LAS VEGAS — The paradigms are shifting in the fine jewelry sector.
Out is the indulging self-purchasing consumer looking to drape herself in gold, diamond and gemstone jewelry for fashion’s sake. In is a new era of purchasing from the heart: birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and the like.
Jewelry brands are banking on special occasion purchasing to keep them afloat in these rocky times. Mother’s Day marked a turn for the better for jewelry sales that have, like other luxury categories, taken a beating since the stock market tanked last fall. Retailers and company executives were pleased, if a bit surprised, at the uptick in sales starting in mid-April.
The new mood was on full display at the jewelry trade shows here, including Couture at the Wynn resort from May 28 to June 2 and JCK, which took place at the Sands Expo & Convention Center from May 30 to June 3. The shows proved quieter than in years past, with fewer exhibitors and retailers, but orders were placed and executives predicted a better holiday than last year’s dismal season.
But jewelers and retailers appear to have learned their lesson, offering lower-priced collections; injecting more bang for the buck, and adding more casual pieces.
“We’re very cognizant of where the consumer is spending for themselves for a gift,” said John Green, president and chief executive officer of Lux, Bond & Green, the 111-year-old retailer with eight locations on the East Coast, who is investing the stores’ buy more into silver. “Luxury is a tough word. Celebration is a great word.”
Jim Rosenheim, ceo of Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, D.C., said, “What we’re seeing is people buying for occasions, not retail therapy.”
Cody Kondo, Saks Fifth Avenue’s group senior vice president and general merchandise manager of fashion and fine jewelry, watches, women’s shoes, handbags and soft accessories, sought value but said that word doesn’t only correlate with a low price.
“It is really about the right mix of style and quality,” Kondo said. “The customer has to be able to see and appreciate how the piece was made, that the materials are of substantial quality and that the style is on trend. To further service our fashion jewelry customer, we were encouraged to find several new designers that we believe offer a fresh, new, modern aesthetic that will satisfy both new and existing clients.”
Joanne Teichman, owner of the Ylang 23 boutique in Dallas that carries brands such as Temple St. Clair, Irene Neuwirth and Lucifer Vir Honestus, took a similar view, explaining, “We came here with no expectations. We wanted to be conservative. But we have spent a lot. When the merchandise is spectacular and irresistible, there will be someone to buy it.”
Teichman is one of the few retailers that wasn’t price-point focused, but lauded designers for offering a wider range of prices than before. Most brands sought to have a wide offering mixing some new styles with a bevy of tried-and-true bestsellers.
David Yurman offered a strong showing in silver this season with beaded gemstone torsade statement necklaces, cocktail rings set with faceted ruby and yellow onyx, and several pieces with black diamond pavé set into oxidized black metal.
Yurman ceo Paul Blum used Couture as an opportunity to connect with the firm’s wholesale partners and take the temperature of the market.
“[Consumers] are feeling much more confident,” said Blum. “People are shopping a little more and they’re buying product at different price points. I don’t feel it’s back to the levels it was at, but it’s getting normalized.”
Brian Ripka, president of Judith Ripka Creations, said, “The [retailers] that showed up were surprisingly optimistic. We had diminished expectations last year and they were lower this year. There was a weeding out process. They wrote more than we thought they were going to write. They had their inventories under control and they were optimistic and wrote into their optimism.”
In an effort to keep prices reasonable, many brands such as Yurman and Ripka offered larger silver assortments. Roberto Coin, who made several of his gold pieces more lightweight to save on cost, has delved into silver for the first time with his Capri collection of gunmetal-coated bangles inlaid with semiprecious gemstones.
“The recession is on, we know,” said Coin. “Consumers want maximum quality and value for something different.”
Ripka said the company saw a spike in silver sales, as did Monica Rich Kossan, Maya Jewels, Leslie Greene, Gurhan and Stephen Webster, many of which have launched silver collections in the past two years.
Webster ceo Terri Eagle said the brand’s silver line continues to grow and that retailers such as Saks and Neiman Marcus sought exclusives from the collection.
Robert Lee Morris, whose business is rooted in silver, offered collections that were derivations of his necklaces and other jewelry for Donna Karan’s runway, as well as the Robert Lee Morris for Elizabeth & James collection, which launched last year as a joint venture with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s contemporary apparel line. Both lines were among the hits of the show. Some of the top sellers included rings with several pom-pomlike spheres, amorphous stack bangles in silver and wood from Morris’ signature line.
“The morale in our company was just boosted,” said Morris, who said the company was booked solid with appointments. “It’s a very creative time for me.”
One major silver jewelry vendor, John Hardy, was noticeably absent from Couture. The company showed privately in a hotel suite, as opposed to the large and elaborate ballroom it typically shows in. Due to the economic climate, ceo Damien Dernoncourt said showing privately was more cost efficient this year.
A further sign that extravagance is out, at least for the time being, is that across the board, key price points are now in the $500 to $2,000 range, down from the $2,000 to $10,000 bracket that was so popular a year ago before the economy’s dive. The silver lines fall comfortably into the lower-price range, but retailers and designers overall have remained careful to dress up silver on the fine jewelry level with some diamond and gold details, as not to diminish their brands’ luxury status.
Pearls were also big news at the shows. Several credited First Lady Michelle Obama as the inspiration for classic two-row pearl necklaces, while others such as Slane and Slane used freshwater pearls rather creatively in torsades, and a even a bib necklace of gold and pearls. Tara showed white South Sea drop pendants with rose-cut diamonds.
And even as consumers focus more on special-occasion buying rather than indulgence, statement pieces remain in the mix. Yossi Harari’s Mexican fire opal suites included a necklace with the distinctive orange-hued opals with black diamond covered beads and high karat gold; Irene Neuwirth showed oversize bibs with turquoise, onyx and moonstone, Eclat Jewels Inc. conch pear and diamond briolette sautoir, De Grisogono’s aquamarine, turquoise and emerald collar, and Sevan’s formidable baroque pearl cocktail rings with diamond set upside down are priced well into the five figures.
Brands well-versed in the high end diversified their assortments to include more affordable and casual pieces. Sasha Primak, known for its weighty diamond eternity rings, launched a charm line with micro pavé diamond details. Primak’s lines typically start at $50,000 at retail, but the new collection starts at a modest $1,000.
Other trends included black or white diamonds set into blackened gold or oxidized silver showcased at Nam Cho, Arman, Andrea Fohrman and Coomi, and the continued push into men’s jewelry. Cuff links, bracelets, rings and necklaces for men were offered by David Yurman, Marco Bicego, Damiani and Shamballa Jewels.
Rose gold also remains an important component for brands. Temple St. Clair launched a line in the pink-hued metal, as did Monica Rich Kossan. Alternative diamond cuts included rose cuts and diamond slices at Nina Runsdorf, Andrea Forhman and Paul Morelli.
While the troubled economy defied a clear picture of what’s to come for fine jewelry, the bottom line was defined by Marie Helene Morrow of Reinhold in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “We are stocking up with people that sell,” she said. “We are partners for the long term and this is a blip.”