ATLANTA — Early fall sales have been shining at fine jewelry stores and departments across the country, with customers responding to classic, vintage and ethnic design elements.

Color is also driving business, in everything from pink diamonds to autumnal shades of semiprecious stones and the return of yellow gold.

At Lord & Taylor in New York, vintage looks have been the hottest trend in all categories, in diamonds, pearls and semiprecious stones, said a spokeswoman. Unexpected combinations, such as pearls paired with leather, or diamonds with rubber have also sold well. Generally, larger pieces and colored stones in earthy hues, such as topaz and citrine are trending well.

Meanwhile at New York’s London Jewelers, with five stores on Long Island, best-selling jewelry has been yellow gold with colored stones and multistrand chains.

Sande Finkel, marketing/advertising director, said Italian designers are strong, including Marco Bicego’s chains with beads and semiprecious stones and Pomellato’s rings and necklaces with colored stones.

Other strong designers are David Yurman, with a loyal following and lots of newness each season; Anthony Nak’s more forward fashion pieces with color and yellow gold, and Michael Beaudry, who specializes in yellow and pink diamonds. Antique, Old World looks are also strong sellers, including looks from from Penny Preville.

At Mayors Jewelers, the Sunrise, Fla.,-based jewelry chain with 23 stores in Florida and five Atlanta units, business has been “trending well in every category,” said vice president of merchandising Aida Alvarez. Besides the important watch category, bridal is a new focus, as Mayor’s targets first-time bridal shoppers with more diamonds under one carat.

Mayors has pared designer jewelry lines to four — David Yurman, Aaron Basha, Charriol and DiModolo. All others are branded under the Mayors label for more control in pricing and better profits, said Alvarez. Mayors will tout the right-hand ring, in a range of styles under Mayors’ label, in fall catalogs and advertising pieces.

Mednikow, a Memphis, Tenn.-based jewelry retailer with a Memphis and an Atlanta store, reported business since mid-April has been better than in the past several years.

“We’re extraordinarily optimistic,” said Jay Mednikow, president. “Larger diamond rings, three to six carats, are selling, and more classic studs and pendants, the kind of thing that keeps business going, no matter what the economy’s doing.”Mednikow said diamonds should be boosted by DeBeers’ new ad campaign for right-hand rings that has appealed to women who buy their own jewelry. The same customer also responds to pieces full of individual expression, he said.

Classic and tried-and-true designers, including John Hardy and Henry Dunay, are selling better than trendier lines. Color has been a must for fall, especially smokey tones evident in quartz, topaz, citrine and even in diamonds.

Lux, Bond & Green, a West Hartford, Conn.-based retailer with seven stores in Connecticut and Boston, reported business has grown steadily since January. Yellow gold, chandelier earrings and colored stones have been the biggest trends.

John A. Green, president and chief executive officer, said he’s pared down the number of designers toward more established lines, such as John Hardy and David Yurman.

“Customers ask, ‘What’s right for my face?’ — not, ‘What’s new from a specific designer?’” he said. Still, Italian designer Marco Bicego’s yellow gold jewelry and Anthony Nak’s innovative designs have sold well.

Vivid color, in combinations and graduated shades has been an important fall trend, with citrine and rubies paired together, and various hues of blue topaz.

Phipps, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based high-end jewelry store, reported fall sales even with last year. Custom pieces, especially old family jewelry reworked, are a strong component of the business.

This fall, color is key, said owner Gavin Phipps, in coral, multicolored carved agate and pavé settings with burnt orange diamonds and other brown or russet-colored stones.

“Classic, old-school designers — Kurt Wayne and Nicholas Varney — have been good for us,” said Phipps. “Customers appreciate an old-world elegance and handcrafted look.”

Fine jewelry is sizzling in the Southwest, from mid-tier chains to ritzy specialty stores.

At Plano-Tex.-based J.C. Penney Co., fine jewelry is one of the best-selling categories, said Beryl Raff, senior vice president and general merchandise manager. Comparable-store sales are up in high single digits, he said.

Three-stone rings with unusual styling and cleaner-set styles are most important, he noted. “White metals, vintage and novelty looks and lots of color, including blue and pink stones, are also very important,” Raff said.Penney’s fine jewelry prices stretch from below $100 to $5,000 and higher.

“Fine jewelry is flying,” said Joanne Teichman, co-owner of Ylang-Ylang, a Dallas-based fine jewelry store at the Galleria shopping center. “This fall is truly a high-end jewelry season and is off to the strongest start in years. The fashionistas with taste and money are on the hunt.”

Pink stones and diamonds in any shade are early fall bestsellers, she added.

“Fall business is fueled by an insatiable desire for pink, including pink sapphires, rubulite, spinel and pink rubies, with designs from Cathy Waterman, Me & Ro, Barry Kronen and Devon Page McCleary among bestsellers,” Teichman said. “It’s a happy, upbeat color that looks great on everyone.”

She also noted a resurgence of interest in rose gold from Devon Page McCleary and Barry Kronen.

Specific bestsellers at Ylang-Ylang include Cathy Waterman’s oval rubulite ring, at $4,390; Me & Ro’s 18 karat lotus-leaf and diamond bracelet at $18,000, lotus-leaf earrings at $2,785 and pink sapphire necklace at $5,510; Barry Kronen’s diamond initial locket at $1,430 and diamond-encrusted pink alligator watch band at $5,900, and Devon Page Cleary’s diamond circle pendant with 22-karat angel at $5,520.

On the West Coast, the bigger and the shinier, the better, according to a spot check of fine jewelry retailers there.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend at Macy’s West’s 105 stores. Solitaires are strong, but the stone’s biggest sales boost comes from fashion-oriented items such as large earrings, pendants and rings.

“Dressing up is on the rise and it’s anything you would see on the red carpet,” said Tifani Wilt, fashion director of the San Francisco-based department store. “J.Lo is keeping our right hand ring business booming.”

Aside from diamonds, sales of pearls are on the rise, Wilt added.

At Ron Herman’s four namesake stores in Southern California, long dangle earrings have become de rigueur for the past several seasons.

“Styles are earthy and ethnic but it has to be in gold,” said Herman, noting strong influences from India and Mexico. “They buy it for fashion, but it has to be real. For our customers, price is no object.”At the Kitson boutique in West Hollywood, Calif., white gold and diamond initials on Dillon Rogers’ leather bracelets is the sought-after item among celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz and Charlize Theron.

Fraser Ross, Kitson’s owner, said 1,000 bracelets sold, at $6,000 a pop. Other strong sellers include gold ID bracelets from Lena Wald, 14-karat gold New York subway token necklaces from Mia & Co. and Von Dutch’s sterling silver dog tags and chunky rock ’n’ roll-inspired rings.

“It’s all about hip-hop, and hip-hop controls the world of what we buy,” said Ross.

At Mervyn’s 266 department stores in the Western and Southwest regions, tastes are tamer, with customer’s picking up diamonds, tanzanite, blue topaz and aquamarine stones on everything from intricate, vintage-style rings to filigree-encrusted pendants in mostly white gold. Two-toned gold and sterling silver mixes on rings, necklaces and earrings are also popular.

A Mervyn’s spokeswoman said retro looks are also popular.

“It’s feminine and attention-getting,” she said. “Overall, the category seems to be doing fairly well. Accessories are a small investment that makes a big impact.”

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