Byline: Marc Karimzadeh

Although yellow gold has experienced a resurgence in recent seasons, the bridge classifica-tion -- a sterling silver and semiprecious stone stronghold -- has continued to grow. That growth is reflected in the number of designers stores are offering, as well as in the depth buyers are willing to commit to in each designer's collection.

Major players like David Yurman, John Hardy and Lagos continue to dominate the category as a whole, helped along by prolific amounts of product, generous display space and ever-strengthening marketing and advertising plans. But there is increasing momentum among the next tier of firms as they gain a following among the buying public. And though they are loath to admit it, most leading stores would like to spread the wealth a bit in order to avoid overdependence on one or two big names, and also keep their departments looking fresh.

"We are always looking for something hot in the market," said Barbara Lipton, divisional merchandise manager at Saks Fifth Avenue. While Yurman, Hardy and Lagos account for the lion's share of Saks' bridge business, Lipton said "our next tier is Lisa Jenks, Michael Dawkins, Robert Lee Morris and Barry Kieselstein-Cord. We also do nice business with Jordan Schlanger. Dawkins is one of our key vendors; we think he'll be the next emerging resource."

Dawkins has registered double-digit increases in each of the last five years, and that pace is expected to continue, according to Stephanie Varone, vice president of sales.

Varone attributed the firm's success primarily to the quality and level of service Dawkins offers his customers. "It's up to us to grab the customer," said Varone. "They should remember not just the product, but also the service, whether it's special orders or attention to sizing."

Depending on each store's volume, Dawkins provides dedicated sales staff to retailers or training seminars to help sales staff understand the nature of the products. And while the firm has been bolstering its production, sales and marketing staffs to accommodate the growth, there is no plan to tighten distribution to offset the demands of servicing larger accounts. "The question has come up, but we are really dedicated to all our clients and customers, whether they are large or small," Varone said. "We are not looking to exit [a store] because of a dollar amount. We will have enough manpower to accommodate all demands."

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