Season premiere

October 13, 2022  |  Leah Meirovich
Rocksbox
Retailers weigh in on the upcoming holiday period, from best sellers and promotional plans to the effects of inflation on consumer spending.

There is an air of optimism among US jewelers about this year’s holiday season. Many believe it will be as good as last year, if not better.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” says Stewart Brandt, owner of H. Brandt Jewelers in Natick, Massachusetts. “I came into 2022 hoping to have a year like I had in 2021, and I’m actually year-to-date beyond where I was in 2021, and that was a record year for me.”

Like many other jewelers, Brandt is planning to tap into the higher end of the market this season. These are the shoppers most likely to buy, he believes, and he’s stocking top-tier goods to accommodate them. “My father always said, ‘The Lincoln and Cadillac dealers are always busy because the Lincoln and Cadillac buyer always has money.’ My thinking, especially this year, is that I don’t feel like the mid-range buyer is going to be out in force like they normally are at Christmas, but the shoppers who have the money will be out, and they’ll be looking for things to buy.”

This sentiment is one that David Lampert, owner of Lester Lampert Jewelers in Chicago, Illinois, shares wholeheartedly. “I think those out buying jewelry will predominantly be the upper-mid to high-end buyers, for sure. Especially in tight economic times, it’s the people with the money who are going to be spending the most.”

Customers flush with cash are also shopping in chain stores. Signet banners Zales, Kay and Jared have noted a trend of more affluent consumers coming in ahead of the holidays. “What we’re seeing at our stores is [demand for] that mid- to higher-end tier in both fashion and bridal jewelry,” says Angie Kennedy, vice president of merchandising for Zales. “We really see the opportunity in that over-$500 to well-over-$5,000 category.”

Power of persuasion

In this day and age, it’s rare to build a business off of walk-in customers the way neighborhood stores used to. Well-thought-out and targeted marketing is often the only way to draw people into a store. How to reach them has changed as well: Where once a romantic TV commercial used to do the trick, a multi-channel approach is now a retailer’s best bet.

Tech-savvy businesses like jewelry-rental companies Rocksbox and Switch tend to do heavy marketing on their own websites, email lists and social media channels. They’re also leaning in to TikTok as a way to build awareness and appeal to the younger generation. Many independents are investing in emotion-based campaigns across social media sites like Instagram and Facebook. Signet is doing a mix of digital ads, standard TV commercials, and prominent partnerships such as sponsoring the Christmas tree-lighting at New York’s Rockefeller Center and working with the Latin Grammys.

Planning ahead for festive marketing campaigns is crucial, says Kennedy. “I think one of the things that’s most important, and [that] we continue to do, is start reaching out to the customer early on. Their purchase journey is getting longer, so you’ve got to go to them, to be in front of them earlier.”

Contending with the economy

Getting in front of customers is not the only consideration this year. Economic factors such as inflation and unemployment — the latter of which rose to 3.7% for the US in August — are likely to sway sales. The Consumer Price Index has increased by more than 8% in the past year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, pushing up the price of everyday essentials.

“Everything that’s going on in the economy always affects us,” says Caroline Hill, owner of Van Scoy Jewelers in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. “I don’t think there will necessarily be people buying less, but people may be more selective in what they buy. They might spend a little less, but they will still buy.”

Jack Carter has a similar outlook on the economy. “In terms of inflation, I think everybody feels it,” says the owner of Jack Lewis Jewelers in Bloomington, Illinois. “You feel it every time you go to the gas pump, every time you go to the grocery store.”

Last year, he notes, Covid-19 was still cutting out travel, so shoppers whose incomes remained intact were diverting vacation funds to gifting, and jewelry benefited. While travel has reclaimed a lot of those funds this year, the 2021 gifting boost offers hope that the jewelry revival will continue despite the recent economic hardships — as long as retailers prepare properly, he cautions.

“We’ve reintroduced ourselves to people who had forgotten about jewelry,” says Carter. “And although inflation may cause a tightening up, it’ll still be a strong year for everybody. However, I think it’s going to be imperative to have things in your case that are price-conscious and won’t alienate people that came in to spend a little bit less this year than they have in the past. That way, you can still be a part of their celebration.”

Bridal

Minimalism rules, cushions making a comeback

Both independent jewelers and chain retailers are seeing newly engaged couples move back to basics with sleeker, more sophisticated bridal looks, as well as traditional lines that let the center stone stand out.

“I’m seeing a real trend toward the very basic, very classic, almost Tiffany-style solitaire diamonds with a plain band,” says David Lampert of Lester Lampert Jewelers. “It seems like almost everyone is asking…for very simple engagement rings.”

Angie Kennedy at Zales has also noticed the move to a more pared-down look, but sees it as a way for customers to steer the emphasis toward the main attraction. “Think of a solitaire that has a diamond band with it, but no halo around it,” she says. “Or a halo that’s very subtle and small, a micro-halo, versus the single, double or triple halos of the past, where the perimeter is the same size as the main stone. So it’s definitely much more about showing off a center and really letting it breathe.”

And stones will need the extra breathing space this year as shoppers upsize their diamonds for the holidays. Consumers have waved goodbye to the traditional 1-carat and under, and are embracing the idea that bigger is better. “People are making an investment in their engagement ring,” asserts Kennedy. “If 1 carat was the old normal, now they’re wanting 1.25, 1.50 and 2 carats.”

