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WWD Basel Preview issue 03/26/2009

Adornments of gold and gemstones have a special place in the hearts of consumers, giving the fine jewelry community some solace that it will hold its own through the recession.

This story first appeared in the March 26, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Nevertheless, brands are optimizing their assortments to gain consumer awareness and buoy sales. Firms are focused on diversification, offering new and noteworthy collections to lure shoppers, while also building upon existing best-selling collections.

“It’s very important in challenging times to keep your product assortment consistent and not to distort it,” said David Yurman chief executive officer Paul Blum. “We stayed on course with our merchandise mix.”

Yurman is offering large-scale gold pieces, gemstone jewelry in juicy colors and the New Metro Collection, a line that features ceramic fobs cut to look like gems. Ceramic has been a trend in the watch industry for several years, most notably with Chanel’s J12, but Yurman is the first major brand to feature the material in jewelry. The company is also furthering its foray into the men’s jewelry category with engraveable dog tags, ID bracelets and other trinkets.

Marco Bicego, the Italian jeweler headquartered in San Francisco and known for its day jewelry, is extending the Jaipur line, which launched in 2008. Last year, the brand experimented with a few high-jewelry-oriented pieces with price tags upward of $20,000, but this year Bicego is concentrating on its core business, in which pieces range in retail price from $300 to $3,000.

Chopard is going forward with a similar strategy. The firm is offering several additional collections with its signature floating diamond element. However, the brand will continue to show high jewelry on par with its megawatt diamond pieces worn by Kate Winslet and Penélope Cruz to this year’s Academy Awards.

“We have to respect what’s going on in the marketplace,” said Marc Hruschka, Chopard’s U.S. president and ceo. “I anticipate that there won’t be as much high jewelry as in the past. We respond to the wishes and demands of our clients.”

Other brands taking the dual approach of offering high jewelry and more accessible pieces are de Grisogono and Mikimoto, the pearl jewelry firm. Mikimoto will launch a collection of rare conch pearl and diamond jewelry, as well as a line of one-of-a-kind baroque pearl pieces with pavé diamond treatment that goes into the five- and six-digit price marks. Meyer Hoffman, chief operating officer of Mikimoto (America) Co., said the company is also offering classic jewelry with Akoya pearls selling for $1,000 to $3,000.

De Grisogono will extend its popular Allegra collection with strips of gold and stones over rings and earrings, but company president Giovanni Mattera said the highend pieces are outperforming day jewelry like the Allegra collection in sales.

“[People] are not spending as much as they used to. Instead of buying everyday pieces, they are buying couture,” said Mattera. “People feel like making an investment. It’s like a piece of art. Each of these pieces is numbered.”

Last year, in order to cut prices, many jewelers that only used gold launched silver collections.

Stephen Webster is continuing with its silver collection, which has an average retail price of $600, in addition to the gold and gemstone collection that averages from $6,000 to $8,000. This year, Webster is launching several lines of fine gold jewelry and silver. One, called Jules Verne, is inspired by the French author’s tome “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” The other is called the Boyfriend collection featuring masculine jewelry geared toward women.

Stephen Webster is still looking at opening stores in Beverly Hills in the fall and Manhattan once a location is pinned down.

“We’re supporting the brand, continuing to invest with a wide range of product,” said Webster president and ceo Terri Eagle. “We want to show that we’re here in the long term.”

This year, brands like Roberto Coin are launching more accessibly priced collections.

Coin is launching a line called Capri Plus. The line is priced 50 percent lower than Coin’s typical product, at $5,000 to $50,000 at retail. Though Coin won’t say what material other than metal he is working with, the collection includes precious and semiprecious gemstones.

“We’re creating jewelry at the highest level to obtain price points that are more reachable,” said Coin. “No one knows where the market will land, whether it be high, middle or low. We’re giving the opportunity to buy a high-end piece of jewelry that’s more affordable. People are buying more intelligently and less ostentatiously than before.”

Price restrictions aside, retailers want to see fresh and intriguing designs to spark consumer interest.

“We are looking for the best of the best, seeking out jewelry that evokes an emotional impact,” said Cody Kondo, group senior vice president and general merchandise manager for jewelry, accessories and shoes at Saks Fifth Avenue. “These pieces must be bold but timeless.”