New British Invasion

The British are coming!

After years of benign neglect of the U.S. market, the British jewelry manufacturing industry is actively trying to build its sales and image here.

The British Jewellers Association – the major association and voice of British jewelry and silverware manufacturers – has launched a major initiative aimed at high-end independent jewelers. “The whole idea is to raise the awareness of and actively promote British jewelry products here,” says Craig Chislett, export promoter for jewelry and giftware to the U.S. for Great Britain’s Department of Trade and Industry.

“Everyone tells retailers here to differentiate themselves from the competition with quality lines that have an international flair. We want to be part of that.”

Called “The Best of British Jewellery & Silverware,” the project has the official backing of the British government, say U.S. and British officials. This includes some funding for the $85,000 project,support from the Department of Trade and Industry and help, as needed, from the British Trade Office in New York City.

Champagne launch

The program was launched officially this summer at the JCK Inter-national Jewelry Show in Las Vegas with information packets for jewelers; champagne for the show’s 18 British vendors, BJA officials, guests from Jewelers of America and the British Consulate; and toasts to the queen and the success of the project. The launch at the show and the presence of JA

Executive Director Matthew Runci was appropriate, says Roger Price, chairman of the 550-member BJA,

because both played important roles in creating the project. “The JCK Show has been extremely productive as far as the United Kingdom exhibitors are concerned,” he says. Based on that success, BJA officials have been able to make a wider appeal to U.S. jewelers.

Then several months ago, Chislett contacted Runci to discuss the U.S. retail market. They reviewed regional differences, store sizes, types of products that do well, relations between independents and small chains and general tends, all with the intent of developing a marketing plan for British manufacturers, says Runci.

With input from Runci, the Manufacturing Jewelers & Silversmiths of America and the British Consulate, BJA developed a test marketing program.

Quality 200

As a result of this groundwork, BJA identified 200 high-end independent U.S. jewelers who will receive mailings and be invited to meet with BJA officials over the next several months, says Price. “We will promote the high quality of our jewelry and encourage these 200 quality U.S. jewelers to consider it,” he says.

Why just 200? It’s a starting point, says Price. “We have to keep our head on our shoulders,” he says. “This is such a vast country that we have to conserve resources. We will be traveling a great deal as it is.”

The British also want to correct some erroneous assumptions made by U.S. jewelers, says Price. “Because we’re known as a 9k gold market, many Americans assume we’re not into high-karat gold jewelry [production], but that’s wrong.”

Another misconception is that British manufacturers deal primarily in Victorian-style or Celtic-style designs. “British manufacturers make a variety of high-quality, wonderful jewelry, including contemporary work by young designers, which we hope to promote here,” says Price.

Chislett says U.S. retailers also assume importing from the United Kingdom is more difficult than it actually is.

Great Britain has a long tradition of jewelrymaking and is home to one of the world’s oldest jewelers’ guilds – the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths of the City of London – which was formed before 1180. The guild, among other activities, oversees the 600-year unbroken custom of hallmarking (to ensure precious metals purity) at London’s Goldsmiths Hall.

Today, most British jewelry is produced in Birmingham (home of BJA and its parent group, the British Jewellery & Giftware Federation, and also site of one of Europe’s leading schools for jewelry designers) and London. Most manufacturers are tight-knit family-owned business best known for classical hand-finished jewelry.

Free services

BJA has several services to help U.S. jewelers interested in buying from British suppliers, including product and market information, import advice and assistance in contacting British manufacturers. They are available from BJA at (44-121) 237-1119, fax (44-121) 237-1118, e-mail 106034.404@Compuserve.com.

The program is well worth considering, says Runci. “Everyone talks about the importance of jewelers differentiating from each other and having access to new resources,” he says. “This is one more way to do that.”

Many British manufacturers say the effort is long overdue and greatly improves their chances in the competitive U.S. market. “This is the best thing that has happened in a long time,” says Joy Solomon of Sceptre Jewels, London. “The BJA has traditionally looked to Europe for support,” she says. “It’s time it looked to America, especially with the economy doing well here.” Her husband, Edward, agrees. By taking the industry’s message directly to U.S. jewelers, BJA helps them take not just one, but 20 steps into the U.S. market, he says.

BJA officials agree privately the association neglected the U.S. in past years. They credit part of the new aggressive stance to new leadership.

Whatever the reason, says Price, “With things getting better here economically and with Europe the way it is, it’s time for British manufacturers to take on the U.S. market again.

“And perhaps,” he says with a chuckle, “the reason is that the British tiger has finally woken up.”