michael O’Connor, of Style & Substance Inc., in New York. But too many jewelers hold on to merchandise far too long and don’t change their showcases often enough to pique consumer curiosity, he says.

A seasonal selling strategy involves more than just adding a few fashion-forward pieces to your merchandise mix, O’Connor says. It integrates design and color trends to create a sensory-driven environment.

Another key component of the strategy is the element of surprise. “When a shopper knows what to expect when she walks past a store, she has no incentive to wander in unless she needs what the store offers,” says luxury market analyst Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, Stevens, Pa.

One more requirement is a resource for identifying trends, advises image consultant Cynthia Sliwa, Hermosa Beach, Calif., co-author of Jewelry Savvy: The Ultimate Guide to the Selection, Care & Creative Recycling of Jewelry. “Sometimes there’s a member of the store staff who loves fashion and is happy to keep abreast of the latest developments. Expert advice can be invaluable.”

Color consultant Leslie J. Harrington, of L.H. Color, Old Greenwich, Conn., urges jewelers to become trend trackers in their markets. “Monitor and understand your touch points—audience, influencers, and what has worked in the past,” she explains. “Pay attention to high-end women’s fashion magazines and top department store catalogs, as well as jewelry and accessories publications. If you see something you think is important, track it. Create mile markers. Like when you see it in Women’s Wear Daily, you know it’s caught on.”

Susan Eisen, of Susan Eisen Jewelers, El Paso, Texas, notes that skirt lengths aren’t relevant in determining popular jewelry styles, but necklines are—they influence trends in earrings and necklaces. And many fashion design elements, such as graphic patterns, cutout forms, textures, and mixes of materials, translate well into jewelry. But color is the major influencer, Eisen stresses.

Red carpet trends also have a significant impact on popular styles, O’Connor notes. Celebrities offer consumers a shortcut to a branding message with visual immediacy, he explains. He cites a study by Am Demographics in which 60 percent of 18–34-year-olds said celebrities motivated their desire for particular possessions. But the study also revealed that as consumers age, the star factor wanes.

One way to put trend information to work in a store, O’Connor says, is to build jewelry wardrobes in the showcases rather than merchandising by product category. “You can show how pieces are pulled together to create different looks,” he explains, noting that groupings can be created around specific trends, such as romantic, vintage, or feminine.

Ramona Gautreaux, diamond and gemstone marketing director for Stuller, Lafayette, La., promotes a “color-centric” approach. “Group gemstone jewelry by color, display loose gems instead of leaving them in your vault, and accent your cases with accessories from your local boutiques,” she advises. “A scarf or handbag can bring life to an otherwise boring display.”

Some jewelers even incorporate accessories in their merchandise mix. Nearly two years ago, Susan Fotos, of Higashi Fine Jewelry & Pearls, Lemoyne, Pa., added sunglasses and prescription eyewear to her store, which she deems the best move she ever made. She carries more than a dozen designer brands, retailing from about $150 for a pair of Ralph Lauren shades to $900 for Bulgari. “Sunglasses offer an affordable way to acquire the cachet of a designer brand,” Fotos says.

She also brings in scarves and handbags that she comes across in her travels. “When they’re gone they’re gone, and then something else will be in their place,” she says. “That’s what my customers enjoy. They don’t know what to expect, so they drop by often to see what’s new.”

Fotos considers Higashi a lifestyle boutique rather than a jewelry store, “a small version of Neiman Marcus in Lemoyne.” She says the accessories are part of the seasonal excitement she uses to dress up her store. “It allows me to add more color than I could afford to do with all jewelry.”

She does maintain a variety of fashion-forward lines including colorful Lucite pieces from Alexis Bittar; enamel on copper pet art for charms, pendants, and earrings set in silver by Elvie Zell; large gem bead necklaces with silver stirrup clasps by Catherine Canino; gem-set stainless-steel and bronze jewels by Rebecca; and elements like authentic vintage scrabble tiles, typewriter keys, transit tokens, and coins set in silver by Tokens & Icons.

Fotos recommends that jewelers attend accessories and fashion shows to incorporate seasonal elements.

Marketing with a fashion approach requires telling a fashion story, says Preston. “Pair up for a runway show, use fashion photography in in-store displays, be sure to have full-length mirrors as well as mirrors on cases so that full looks can be seen when the client is considering a purchase.”

Marketing consultant Michelle Orman suggests jewelers use lifestyle magazines to help establish their style status. “Mark pages of monthly fashion magazines where items similar to what you carry are featured,” she advises. Jewelers can also display mounted newspaper and magazine clips provided by designers they carry.

Orman says collaborations with noncompeting businesses that cater to a jeweler’s audience, like fashion boutiques and spas, can enhance their brand image. And jewelers’ Web sites should offer fresh content that educates clients on current trends and how they translate from catwalk to sidewalk.

Gautreaux recommends that jewelers promote their expert status as style consultants the way Lowe’s and Home Depot do with their classes for customers. “The result isn’t necessarily an immediate sale,” she explains. “Rather these classes are viewed as a relationship-building tool that brings shoppers back to the store to purchase their needed tools and supplies when they’re ready to start a new project.”

Sliwa, who presents image- and style-related jewelry workshops and one-on-one customer image consultations at various jewelry stores nationwide, encourages jewelers to connect with an image consultant through the Association of Image Consultants International for style-focused events. (Visit her “Jewels on Jewels” blog at for style tips.)

Eisen encourages her customers to organize their jewelry box and take stock of what they have. She advises them how to group their collection. “I like to separate by type—all rings in one area, earrings in another. Others prefer to group by style or color,” Eisen says. “Once organized, customers can determine what they wear all the time, what they don’t, and why. Cataloging their jewelry will help them coordinate looks with what they have and guide them in future purchases.” She says this exercise also encourages custom work.

Deborah Hutcheson, of Charles Hutcheson Fine Jewelry, in Reading, Pa., says she and her all-female staff invite women clients to bring in outfits to accessorize. “It’s women selling to women,” she explains, noting that her sales associates are very fashion conscious and decked out every day in big, bold jewelry to show customers the possibilities. “It’s a great sales tool. People always stop and ask about the jewelry we’re wearing. We have fun helping them select colors and styles that best suit their wardrobe and personality.” The concept can be likened to the personal shoppers many department stores and boutiques have available to assist customers.

Jewelry wardrobing can be enjoyable for both sales associates and customers, says Peterson. “Just remember, most women usually have good instincts as to what works for them, so listen closely to what they’re saying and incorporate their ideas into your suggestions. Some customers have a signature piece—if not, suggest one. A signature piece defines a woman and is something jewelers can build on.”

Preston says jewelers should start a fashion-based outreach only if they’re willing to commit to fashion-driven inventory, seasonal displays, and staff who are interested in fashion. “I recall one jeweler who told her staff, ‘You don’t need to wear Armani, but you need to know what Armani is and recognize it when someone wears it into the store!'”