The Incredible Shrinking (and Changing) Jewelry Industry



You can’t judge a business entirely by the numbers

In 2018, the jewelry industry once again shrank—at least the part measured by the Jewelers Board of Trade (JBT).

According to JBT, 1,064 North American jewelry companies discontinued operations last year, which breaks down to 893 retail jewelers, 106 wholesalers, and 65 ­manufacturers. That’s almost exactly equal to 2017, when JBT logged 1,066 discontinuances. Among the stores ­closing in 2018 were at least six that were over a century old, and one—Monahan & Co. in Harwich, Mass.—that was more than 200 years old.

The good news is that the number of ­companies entering the industry is going up. In 2018, 230 new companies listed with JBT, a 38.6 percent spike from the year before. That comprised 190 retailers, 25 wholesalers, and 15 manufacturers.

Yet those stats may underestimate the number of new companies out there, and the business being done.

woman shopping onlineEric Braunwart, owner of Columbia Gem House, says he’s regularly contacted by young jewelry designers and retailers who seek him out since his company deals with responsibly sourced and Fair Trade gems. He’s found that these ­new-breed companies tend to sell through ­nontraditional channels such as Instagram and Etsy. Most of them aren’t listed on standard industry references like JBT.

“We get two or three new accounts a week,” Braunwart says. “I’d say maybe 10 ­percent of them are on JBT’s radar.” In fact, some haven’t even heard of the industry’s ­credit-rating group. “They pay for everything with credit cards.”

“We have all wondered if the market is ever going to come back to traditional brick-and-mortar stores,” he adds. “But I think a lot of it is going to this new kind of retailer.”

Richard Weisenfeld, president of JBT, admits that these companies are likely not showing up on its lists. “We’ve had trouble capturing the designer who is selling direct to the public,” he says. “We are not on that radar. One of the things we’d like to do is to get those people more involved.”

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