Marketing the Millennium

The historic occasion of the big calendar change offers jewelers unique sales opportunities, saysLynn Ramsey, executive director of the Jewelry Information Center.

The advent of the third millennium offers jewelers a unique sales opportunity that occurs, well, only once in a thousand years.

“Jewelry is an occasion-driven product, and jewelers have the most historic occasion in our lives coming up: the end of the millennium,” says Lynn Ramsey, president of the Jewelry Information Center. “What better gift to mark it than fine jewelry, personalized and dated, lasting through the next millennium!”

“Creating consumer excitement is essential in selling jewelry,” concurs Victor Urbach, president of The Resource Group, a marketing organization for 300 jewelers nationwide. “So, the millennium is a rare opportunity for the jeweler and his customers to tap into something shared by the whole world, to be part of the biggest party the world has ever had.”

Many jewelers aren’t convinced yet. A national JCK poll in March found only 46% will capitalize on the millennium in their marketing. However, retail analysts and suppliers expect jewelers’ millennial merchandising will increase in coming months owing to mounting media hype and consumer demand for commemorative gifts, and because Christmas and New Year’s Eve 1999 may bring what one supplier calls “a tremendous amount of millennium add-on sales from special gifts and [marriage] proposals.”

Use the PR. Expect more customers for millennium-related products thanks to millions of dollars of free publicity. The Jewelry Information Center is promoting jewelry as an ideal gift for the big calendar change in its articles (published in some 10,000 newspapers), radio ads, and TV spots. It will increase such stories and radio spots this autumn and carry them into 2000, says Ramsey. JIC is also compiling a public relations handbook for its retail members, which includes advice on millennium marketing.

De Beers sees great opportunities for U.S. diamond sales in the millennial changeover. In February, the Diamond Promotion Service issued “millennium education packages” to help jewelers plan marketing and train salespeople. In July, it will make millennium resource kits available to jewelers nationwide. Millennium-themed TV and print ads for women’s diamond jewelry will appear in September; ads aimed at men will run in November.

This month, the World Gold Council debuts Gold Trends 2000 at the JCK Show in Las Vegas. The $100 coffee-table book details lifestyle trends affecting gold jewelry sales. The Platinum Guild International, which has promoted platinum as “the metal of the millennium” since 1992, has increased its budget for the growing U.S. platinum jewelry market.

Sell the moment. This is a unique historical moment. Merchandise it!

“Few can say they not only lived at the turn of a century but at the turn of a millennium,” says Robert Bridel, executive director of the American Gem Society. “People will want gifts that say, in effect, ‘I made it to the millennium’ for themselves, friends, and family or to pass on [as heirlooms].”

Indeed, the next 18 months offer special sales opportunities, he notes, because of the added significance the millennial period gives events like holidays, milestone birthdays and anniversaries, graduations, retirements, business start-ups, corporate awards, engagements, and marriages.

But millennial add-on sales also apply to “ordinary” events, notes jeweler Jed Davis of Nicolson & Davis in Augusta, Maine. “This is a chance to commemorate things like a fourth birthday or a 22nd anniversary in special ways,” he suggests.

Stock millennium jewelry. Many fine jewelry manufacturers already offer millennium jewelry. That was underscored by the “Collection of Collections” event at the Basel Fair in Switzerland (the world’s largest watch and jewelry show) on April 30. The event, spotlighting 40 outstanding diamond watch and jewelry designs for the millennium, was designed as “a timely rallying call to the millennium opportunity,” says a show spokesman.

In the United States, more suppliers are offering millennium jewelry, many with case and counter displays and promotional material. Among those doing so successfully are Andin International, Michael Anthony, and IBB Inc. Andin’s “Millennium Heart” — a pair of twos opposite each other, forming a heart, with three zeros behind each curve—is rapidly becoming a jewelry symbol of the millennium. That’s because there are many items incorporating the design, including birthstone, engagement, and anniversary rings; active distribution by licensees (including Sunstone, E. Gluck, OTC International, and Michael Anthony Inc.); and a growing number of retailers, including jewelry chains like Zale and Sterling, that carry it.

Michael Anthony is also doing well with “01-01-00” jewelry, while IBB enjoys strong sales with its Millennium and Hallmark collections, introduced last summer. “We get stronger responses from jewelers each quarter that the millennium gets closer,” notes merchandising manager Robin Stuart.

Highlight hallmarks. Some collections have something else worth noting in marketing: commemorative millennial hallmarks that make the jewelry keepsakes and collectibles.

One is the “Millennium Hallmark” of the English Assay Offices. Shaped like a cross with one numeral of ‘2000’ in each arm, it’s being stamped only this year and next on all silver, gold, and platinum jewelry made in Great Britain, including items sold in the United States. The mark is so popular that firms highlight it in their marketing. For example, the jewelry of Curteis of England, a leading chain maker whose U.S. office is in Camden, Maine, bears not only the hallmark but also a silver “tag” with “Curteis” on one side and the millennium mark on the other. “We feel this hallmark will be a collector’s item for years to come and will use it wherever possible over the next two years,” says owner Hugh Curteis.

An eye-catching U.S. hallmark is on the Millennium Jewelry Collection of IBB Inc. Designed by president Stephen Kovacs, it’s a triangle containing a handshake (representing united humanity) and three smaller triangles atop each other (symbolizing earth, water, fire, and air). Independent jewelers who make their own jewelry are also adding marks with millennial symbols.

