If the difficult economy has taught the fashion world anything, it’s that necessity is the mother of invention — and the accessories market is no exception.
This story first appeared in the May 16, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Colored diamonds; funky statement jewelry encrusted with semiprecious gems, and animal-inspired accessories incorporating gold and silver are just some of the industry’s answers to keeping costs down while luring in frugal shoppers.
With an eye on value, exhibitors at the JCK trade show, to be held June 3 to 6 at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Convention Center in Las Vegas, are set to bring accessories meant to complement, modernize and refresh looks that consumers already have in their closets.
“We believe the consumer is much more value-driven. When they buy something, they want to make sure there’s a high intrinsic value,” said Eddie LeVian, designer and chief executive officer of LeVian Corp., a family-run jeweler known for colored diamonds. “In the past, jewelry has not been seen as a fashion item.”
In order to extract what trends are taking off, LeVian looks to the season’s Pantone color palette, as well as what celebrities are wearing and what’s selling at his company’s trunk shows.
The latest product of the trend-driven findings is what LeVian calls “super gladiator jewelry,” a collection that nods to the wildly popular gladiator sandal by incorporating a latticework of diamonds and gold.
LeVian, whose pieces can be found at retailers ranging from Signet Jewelers Ltd.’s Jared and Kay brands to Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, makes its jewelry available across a multitude of price points, from a few hundred dollars to a few million, including couture jewelry.
But even with such a balanced offering, in the wake of the sluggish economy and skyrocketing gold prices, LeVian, like many in the industry, has had to redesign some of his jewelry. Although his company did not pull back on using gold, it has invested in natural brown diamonds to offset the spiking demand for a dwindling supply of natural-colored diamonds.
“We are democratizing the jewelry industry,” he said, adding that the brand is working with Australia’s Argyle Diamond Mine to harvest the brown diamonds. “Brown diamonds are about one quarter of the price of natural diamonds.”
Similarly, many competitors are including more colored gems, as well as adding silver to their traditionally gold pieces in order to keep costs down.
“We definitely had to change our styling. The customer is very price-conscious,” said president of Emsaru Jewels Corp. Atul Dangayach, who noted his company is using more colored jewels as well as rough diamonds and diamond beads. Emsaru has incorporated these stones into its signature chandelier earrings, which retail from $15,000 to over $20,000.
For many jewelers, the colored gem trend also gained traction in bridal jewelry when Prince William presented Catherine Middleton with his mother the late Princess Diana’s sapphire engagement ring.
“Bold colors are driving fashion trends in jewelry,” said Dangayach, who added that by using different kinds of diamonds, colored stones and more silver, the consumer can save from 30 to 50 percent on an item.
“Consumers are coming back to buy but it’s a gradual jump,” he said, explaining that the consumer has traded down somewhat during the recession. “What’s challenging for us is creating beautiful jewelry at the right price point.”
One struggle is keeping true to the trends of “large, weightier, bold” statement jewelry while keeping the price attainable, said Sofia Eleftheriou, design director at Kabana, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based jeweler known for its inlay and use of natural materials such as shells, opals and mother-of-pearl and oyster.
Before the economy began to decline, the company changed its designs to include more solid pieces of gold jewelry.
“Now we have to use less gold, but we don’t want to hollow out the back [of the jewelry] and lose the quality we’ve established,” she said.
The brand, whose jewelry on average ranges from $2,000 to $8,000 but can exceed $80,000, opted to add a “lattice of gold” on the back instead of filling it with gold as it had before.
“The lattice enhances the design rather than take away from it,” she said. “People are being more deliberate about what they order.”
That doesn’t mean that consumers are necessarily pulling back. On the contrary, they are simply seeking more bang for their buck, and that trend bridges all demographics, said Greg Der Calousdian, vice president of Vahan Jewelry.
“People have got cabin fever and we’re prepared for that,” he said, explaining that while his company has continued to make elegant, European-inspired jewelry, it has developed a less gold-centric “aspirational” collection, retailing for between $750 and $1,300. Vahan’s core collection retails from $1,200 to $3,000.
Indian jewelry brand Amrapali also recently launched a collection that offers its designs at a variety of price points.
Inspired by elephants, the collection includes rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces and pendants, and retails from $500 to $50,000. According to head designer Tarang Arora, the collection is divided into four tiers; the least expensive level mixes silver and gold, the second level offers more gold, and the final two incorporate diamonds in varying size and quantity.
Now the consumer who “cannot afford the $30,000 piece” will be able to “obtain a similar piece at $3,000,” Arora said.
“I think it’s all going to go up,” he said of the cost of metals and precious stones. “Silver is the new gold, especially when it has diamonds. In fine jewelry, we are seeing this shift, and it’s a big change. The trend is more silver in the future.”