AFTER LATE START, SALES GET LIVELY

Byline: Melanie Kletter / With contributions from Marc Karimzadeh, New York / Julie Logan, Los Angeles

NEW YORK — With the nation and the economy in distress, friends and families are coming together, and some of the emotions are translating into jewelry and accessories gift-giving.
Sales for the season started off slowly — The International Council of Shopping Centers found that jewelry sales in mall specialty stores were down 13 percent during the week of Dec. 3-9 from the year before — although they’ve picked up as Christmas approaches.
Bridal jewelry is seeing a resurgence, as more couples look to tie the knot, and other higher-priced items, such as diamond earrings, Rolex watches and luxury handbags, are also checking well. In the lower end of the price spectrum, charm bracelets, jewelry with leather and personalized items have been standouts, retailers said.
Overall, shoppers seem to be buying jewelry as an emotional purchase — perhaps as a way to show special appreciation for loved ones following the events of Sept. 11.
“It’s been an unusual year, and many people want to treat themselves and treat their loved ones,” said Mark Udell, owner of four-store London Jewelers.
“Gift-giving with thought is very important this year,” said Fraser Ross, owner of Kitson, a retail and accessories boutique in West Hollywood. “It’s not just about throwing a gift basket at someone.”
Similar to what is happening in other retail sectors, there have been more promotions than usual at department stores and jewelry shops. Inventories were kept lean, and many stores said they bought less funky and one-of-a-kind items in lieu of styles that are more traditional.
Although accessories overall are faring well, not all categories are thriving. Scarves and cold-weather items have had a more difficult season due to unseasonably warmer weather in many parts of the country.
Nonetheless, some stores said they have been pleased with recent buying patterns.
“So far, the season has been very encouraging,” said Gary Gordon, owner of Samuel Jewelers, a 98-year-old jewelry store in Oklahoma City. “People are tired of being sad and are starting to spend.”
Gordon said he has seen a huge spike in bridal jewelry and increased sales of designer jewelry brands, such as Henry Dunay, John Hardy and Scott Kay.
“There has been a real movement towards branded names,” Gordon added. “People have seen ads and are coming in wanting certain name brands.”
At Fred Leighton, the jeweler known for its wide assortment of fine vintage and estate jewelry, diamond necklaces and bracelets, engagement rings and colored diamonds are all selling well, designer Fred Leighton said.
“August, September and October were difficult for us, but this month, we are way ahead of last year,” he said. “What we are seeing is that people want diamonds and quality items, but not things that are big in scale. They want to stay within a certain taste level and not be too showy.”
Zale Corp., the nation’s largest retail jeweler, has had “noticeable strength” in its wedding and bridal business across all of its divisions, said a company spokeswoman.
“We have had an 11 percent increase in the average ticket, which has been largely driven by the bridal category,” the spokeswoman said. Zale’s new branded diamond also has seen strength.
However, she said, Zale has seen softness since Sept. 11 and in November, the company issued an earnings warning for the second quarter.
William Barthman Jewelers, which is located one block away from where the Twin Towers used to stand in Manhattan, recently reopened after suffering extensive damage from the Sept. 11 attacks.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but we have had many people come by to say hello and make purchases,” said Joel Kopel, the store’s manager. “Customers are spending downtown on purpose, as if to heal the wounds.”
Kopel said that among the bestsellers at his shop are diamond-stud earrings as well as jewelry from David Yurman and Judith Jack.
At London Jewelers, watch sales, particularly high-end brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe and Franck Mueller, have been noticeably higher than last year, and colored diamonds also have seen strength, said Candy Udell, co-president.
“Overall, we are very happy with the season,” said Udell. “We have kept our inventory leaner and, we feel, were smarter in our buying.”
At Mayor’s Jewelers, a 41-store chain based in Sunrise, Fla., more units have been sold, thus far, but at a lower price point, said Aida Alvarez, director of merchandising and marketing. Overall, sales are slightly below last year, and there have been more promotions.
“People have learned to shop only if there is a promotion,” Alvarez said. “Now, they won’t buy anything unless its on sale.”
Watch sales are off slightly, but Mayor’s has seen strength in gold jewelry and pearls.
“The bridal area is really performing well,” Alvarez said. “Also, themes like crosses and hearts are strong.”
A spokesman for Saks Fifth Avenue said fine jewelry and watch bestsellers this holiday season include Garavelli’s diamond-heart pendants set in 18-karat white gold, which retail from $695 to $1,195.
Roberto Coin’s woven gold Opera collection, featuring 18-karat gold set with diamonds, which is exclusive to Saks and retails for $825 to $12,000, is also among the top items.
Small diamond pendants at around the $2,000 range are doing well, as are the three-stoned diamond jewelry and the horseshoe pendant.
In watches, general trends include diamond cases and colored straps, with top resources including Movado, Charriol and Bedat & Co.
Andrew Block, senior vice president of marketing at watch retail chain Tourneau, said: “We are ahead of last year. We are hopeful+that the next two weeks slam home the season for us.”
He said that traditionally in watches, the holiday surge happens toward the end of the season. Top resources at Tourneau are Officine Panerai, Rolex, Patek Philippe and Cartier.
Alain Viot, president and chief executive officer at Cartier, said it was still too early to make conclusions on holiday selling, since the two traditionally busiest weekends were still ahead. He pointed to the new Delices de Cartier collection, which features 18-karat gold, platinum and precious stores.
“We couldn’t merchandise all the stores, so in some places, people buy items from the pictures, or go on the wait list,” he said. “It’s a nice addition to the collections for Christmas.”
At Claire’s Stores, which sells fashion and costume jewelry and accessories, American-themed merchandise has been a “huge winner,” and other standouts include crosses and horseshoe necklaces, said Marla Schaefer, vice chairman of the chain, which operates more than 3,000 stores worldwide.
Nonetheless, she said, “it’s been a difficult time. People are doing more looking than shopping. Everyone is running promotions, and we have been doing more, also.” Inventory at Claire’s is down 17 percent from last year, she noted.
Meanwhile, Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills has seen robust sales of Burberry scarves, especially cashmere styles in the traditional Nova print, according to a company spokeswoman. Pricy handbags from Gucci, Prada and Chanel also have been strong.
At Nordstrom, cold-weather items have done particularly well in Los Angeles, a spokeswoman said. Gloves and wraps and mufflers in coordinated sets have been popular in all price points, ranging from chenille styles for $18 up to cashmere wraps at $300. Leather gloves with cashmere lining and fake-fur hats, collars and cuffs are also top sellers.
Other categories standing out at Nordstrom include pendant necklaces, charm bracelets and costume jewelry with colored stores.
At Kitson in West Hollywood, top-selling items include Chan Luu’s seashell necklaces, Dillon Rogers’s spiritual bands and bracelets from Me & Ro.
“This is our second year in business, and we are up 40 percent from last year,” said owner Fraser Ross.
Jennifer Kaufman, owner of an accessories boutique by the same name in Beverly Center, said white gold and diamond combinations have been particularly strong and handbags by Lulu Guinness have performed above expectations.
“The season for us is better than last year,” Kaufman said. “I keep hearing the same thing over and over — men want to spoil the people they love this year.”

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