Consider religious significance. Remember in merchandising that the millennial year is the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, and various religious observances will mark it. Expect more customers for crucifixes (the figure of Jesus on the cross, for Catholics), plain crosses (for Protestants), and crosses of other designs, such as those of Orthodox Christians. Customers will want them as mementos or special gifts for clergy as well as for wedding, confirmation, and coming-of-age gifts.

Crosses and crucifixes come in many designs, but be tasteful in what you offer. IBB Inc., for example, has a successful collection of millennial crosses but was “careful to design a spiritual piece of jewelry that can be passed from one generation to the next,” says merchandising manager Robin Stuart.

Many young adults, though, wear stylishly designed crosses simply as jewelry. Expect them to ask for millennial designs.

Remember, too, that milestones of various faiths—such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, first Communions, baptisms—have added significance this year and next. These are good opportunities for gift sales of pens, watches, jewelry, religious medallions, and giftware with religious motifs.

Mark time. What better time to promote timepieces than the millennium? That’s what watchmakers think. Expect limited-edition and commemorative watches and clocks this year at all price points. For example, Gerald Genta’s limited-edition “Backtimer” ($14,000 retail, from Hour Glass USA, New York) is a simple, elegant watch in white gold with a countdown function displaying days left until Dec. 31, while the “Year 2000 Countdown” watch ($34.95 retail, from Source2000, Atlantic Highlands, N.J.) offers a digital countdown to 2000.

Even without commemorative timepieces, media hoopla for the millennium should boost watch sales, say industry observers. “With ‘time’ so much in the forefront of world consciousness, including the shift to 2000 in timekeeping, it can’t help but have a beneficial effect on those who sell watches,” says Joe Whall, a spokesman for Seiko.

Fascination with the millennium and the future also benefits retailers of watches with fashion-forward styling or alternative energy sources. Citizen, for example, enjoys strong business with its Eco-Drive watches, which use solar energy. Seiko is doing very well with its perpetual calendar watches (including new world timer and ladies’ versions) programmed to 2100 and using the world’s smallest ultrasonic motor.

Design your own. Some U.S. jewelers are designing their own millennium jewelry. Gudmunason & Buyck in Columbia, S.C., for one, has created a 14k charm that will sell for $140. It will be marketed in-store and by direct mail to hundreds of customers who bought charms previously, says owner Krista Birchmore.

Solomon Jewelers in Plainview, N.Y., is developing its own limited-edition millennium jewelry collection, with creations by its own designers and those elsewhere in the country. Sale of the 14k, 18k, and platinum necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings starts late this year, says owner Al Solomon.

Pieces will retail for $1,000 to $10,000. Each will have a commemorative trademark and come with a document certifying it was made by Solomon Jewelers for the millennium. The firm will promote them in its Christmas mailing and in-store events next year.

Think local. Turn the international millennial event into a local one for your store. In Freeport, Maine, for instance, Brown Goldsmiths & Co. and its community food bank are organizing a millennium benefit this fall in which people contribute to a goal of 2,000 cans of food for the poor. The event keeps the store’s name before the public and brings people in. Brown may provide coupons to contributors for a prize drawing at the store.

In Madison, Wis., Goodman’s Jewelers is part of “Celebrate 2000,” a 15-month program promoted by newspapers around the country. Representative businesses (Goodman’s is the designated jeweler) cosponsor local events and special sections in the paper under a “Celebrate 2000” banner. “This keeps us in front of people amid all the millennium publicity so that they think of us for jewelry and gifts,” says Goodman’s owner, John Hayes. Contact your local newspaper for similar programs.

Be creative. Don’t depend only on millennium-themed jewelry or watches. Many jewelers, for example, are promoting Waterford’s Millennium Collection of crystal toasting flutes. Also eye-catching are rings with three different gemstones or three colors of gold, representing the third millennium.

Robert Buchwald of Buchwald Jewelers in Miami is using the end of the millennium in marketing the Gemological Institute of America’s Diamond Dossier program (grading and inscription registry of diamonds under 1 ct.). His ads urge consumers to get one of the last diamonds of the century. Young adults, especially, like the date-inscribed mini-dossier that comes with them. His diamond business is up 20% since he started the campaign this year.

Meanwhile, butterflies are the symbol of the new millennium at Tapper Diamonds & Jewelry in West Broomfield, Wis. The idea, says fine jewelry buyer Lori Harris, came from the apparel industry, which designated butterflies for third-millennium promotions a couple years ago.

“We picked it as a jewelry idea because it’s feminine and won’t become dated,” Harris says. Tapper has sold “a tremendous amount of diamond butterflies,” she notes, and has created its own jewelry incorporating butterflies. Retail prices for these items range from $300 to $2,000.

Bookstores and apparel shops have areas for millennium-themed products. Do the same in your store. Both Tapper and Solomon, for example, have showcases and signage for their millennium-related jewelry. In fact, says Solomon, “We’re working on a whole in-store concept.”

Consider using special millennium-themed bags, pouches, and promotional materials for the next several months. You may want to create and register your own trademark or slogan. Consult a trademark attorney to avoid copying any already out there.

An effective marketing tool, suggests JIC’s Ramsey, is to invite people to bring in heirlooms and jewelry for restoration that they’ve put away. “Taking something old and making it new again is a business opportunity very appropriate for the millennium, which is symbolic of change and renewal,” she notes.

That isn’t limited to January 2000. With Baby Boomers now inheriting family heirlooms and jewlery, Ramsey says, “this is an opportunity not only for the next few months, but for years afterward.”

JCK Poll Results
Will you capitalize on the millennium in your marketing in the next 18 months?

Yes 46%
No 54%

Source: JCK Retail Panel, March 1999