While round diamonds still lead the pack, other shapes are gaining — or regaining — speed. “Rounds are probably three-quarters of what we sell, but ovals are tremendously hot right now,” says Jack Carter of Jack Lewis Jewelers, adding that pears and emerald cuts are also in demand.

Another old favorite is staging a return to the spotlight: “Cushions are making a little comeback,” reports Lampert. “I feel like they’re getting strong again.” Stewart Brandt of H. Brandt Jewelers has also seen interest in the cut grow tremendously.

Yellow gold has been having a revival of its own. Plain or diamond-studded, the buttery metal is proving popular. “What we have trending right now in engagement rings is ovals set in yellow gold,” says Caroline Hill of Van Scoy Jewelers. “I can’t tell you how many we’ve sold. It’s crazy.”

Custom

Upgrading sentimental family jewels

For organized shoppers, commissioning a piece of custom jewelry is an attractive option for the holidays. “When giving a gift, many people are looking for some customization,” says Lampert. “It’s something unique tied to the person getting it. [This way,] the value of the piece becomes much more of an emotional treasure than a financial one.”

The hottest trends in custom at the moment involve upgrading jewelry passed down from relatives, or sentimental pieces the client bought at earlier stages of life. Touches like adding a couple’s initials or a wedding date into the crown of an engagement ring are also popular.

“For me, remaking is huge,” says Stewart Brandt of H. Brandt Jewelers. “Someone’s inherited something, and they want to redo it because it’s not their style, but they want to keep some piece of it to stay close to the person it belonged to, so they might replace the stone in a more modern setting. Sometimes they want to add to a piece, like the engagement ring they bought right out of college…. Now they want something fancier, so they’re taking the center stone, matching it up with another, and turning it into a side stone and getting a larger center, or upgrading the mounting to include more diamonds.”

Gifting

Meaningful pieces and Retro-style bold gold hit home

Yellow gold isn’t just making waves in bridal. The metal is reasserting itself as the go-to jewelry gift for the season, teaming up with other trends like color and a Retro feel.

“Solid yellow-gold pieces are selling really well,” says Brad Hart, owner of Hauser’s Jewelers in Newport News, Virginia. “Gold is in the headlines right now, and it tends to make gold jewelry very popular. I see gold as being a very, very strong category, especially things like paperclip necklaces and chains.”

Caroline Hill of Van Scoy Jewelers affirms that “yellow gold — especially chains, bracelets and earrings — is very hot right now. It’s funny, people are buying things that they used to buy back in the ’80s, like rope chains, herringbone, curb and Miami chains.”

Hoop earrings, big studs, tennis bracelets, pearls, gemstones and other fashions from the decade of big hair, punk rock, and Madonna are coming in strong. But those items are getting a modern makeover, with layered strands, bright-hued gems, chunky chains, and pieces that trail down the back taking the place of more traditional iterations.

Many shoppers are also seeking jewelry with an overt emotional connection, a way to forge stronger ties with those they love. “For gifting, anything that has a story behind it is going to be popular, especially coming out of the pandemic; there are a lot of people that want to give meaningful gifts,” says Angie Kennedy at Zales. “People want to gift more often, and they’re coming up with new reasons to give. So instead of just a wedding anniversary, they are creating other anniversaries, like ‘This is a gift for when we bought our house, or when we got our first dog.’”

Jack Carter of Jack Lewis Jewelers is seeing an uptick in permanent jewelry — clasp-free items like bracelets that get welded onto the wearer’s wrist. Whether they’re plain gold chain or diamond-set editions, the store is regularly booked with appointments to solder shoppers’ sentiments into an unbreakable bond.

“People use [permanent jewelry] as a way to celebrate people that they love,” he explains. “It could be the person they’re in a relationship with, and they come in and both do it. We’ve seen several parties of three, four or five women come in and do it together, because it reminds them of their bond of friendship. It’s not something they take on and off at their convenience, it’s something they wear regularly.”

Rental

Wild, celebratory looks for the noncommittal party crowd

With parties and black-tie events filling people’s holiday calendars, this is the season for jewelers that rent out their wares. Contrary to what regular stores are seeing, streamlined, sleek and simple are not the designs of choice for this segment. Instead, renters are opting for big, playful and colorful.

“I would say statement is back, and in a big way,” says Heather Kersten, senior vice president of merchandising at jewelry-rental company Rocksbox. “So anything that’s big and bold, with a lot of shimmer and shine… Color is going to be huge, [particularly] gemstone colors — rich, deep and beautiful, like emeralds and rubies.”

Adriel Darvish agrees. The CEO of jewelry subscription service Switch has found that people tend to be more adventurous with jewelry they aren’t paying for in full. “Obviously, diamonds are classic, but they are becoming a little boring to some people. Rental really allows you to go beyond your comfort zone, try something new, different and exciting, because you know that you’re not going to be married to it. So it makes sense that rental would see a shift toward maximalism.”

Covid-19 is one factor driving the trend. “Part of it is this post-pandemic eagerness after being confined for such a long time — not just physically, but even from a fashion sense…being limited in where they could go, and therefore what they could wear,” explains Darvish. “So it’s almost like making up for lost time.”

The ’80s renaissance is another element in play, he notes — but whereas that decade saw “a lot of hot pink or bright yellow plastic jewelry, now you’re seeing…gemstones like citrine, lapis lazuli, spinel and moonstone, [done] in a more glamorous way.”

Image: Rocksbox

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