NEW YORK -- The luxury sector may have taken a steep dive last year, but that doesn't seem to have tempered the mood in the fine jewelry world too dramatically.
Although the free-spending days of big-bauble purchases may have come to an end, fine jewelers exhibiting at the JA New York Winter Show last week said they're anticipating steady business by putting more emphasis on core, safe-bet sellers, while tweaking the assortment a little to offer better price points. Retailers at the show, which ended its three-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Feb. 5, were on the hunt for key items and updated looks.
Joel Kopel, manager of William Barthman Jewelers, said: "I am trying to find more affordable pieces. I am looking for fill-in items and easy-grab jewelry, as well as more sterling silver."
Pat Cohen, a buyer for Finlay Fine Jewelry Corp., the operator of leased jewelry departments in department stores, was checking out a variety of new looks.
"We really want color," she said. "We are finding that people are buying, especially emotional jewelry such as hearts and charms. The picture is not as bleak as everyone is making it seem."
Vendors agreed that even though business has become more challenging than in previous years, stores are still looking for new merchandise, particularly after better-than-expected holiday sales for some.
"So far this year, our number of orders is down by 10 percent, but the average order is up 30 percent," said Michael Pitkow, co-owner of the Talisman jewelry line. "Some of the retailers who were more cautious about holiday now have to replenish, so their orders are deeper."
John Winkler, sales and marketing manager at Paul Morelli, said: "Stores are now reordering on a lot of basics. They want to purchase things they will see quicker turns on."
At Paul Morelli, much of the sales were in the $5,000 retail price range. Winkler noted that such mid-range price points are more popular because consumers are cautious about spending on "big, pop pieces." That said, the company introduced a woven diamond collection with retail prices between $20,000 and $150,000 at the show. The line featured multicolored diamonds set in platinum or 18-karat white or yellow gold."Retailers are still looking at these higher-priced pieces because many are convinced we are only months away from a turnaround," Winkler added.
"When the downturn cycle breaks, they'll have the top pieces ready for customers."
Clara Bonetti, U.S. marketing manager for the Italian line Mattioli, noted that many retailers expect to see a turnaround by summer and are more strategic about their buying. She said: "Stores are really thinking about their plan for this year."
At the show, a line of 18-karat yellow and white gold chain link jewelry, called Samarcanda, was a bestseller. The company also previewed a collection of link jewelry called Puzzle, which it's planning to officially launch at the World Watch & Jewelry show in Basel, Switzerland, this April. The line consists of graphic, 18-karat yellow gold links that can be altered in length and turned into a Y-necklace, at about $2,400 retail.
Because of its open nature, link jewelry is lighter in feel, which may explain its current popularity.
"People want wearable jewelry that can be worn day and night, pieces that are versatile," said Paolo Novembri, chief executive officer of Damiani in the U.S.
"Price points are very important right now because of the national psyche,"said Edward Deutsch, president of Robert Lee Morris.
Bestsellers included sterling silver heart bracelets and a sculptured crested wave sterling ring.
"It's about clean basics that are timeless -- a safe, confident purchase," said Deutsch.
To that end, the company launched a new collection called Toy, which featured signature RLM pieces at a smaller scale and price point.
"We are trying to attract a more junior customer who is more likely to buy reduced priced points of $75 for sterling silver earrings to $2,500 for an 18-karat yellow gold necklace," he said.
Judith Ripka also is breaking into a new pricing segment with its new Two line.
Two is primarily a silver collection, although many of the pieces have 18-karat gold, diamond and gemstone accents, and some of the necklaces are made in woven leather.The bulk of the collection carries retail prices of $800 to $1,000. The company's core line, which consists primarily of 18-karat gold jewelry, has average price points of about $2,800.
Meanwhile, Aaron Basha, best known for its enamel shoe charms, has expanded its ladybug enamel jeweled offerings, which can now be found in rings, bracelets and necklaces. The company also is growing its emerald cut diamond jewelry collection, which carries higher retail price points than the charms.
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