The Jewelers of America held its annual Gem Awards ceremony on Friday evening at New York City’s Cipriani 42nd Street. During the event, designers and retailers remarked on the place of jewelry amid continued economic uncertainty — particularly in light of the collapse of Signature and Silicon Valley Banks and the financial industry bail-outs of First Republic and Credit Suisse.
Jewelry took off as a key category for discretionary spending during COVID-19, with consumers appreciating its longevity and store of value. Experts at the Gem Awards estimated that, for these reasons, jewelry will remain resilient in the case of economic turmoil.
“From what I have heard and read so far, it’s a little bit of a similar response as we had at the beginning of the pandemic,” the Natural Diamond Council’s managing director and chief marketing officer Kristina Buckley Kayel said of the initial response to the banking crisis. “What do people do when they are feeling uncertain? They want to invest in things with a sense of certainty. The diamond standard index surged after the Silicon Valley Bank collapse on Friday — it shows the value of natural diamonds and that jewelry has purpose in moments of crisis when people invest in things that retain their value.”
Paul Schneider, cofounder of the Twist boutiques and e-commerce site, observed a slight dip in sales last week following the banking fallout. Online sales, though, many of which come from regions outside the U.S., held steady.
“I think everybody gets nervous and then once things become clearer and they realize the world is still turning and life is still going on. They still have their jobs, and realize they want beautiful things in their life,” he said.
Jewelry design award nominees Ron Anderson and David Rees of Ten Thousand Things, which has seen something of a renaissance over the last year, are worried about how the crisis could affect younger generations of jewelry collectors.
Their brand’s line of carved stone chandelier earrings have taken off as “It” collectors’ items, particularly among young art dealers and auctioneers.
Rees said of his and Anderson’s 30-year-old brand: “When you stay around this long, you have to get the new [collectors] and this design has been very good at that — introducing us to a new group of people. We are worried [the banking crisis] could affect younger consumers that we are just beginning to make inroads with — it would be terrible if that consumer loses their way.”
The evening’s winners included Steven Kaiser for the Lifetime Achievement Award; Hodinkee for Watch Excellence; Anita Ko for Jewelry Design; Greenwich St. Jewelers for Retail Excellence; Michelle Graff for Media Excellence, and Gucci for High Jewelry Excellence.
Buckley Kayel called the evening “the Oscars of the jewelry industry.”
Jewelry’s expansion and heightened relevance over the last seven or so years has affected companies both big and small. This is evident in LVMH Moët Hennessy’s near-$16 billion investment in Tiffany & Co., as well as smaller scale successes like the recent growth of Los Angeles jeweler Darya Khonsary, whose pieces under the Darius Jewels brand sell out at Bergdorf Goodman, and who recently created a diamond and sapphire custom-order necklace for Zendaya.
Schneider has been at the forefront of championing small designers since founding Twist more than 40 years ago. He said he has noticed a shift and is now “selling more of people we were never able to sell. We are making sales online all over the world, shipping things to London, Dubai and Tokyo and for designers we would normally have thought are a little obscure.”
New York-based independent designer Lorraine West, who was seen catching up with Schneider, said this is something to celebrate. She was attending the Gem Awards to mark “a more inclusive entry into jewelry and we are really excited to be a part of that. We are just excited to support and see the industry grow and expand with new points of view so it can continue to be an important creative hub.”