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This story first appeared in the May 21, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Jewelry brands straddling the fine and fashion categories are sticking to the classics, but adding a twist to update their signature pieces.

Be it sprinkling in a hint of color with gold alloys and vibrant semiprecious stones, or expanding their offerings to include higher-priced collections in 18-karat yellow gold, white diamonds and emeralds, brands exhibiting at JCK from June 1 to 4 at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas aren’t looking to reinvent the wheel.

“We’re living in such uncertain times,” said Hellmuth chief executive officer and designer Gert Hellmuth. “People want to spend the dollars they have smartly and safely. The consumer appreciates gold and diamonds now more than ever.”

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As a result, brands like Hellmuth are increasingly looking to the upscale consumer to offset somewhat decelerating sales at the lower end of their offering.

According to Hellmuth, whose prices range from $250 to $70,000, business is up 25 percent over last year, and, ironically, it’s due to incorporating more luxe materials.

“You’re not losing your money when whatever you buy today has gold, silver, diamonds or colored stones,” he said, explaining that high commodity prices can be counterbalanced with creative designs.

In his collections, which infuse texture through crocodile and snake patterns on gold and silver, Hellmuth is able to control costs by mixing metals and by altering the size of its precious stones or swapping them out for semiprecious gems.

In Belargo’s case, the brand relies on cubic zirconia, silver, rhodium and 14-karat gold vermeil to keep prices affordable. With prices starting at $100, Belargo designer Freida Rothman said prices “must be under $1,200.

“As soon as I use diamonds, I’ll be out of that price point,” she said, but added that she will cycle in amethyst and different topaz gems for spring. For fall, however, the brand is sticking to black and gold tones.

LeVian, which carries a range of jewelry from fashion to couture, has relied on branding to attract new consumers.

Known for its use of less expensive brown diamonds, which it refers to as chocolate diamonds, as well as newly developed gold alloys such as strawberry gold or honey gold, the brand has been able to leverage the power of the “new” materials into sales by branding them, ceo Eddie LeVian said.

“Fine jewelry is changing. Brands that deliver a certain image are more favored by the consumer,” LeVian explained. “For many years, manufacturers couldn’t sell brown diamonds, but our positioning and marketing of them as chocolate diamonds has created a demand.”

As a result, LeVian will be bringing several new lines to JCK, including a brown diamond collection that retails for between $500 and $900, a fire opal-based collection for between $1,000 and $5,000 and a colored diamond collection, dubbed mixed berry, priced between $1,000 and $4,000.

LeVian will also bring a three-tiered bridal collection that includes fashion jewelry, chocolate diamonds and natural color diamonds mixed with platinum and 18-karat gold. Retailing from $800 up to $250,000, the collection has something for every budget.

“Ever since the great recession, consumers have changed their buying habits. When they buy something, they buy fewer items but better value items,” he said, adding that LeVian has been able to maintain and even raise prices.

Next up for the brand is a spring collection comprising pastel and candy-colored jewelry, as well as honey gold and strawberry gold pieces.

“Color is huge right now, but it doesn’t just mean gemstones. It means colored diamonds, colored gold,” he offered. “Women don’t want to be trading in the sea of sameness. They want their jewelry to be signature.”

Signature is all about brand identification, and brand identification is about having a strong message.

With that in mind, Ivanka Trump has developed several collections that add a modernized spin to her traditionally monochromatic jewelry.

Trump, whose jewelry is inspired by looks from the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, will launch three new collections that nod to looks from the late 19th century.

The first collection, called Belle Epoque, is evocative of the jewelry of Paris in the 1890s. This includes modern takes on the bow design, as well as a white-on-white color scheme.

Trump is also launching an Art Deco-inspired fine jewelry collection called Gilded Cage, a play on words that refers to America’s Gilded Age.

“I realized the luxury fine jewelry market was missing a fresh, young design approach to important jewelry. That’s where my jewelry line’s vision of ‘Rock Tradition’ plays a vital role — it’s a modern twist on jewelry’s most important classics,” Trump told WWD. “I want to make the women of my time feel comfortable buying fine jewelry.”

Perhaps the most surprising collection from Trump is Laotong, an African emerald-based line that marks the brand’s first foray into color.

“I was inspired by last year’s movie ‘Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,’ which my close friend Wendi Murdoch produced. The Chinese word Laotong represents the lifetime bond between two female friends as kindred sisters,” Trump said. “I had been wanting to introduce color for some time, and the combination of the radiant green color of an emerald and the elegance of the fan provided the perfect theme.”

“Ivanka first mentioned adding emeralds to the collection about two years ago. My first reaction was, I love the coherence to our black and white story. It puts us in a unique place in the marketplace,” said Andrea Hansen, the brand’s ceo. “I wanted to make sure that when we introduced color that we could do it with historical reference…and not change the brand’s message.”

While the collections largely remain consistent with the brand’s retail sweet spot of between $3,000 and $16,000, Laotong pushed the limits somewhat, coming in at $5,000 to $80,000.

According to Hansen, the brand has been able to keep prices relatively low for this couture capsule collection, because it does its own production in a factory in New York.

“We definitely see activity at the high end of the market. That’s why I felt comfortable with the emerald collection being limited edition,” Hansen said, adding that the brand may cycle in some color coral hues in upcoming collections, but that following trends isn’t the brand’s focus.

Instead, the jewelry brand is concentrating on further growth with the addition of ladies’ watches — a new category for the brand — that will hit stores late 2012 or early 2013.

Temple St. Clair is also blazing its own trail with a higher-priced line that is a return, of sorts, to the brand’s roots. The collection, which designer Temple St. Clair Carr called “whimsical,” intertwines owl imagery and delicate latticework in 18-karat gold with garnets and moonstone. It retails from $500 for a small gold owl pendant up to $40,000 for a linked, multistone garnet necklace.

“We are finding within our collection, there is a demand for finer and finer colored gems. I use diamonds here and there as an accent, as I have always done,” the designer said. “Overall, I am actually using fewer diamonds these days and have been going back to my roots of using more intricate gold work and detail. I find creativity and craftsmanship in gold much more intriguing than merely adding diamonds.”

According to St. Clair Carr, consumers are flocking to yellow gold because it signals value. Other designers agreed, adding that shoppers are opting for the yellow metal over white gold and even platinum because the look of gold symbolizes a higher worth.

While the average price point for Temple St. Clair hovers around $3,500, the designer said she is seeing an emerging sweet spot between $5,000 and $15,000, with bespoke pieces priced above $50,000 selling out quickly.

In fact, dramatic sales growth this year is directly linked to robust sales at the very high end of the brand’s price range. Although St. Clair Carr would not reveal sales figures, she said her brand has shown “healthy double-digit growth” for the last two years. But this growth isn’t brand-specific. For those with the ability to up their prices and value equation, there’s a voracious consumer ready to spend.

“Consumers are trending towards the very fine and are willing to invest in these [higher-priced] pieces,” St. Clair Carr noted. “We are experiencing this over and over again in a variety of markets.”


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