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US Jewelry Demand Bounces Back

After the 2020 lockdowns, retailers are anticipating a busy summer.

Jun 3, 2021 4:24 AM   By Lara Ewen
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Midway through 2021, retailers were beginning to plot a path back to normalcy. More than a year has passed since the initial shutdowns, and in the interim, store owners have had plenty of time to reassess and reorganize. Self-purchasing and online shopping have both increased, and custom work continues to be strong, jewelers say. Now, businesses are looking forward to an optimistic summer full of increased digital engagement and a return to in-store experiences.

What customers want

Although the past year was challenging, Christine Weber, owner of Schapell Jewelers in Boulder, Colorado, made the best of it. During the Covid-19 shutdown, she put a new point-of-sale system in place and launched online services, which she said helped her business grow.

“[In 2021], business has been great,” she declared. “The biggest thing that has surprised us is the large-size diamonds we’ve been selling. A couple of 5 carats, and 2 carats. People are getting married more, and a lot of people in general aren’t able to go on their trips. People have stayed at home, and they’re not going out to eat. So they have this extra income.”

Her customers are also self-purchasing, she noted. “I see more women giving themselves permission to purchase things. In our location, we have two-income households, and it’s not just moms staying at home. And they’re justifying it more. They say, ‘My husband bought his bike, and I’m buying this.’”

The only products that aren’t selling well, said Weber, are timepieces. “We’re selling things across the board. Diamonds, gold, chains. But watches have been a little slower.”

Self-purchasing women were also driving business on the coasts. Anna Sheffield, whose eponymous store has branches in New York and Los Angeles, California, has added more fashion items to her lineup.

“In the past, we focused a lot on ceremonial and wedding jewelry,” she explained. “We were sleeping on adding different categories, like necklaces, earrings and bracelets. So I’m adding more personal jewelry. Things that could be bought for yourself. I never had the zodiac represented before in our line, and I added talismans, and emblems of change and love. We’re leaning more into that, and those have been doing really great for us. People want things that feel lasting and distinct and special. And that [fashion] category has been growing.”

She’s also seen an uptick in pearls. “I don’t know if it’s [because of Vice President] Kamala [Harris], but they’re definitely having a moment,” she said. On the flip side, wedding bands have been down, and she’s been seeing fewer bracelet sales. “I feel like bracelets have been the smallest category for a long time, because we spend so much time typing.”

In Gadsden, Alabama, custom mounting and design work have been very popular for Benny McNair, who co-owns McNair Jewelry with his wife Gail. These services have translated into diamond sales, gold mountings, and semi-mountings. “And, of course, on a daily basis, we do jewelry repairs,” he said. “And we do an impressive amount of appraisal work, which is in itself strong. Even out-of-state customers are in our store each week.”

Diamond jewelry in general has been strong, he continued — particularly diamond engagement rings and semi-mountings. “That feeds diamond sales tremendously. Also, the colored-stone market is good.”

‘This year is way more fun’

The shutdown weighed on McNair’s sales for part of 2020, but 2021 was much better. “Second-quarter earnings for 2020 were off about 60% compared to other years,” he said. “However, we more than caught up by year’s end. We had a wonderful year, and [2021] has proven to be a banner year also.”

For Weber in Colorado, the main difference between this year and last is that “this year is way more fun. Our sales have increased significantly, and we’re up about 25%. And people have had their [vaccine] shots, and they seem to stay longer. I’ve had customers say they just come here so they can come out.”

More than anything, the mood this year is upbeat. “There’s so much more optimism,” said Sheffield, who reported having a positive April. “Especially as we hit the warmer weather. At the beginning of 2021, with horrendous weather and California entrenched in the second Covid-19 wave, it didn’t feel like the new year we were promised. But since the weather and the light have come back, and people are starting to be vaccinated, we’re moving toward what normalcy looks like.” 

This article was first published in the June 2021 issue of Rapaport Magazine.

Image: A jewelry-store display. (Shutterstock)
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Tags: Anna Sheffield, Benny McNair, Christine Weber, COVID-19, Jewelry, Lara Ewen, McNair Jewelry, Schapell Jewelers
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