Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

Happy Birthday to Sales

Birthdays create the perfect occasion to promote colored gemstones, and birthstones can be a starting point in a discussion that can lead to sales all year long

By Deborah Yonick
Colorful, personal, birthstone jewelry can be the perfect gift item for a variety of occasions year-round. So why aren’t retail jewelers taking advantage of its sales potential?

One reason, explains Kate Peterson, president of Performance Concepts, Montgomery Village, Maryland, is that, by and large, few jewelers invest significantly in color. “Most have fallen into the trap of believing that colored stones don’t sell and they’ve not yet stepped back to consider why,” the retail management consultant says. “Add to that the pressure to make a much bigger bridal statement, and things like staff training and inventory allocation become an issue.”

According to Peterson, colored gemstones sell well in stores where there are salespeople who have a genuine appreciation and passion for them. In most areas, she says, the market is wide open for stores that are willing to make the commitment. “The great thing about colored gemstones,” adds Peterson, “is that customers will buy them for any number of personal reasons.” 

Making it Personal

When it comes to those reasons, Peterson notes the “energy, power and mysticism associated with a color or mineral, or simply the personal preference for the color itself.” In addition, a specific stone’s symbolism for a birth month can motivate first-time gemstone buyers. Bradley Harris of Bradley T. Harris Jewelers in Atlanta believes when it comes to personalizing a jewelry gift, birthstones offer great selling possibilities. Once it is suggested to them, “most customers love the idea of birthstone jewelry, and are often pleased that many of the birthstones are not too expensive,” explains Harris, who highlights information about both the traditional and alternative birthstones for each month in his e-newsletter.

Birthstones are often a consumer’s first experience with personalized jewelry, says James Louviere, director of symbolic and religious jewelry for Stuller Inc., Lafayette, Louisiana. He says birthstones are top sellers because they’re traditional, so people share common assumptions about them.

Ramona Gautreaux, director of marketing for diamonds and gemstones at Stuller, views birthstones as the start of a person’s jewelry journey. “Often, girls receive birthstone jewelry when they are young. It’s their first fine jewelry experience, so it’s an important category for the start of a relationship.”

“People like the significance of birthstone jewelry, and of having special pieces that are signature to them. Even though there are specific gemstones cited for each month,” says Atlanta-based designer Jane Wullbrandt, sales of birthstones don’t have to be limited to that month. Birthstone-themed jewelry can be given on gift-giving occasions throughout the year.

Wullbrandt advises against pigeonholing what constitutes meaningful birthstone jewelry. She notes one customer who bought a custom-designed citrine ring, her birthstone, then a citrine pendant, and now wants a custom-designed citrine bracelet as a family heirloom to pass along to her daughter and granddaughter.

Show & Tell

Wullbrandt encourages jewelers to showcase the birthstone of the month in all its color variations, as well as the alternative birthstones, in a variety of prices. She suggests displaying a representation of each birthstone all year long. She also advises talking up birthstones when someone picks up a repair or is just browsing.

“Know your birthstone lore,” says Wullbrandt. “People don’t know that garnet or tourmaline comes in lots of colors, or that opals aren’t really bad luck. They might not like their traditional birthstone, but they might love the alternative.”

Gautreaux endorses events as a great way for jewelers to combine educational and sales opportunities, noting that the road to profitable sales is to have product without inventory. She encourages jewelers to use innovative tools like prototype systems and digital selling platforms with jewelry-building features that inspire customization without requiring inventory investments.

“Retailers need to expand beyond traditional methods to gain market share,” Gautreaux says. “They don’t have to buy tons of inventory, everything is custom ordered, so consumers can select their style and gem.”

Change in Perception

It’s all about perception, Gautreaux says. “How does a consumer define a birthstone? It may be that those born in January are happy with a red stone that represents their birth month, or a piece of jewelry in their favorite color.”

Peterson advises against selling birthstones as birthstones, but rather to suit taste, interest or need. “If I’m born in January, does that mean I shouldn’t love an amethyst? Or, since garnet is my birthstone, does the green kind count?”

Tim Moses of Moses Jewelers in Butler, Pennsylvania, has found solid success in selling gemstones based on a color-centric approach. Everybody has a favorite color, he notes, adding that birthstones come into play mostly with gifts for family members.

Peterson’s advice is to ask the right questions. “If someone asks for the January birthstone, ask about the person. If someone is looking for a gift, avoid questions like ‘What’s her birthstone or favorite color?’ to eliminate ‘I don’t know’ responses. Ask questions the buyer can answer, such as ‘What color would you like to see on her?’”

Colored gemstone expert, designer and jewelry stylist Cynthia Renée Zava of Cynthia Renée Inc., Carrboro, North Carolina, used to conduct a gem trunk show called “Beyond Birthstones.” For those bored with birthstones, Zava talked about the people and places associated with gems “from the hot and steamy deltas of the Amazon to the sweeping plains of East Africa…like fiery-red Burmese spinel, tempting tourmalines, velvet-blue tanzanite, soulful sapphires from Sri Lanka and the lush green garnet Tiffany named tsavorite.” Zava believes customers select gems that move them. “Colored stone jewelry is the strongest jewelry medium for expressing individuality and celebrating life,” Zava sums up.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - December 2010. To subscribe click here.

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