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‘Never Say Never’ Fine Jewelry Trends in the U.S. Market

15 august 2012

If I had written this article just five years ago, I would have been spending my ink on curves, texture and design, Liz Chatelain, President and Co-founder, MVI Marketing Ltd., says in an analysis published on Today, no ink and industry-changing trends in jewelry have little to do with style and a lot to do with the great American recession. Way back five years ago, we would have all agreed on a definition for Fine Jewelry. Today, that definition is up for grabs. Today, you cannot even say ‘never’ because never will change by tomorrow.

“I will never sell diamonds set in silver. Diamonds don’t belong in silver.”

How many long standing, well established fine jewelry retailers made this comment before the recession? Probably all of them. High-end designer Scott Kay hit a few walls when he launched his 1ct diamond and above, large stylistic silver ring collection, some 8 years ago when his favorite metal, platinum, jumped in price. But Kay knew he had the retailers who could sell 1ct on up right-hand and engagement rings in silver to the fashion forward consumer.

Today, fine jewelry can be made with silver, silver with 10kt, 14kt, and 18kt gold overlay, just gold overlay (over what, we may never know), silver metal mixes including with platinum as a small percentage to help with market messages and the piece of r?sistance, brass. Yes, brass. Sears, the first national department store company in the U.S., with 700 doors, advertised a diamond bracelet at holiday time in December for about US$49 with no mention of the metal. When the consumer showed up in the stores and saw the tag, they learned the metal the diamonds were set in was brass. The bracelet was sold in their fine jewelry department. Never say never.

Men’s 14kt gold with diamonds are down to just 5% of all men’s jewelry advertising space. Diamonds in men’s jewelry has long been set in rugged sounding low cost metals such as Tungsten Carbide and Titanium and now a lot more silver. Women’s all metal bands are now being offered in Triton Tungsten Carbide by some chain stores such as Kay Jewelers. Could fashion diamond jewelry be far behind? Never say never.

Where have all the center stones gone?

The bridal and solitaire jewelry markets have changed right before our eyes. With the development of invisible setting, small princess cut diamond jewelry sprung onto the market strong about 8 years ago in mostly in earrings and pendants. Retailers were hesitant of the new look because of the repair problems of diamonds springing out of their setting.

Fast forward to the recession, improvements in invisible settings and the drive to keep retail prices reasonable in the face of rising gold and diamond prices, invisible setting has a new respect. Today 80% of all advertised bridal and solitaire looks in jewelry are made with diamond composite heads, not single diamond centers. If there is a 2/3 ct t.w., or larger single center stone, often they are encircled by a row or two of bead-set diamonds, which makes the whole center look much bigger. Tiffany’s Soleste engagement ring collection is a good example. But round composite heads using small center stones dominate the market.

A well-designed and set composite head can give the allusion of one center stone, if desired. This is where the middle price-point part of the retail market is going. Some jewelry chains and department stores such as Helzberg Diamonds, Ben Bridge Jewelers, Reed Jewelers and Macy’s department stores, strive for the illusion of composite heads. While the low-end of the market will not pay for the quality manufacturing needed to reach a true one stone look. They instead hype the advantage of many diamonds to their customers. The more, the better.

Composite head centers in engagement rings are now about 30% of the rings sold and about 60% of all one stone stud looks in earrings and pendants. This trend had been slowly growing but over the past 3 years has shot an arrow to deflate the size of diamonds needed for bridal and stud center stones. What else could happen to bridal?… never say never.

Color your love

Fancy color diamonds in engagement rings are not new. Natural yellow, pink and even blue are offered to the elite fine jewelry bridal consumer. But treated black, blue, brown diamonds in engagement, bridal sets and anniversary rings? Really?

Chain jewelry stores such as Kay and Zales Jewelers have started advertising treated black, treated blue and natural and treated brown diamond jewelry in their bridal area. Yes, even as center stones, but mostly as side and accent stones. Engagement, wedding bands, engagement ring enhancers and anniversary rings set with a mix of white and treated color diamonds are the new look. The black, blue and brown diamonds are mostly set in dark rhodium to increase their contrast with the white diamonds. In essence, helping the white diamonds look whiter.

Treated color diamond bridal jewelry is making its way into display cases everywhere. In some stores, you will find sale associates who will do everything they can to direct their customers away from treated color diamonds in their beloved bridal jewelry department and yet other sales associate go out of their way to show off the new looks to their young 20 something customers.

Are treated color diamond center stone engagement rings for independent higher-end retailers far behind? No, retailers tell me that they are receiving requests every week for more color in their engagement ring selections and their whole bridal department. They are also asked for color gemstones as center and/or side stones as well as color diamonds. When the customer sees the price of natural color diamonds, treated seems just fine. Never say never.

The average U.S. consumer has no idea of the pending diamond shortage or like the rest of us, where the price of gold is going, but what they do know is, their jewelry budget. If they want to stay in business, retailers have to find the products their customers will buy, so they can turn their inventory at least 1.2 times per year. If that means selling diamonds in silver jewelry, treated diamonds in their bridal department or non-traditional metals such as Titanium in woman’s jewelry, they will. The retailers who are still in business today have learned the hard way to Never Say Never.