JEWELERS WILL BE POLISHING UP THE YEAR’S STRONGEST ITEMS TO CATCH THE EYES OF GIFT BUYERS.
Byline: Wendy Hessen
Yes, there has been a smattering of reports about consumer confidence fading, and last year’s big reason to buy — the millennium — won’t be coming back for a while. But none of this has dampened the outlook on holiday sales of some of the world’s major retail jewelers.
Rather, they are all consistently enthusiastic about the all-important buying season.
“Last year was an extremely hyped holiday, and just about every retailer had a record year last year,” said Sylvie Freund-Pickavance, vice president of retail for Cartier Inc. “So far, we’re ahead of where we were at this time last year, and so are very bullish for this holiday season. American consumers are getting more and more savvy. They have a greater appreciation for fine things, which has been further propelled by the increase in wealth in the U.S.”
Sales at Tiffany & Co. are also running ahead of last year, a pace which is expected to continue through the fall and holiday periods, according to Camilla Sorenson, vice president merchandising at the jewelry retailer.
Francesco Trapani, chief executive officer of Bulgari, echoed the sentiments of his competitors, saying, “The situation is quite bullish worldwide, and certainly in the U.S. as well. Things are much better today than a year ago, where the first half of last year was sluggish, especially in Europe.”
Asprey & Garrard is preparing for a healthy holiday season, but also gearing up for any last-minute opportunities presented by the firm’s new owners. As reported, the company was acquired last week by Lawrence Stroll and Silas Chou, who have big expansion plans for the British crown jeweler and silversmith.
Besides comp-store sales growth, the company expects to get a boost this holiday season from its distribution on the e-tailer LuxuryFinders.com, according to Philip Warner, chief executive officer of Asprey & Garrard in the U.S.
The epidemic of optimism comes from more than just good cheer. Fueling the excitement is a stepped-up menu of new merchandise that has been driving traffic into stores all year and will hopefully stick in consumers’ minds when it comes time to buy holiday gifts.
At Cartier, a series of diamond and white gold pieces combined with crystal impart a modern, yet playful sensibility that can be worn anytime, anywhere. There is a ring with a crystal dome through which the wearer can view the diamonds underneath, but from the side, the diamonds disappear. A more streamlined version of a Seventies Cartier logo ring will be introduced in a limited edition for Christmas in white, yellow or black gold.
For those ready to plunk down $50,000 or more, there is an emphasis on mixing special pearls with diamonds.
“We are treating pearls like one-of-a-kind stones, in shades from white to champagne to gray or green, each combined with diamonds and light, modern styles,” said Freund-Pickavance.
While the launch of its Rectangelo watch has been a strong seller this year, for fall and holiday, Bulgari will also be focusing on many of its other product categories from jewelry to handbags and scarves. The firm just introduced its first logo pieces in brightly colored silk twill scarves and will build on the fashion element in its handbag collection, adding colorful beaded styles or those made of pashmina. But probably the biggest departure is the launch of a pearl line.
“Pearls have not been our strength in the past, but they are part of our renewed focus on traditional styling,” said Trapani.
At Asprey, color is the big draw, from yellow gold to fancy colored diamonds, according to Colleen Caslin, senior vice president.
The Wild Rose collection is inspired by the gardens of England, with stones including aquamarine, citrine and pink tourmaline; or for those who just want the ice, the pieces come in all diamonds as well.
Caslin said the firm has already started getting its usual roster of one-of-a-kind requests for the holidays. “We’ve had a lot of requests for pieces with the color pink — in either pink sapphires or tourmalines, and usually set in yellow gold, which is definitely coming back.”
Color and diamonds are also the focus for Tiffany. After the introduction just prior to Christmas last year of its exclusive cut-diamond engagement ring, Lucida, the company has now added band rings sprinkled with tiny Lucida diamonds that are having broader appeal than just as bridal jewelry.
“While we created Lucida primarily as an engagement look, there have been many self purchases,” said Sorenson. “Women see it as a fashion ring, and we will probably see the same thing with the bands.”
Lucida is available in platinum or 18-karat yellow gold.
Also expected to be strong sellers are a series of large chunky gemstone rings and the petal collection of pave diamonds set in platinum. “The petal line has classic fine jewelry elements, yet there are also pieces that are certainly fashionable as well, such as the larger cuffs with the petals appliqued; there is really something for everyone,”said Sorenson.