Rapaport Magazine

Spring Blossoms with Opportunity

U.S. Retail Market Report

By Kate Rice
RAPAPORT... For U.S. retailers, spring is about Mother’s Day, bridal and, to a lesser degree, graduation. Mother’s Day is the third biggest holiday for Costco, according to Karla Jones, head jewelry buyer for Costco’s 370 warehouses. But weddings are also important at this time of year and many U.S. jewelers are working on building that business.

Chicago-based Whitehall Jewellers is finding its customers responding well to the bridal book it issued in February and then redistributed recently as part of a three-day sale. That brought in throngs of customers, according to Edward Dayoob, chief executive officer (CEO) and chairman of the board for Whitehall.

Anniversary Stays Strong

Anniversary business goes hand-in-hand with bridal and that market is staying strong for Whitehall, according to Dayoob. Noting that there are an estimated 80 million anniversaries annually, Dayoob said that “We’d like a piece of that.”

At Harold Jaffe Jewelers, Toledo, Ohio, classic styles such as simple three-stone rings, slightly different solitaires and diamond wedding bands account for the bulk of bridal sales, said Jeff Jaffe, owner and president of the company. “Quality and color are always part of the conversation but a beautiful make is ultimately what helps to make the sale,” said Jaffe. “Our average bridal price is in excess of $4,000.”

With Mother’s Day approaching, Judy Fisher, vice president of merchandising for Whitehall, is seeing a demand from younger, new mothers for diamonds they are referring to with the slang term “push diamonds,” as in “push the baby out.” Fisher said that she’s had some of Whitehall’s younger employees come into her office to tell her that their friends are asking specifically for push diamonds and Fisher has heard push diamonds referred to on a Chicago country music station.

Much of the product Whitehall is buying now emphasizes the mother-child relationship, symbolized by two significant diamonds. In general, pendants are strong, obviously because of Journey jewelry promotions, according to Fisher. “They were a big hit for us in the fall and they continue to do extremely well, with the squiggle being the best seller and the circle and heart right behind,” she said. Fisher said that the Tiffany star is out now and that seems to be doing well with her customers.

Whitehall customers continue to go for princess and round cuts although they’re beginning to buy more marquise cuts in solitaires. Fisher believes that’s because marquise cuts give a larger look.

At Harold Jaffe Jewelers, fashion is doing well, according to Jaffe, with customers buying diamond solitaire earrings, hoops and pendants. Journey and Circle of Life are quite active.

The company does a lot of custom design and manufacturing and also carries designers such as Roberto Coin, John Hardy and Barry Kronen. However, Jaffe says, Murphy’s law does rule — despite the large amount of inventory Jaffe Jewelers carries, finding specific cuts in larger sizes can be difficult. And pricing is a challenge as well, due to the fact that the regional economy is somewhat soft. In response to this, Jaffe Jewelers is appealing to local clientele by providing quality products at middle to lower price points.

At David Webb, which has stores in New York and Los Angeles, big cocktail rings are a trend among the stores’ most fashion-conscious customers, said Sharon Silberstein, vice president and creative director for the store. David Webb jewelry has a distinctive look — one of its hallmarks is its enameled animal jewelry. “Our look is sort of a niche look,” explained Silberstein, “and customers come to David Webb for that look.”

Silberstein also finds customers responding well to modern designs featuring brown, champagne and yellow diamonds. “We’ve been doing mixed colors off and on for years and I’ve been going back to it,” she said, adding that she’s been doing more with pastels recently.

Three Costco Trends

Costco’s Jones is seeing three major trends. The first is big diamond rings. The week before Jones was interviewed, Costco sold five rings that cost more than $50,000 each. At least 15 rings costing more than $25,000 have also been sold in recent months. Jones has also found that big, bold rings with colored stones accented by diamonds are doing very well. And finally, bridal remains as strong as ever.

Jones is finding that these trends are true throughout the nation and are not regional. Bridal has always been strong for Costco. The big diamond solitaires have been strong for the past three years. And the mix of bold but classy colored stones with diamonds has been a trend for the past year and a half.

The Marketplace

• Bridal and solitaires go larger, moving from one-half carat to 1 carat, with
additional demand for one-and-a-half
to 2 carats.
• Compound centers are strong.
• Past, present and future rings are still strong.
• Yellow gold is getting more popular with customers 35 and older.
• Bracelets are dropping off somewhat.
• Round, radiant, Asscher and emerald cuts do well in the Midwest.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2007. To subscribe click here.

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