2015 Year in Review

Total U.S. fine jewelry and watch sales are expected to grow about 2% in 2015, forecasts Euromonitor International, likely to reach nearly $80 billion. In 2014, overall sales were $78.1 billion, up 1.5% from 2013 (a year of above average growth at specialty jewelers and general merchandisers), according to the 2014 U.S. Jewelry State of the Market Report released by Jewelers of America in March. Sales are predicted to rise 4.8% during the next five years to reach $120 billion by 2019, forecasts Research and Markets in its Jewelry, Watches & Accessories Retailing in the U.S. released September.

With the all-important winter holidays left to unfold, the National Retail Federation forecasts a 3.7% increase in overall retail sales for the shopping season, with consumers planning to spend more than $800 on gifts, on par with 2014. While price remains paramount, consumers also want options that save time and add value (i.e. free gift wrap and shipping, gift card with purchase, price-matching). It cites greater consumer reliance on digital shopping. About 46% of holiday browsing and buying will happen online, so retailers with omni-channel offerings will benefit most. Bain & Co. expects overall year-end sales to grow 1% to 3%.

Many in the jewelry industry say the first half of the year through the JCK Show was good, but retailers have not followed through during the second half. “There’s an inventory backlog; retailers need to clear space,” reports Todd Wolleman, Color Craft, New York. “It’s not reluctance on the part of the retailer; the consumer is not carrying through. I feel people are still being very cautious. From a societal standpoint, we’ve gone through a huge period of consumerism and we’re emerging from it feeling like we have enough stuff.”

Changing Perception
While not a necessity, fine jewelry has a lot to offer as a gift in message and meaning, fashion and style, and lasting value, and Wolleman laments that people have broken the habit of buying jewelry consistently for holidays and other gift-giving occasions. “We as an industry need to get consumers back in the habit of buying jewelry!” He notes that the industry is fragmented and everyone is clinging to his/her piece of the pie, but it must be an industry effort to change perception.

This holiday season, De Beers is doing some generic diamond advertising for the first time in eight years, in addition to its own Forevermark brand campaign, cites Michael Lerche, president and CEO of Goldstar Jewellery, New York. “It will be interesting to see the impact,” he says, noting that national advertising costs a lot of money and there are few major jewelry brands that can afford it. He also believes traditional local advertising is not as effective as it used to be, and advocates online efforts must be an essential part of the mix.

But those who succeed at this new blend of marketing are evolving into it, says Kate Peterson, president of Performance Concepts, Montgomery Village, Maryland. “Don’t blow everything up and start all over again. Jewelers who are evolving are working on their website, ecommerce and mobile, doing social media outreach, and nurturing their referral business—using all marketing avenues cohesively in collaboration with their brand message.”

Jewelers describe retail traffic as off this fall, cites Peterson. “The average ticket price is up, but there are fewer transactions, fewer people buying.” But she forecasts holiday sales for jewelry will be ahead as the country is on the tail end of the economic recovery, with more self and nicer gift purchases expected.

Optimistic holiday sales will be up and Lerche expects year-end sales at least even but likely more than 2014. He cites the stock market up, wages up, unemployment low, noting that although world events have people on edge, U.S. consumers historically are not frightened from shopping. “With the holidays upon us, we won’t know how the year ended until the dust settles in January. If the holidays prove successful it makes up for any downturn. For the jewelry industry, the Christmas season accounts for 40-50% of overall sales. It’s a big gift item.”

Make Your Mark
Jewelers of all sizes realize they need to carve their own niche in the market with unique brands, collections and proprietary lines, says Robert Herskovits, MJJ Brilliant, New York. “Even the majors that have traditionally stuck to classic styles and were not especially brand-focused are paying more attention to developing special collections, and have been quick to pick up new trends in bracelet, earring and ring designs. With everyone fighting for commodity, they realize they have to differentiate. It’s a much more branded arena for retailers.”

Bridal remains No. 1, says Lerche, with diamond bridal the driving force in the jewelry industry. “Fashion diamond jewelry sales are soft, except for classic styles with a twist in pendants, studs and bracelets.” He notes that the industry needs to do a better job of communicating to women that jewelry is important.

For MJJ Brilliant, Herskovits cites classics with a twist among its bestsellers like line bracelets with different treatments that are flexible, bangles and cuffs in special tubing that can be manipulated. “There’s definitely a big bracelet push in silver and gold. Also popular are ear crawlers and jackets, and new rings in open designs with negative space.”

Top sellers for the diamond jewelry brand Tache USA, says Valerie Fletcher, vice president of design and product development, New York, include: stackable bands, especially very skinny wave and twist looks instead of traditional straight bands; men’s rings, especially fashion forward looks; insert rings in stylish designs; crosses outsold hearts for the first time, both vertical and horizontal styles; and circle pendants are trending over triangles.

Two-stone jewelry, notes Lerche, will likely be the big winner for the holidays thanks to Sterling’s new “Ever Us” national ad campaign. He believes the trend will expand beyond bridal to fashion—pendants, earrings and bracelets set with diamonds or color stones. “It’s the sentiment and messaging that makes it compelling. After all jewelry is an emotional purchase.”

In addition to its symbolism, two-stone jewelry is popular because the look is relevant and timeless, cites Maren Pfister, merchandise manager for Ostbye, Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Top trending jewelry collections for 2015 are our brilliant “2Us” two-stone fashion jewelry and Shimmering Diamonds in a variety of metals, carat weights and price points.”

Lerche also believes wearable tech/smart jewelry will make a big splash this holiday season and be a category to seize on for the jewelry industry in 2016. The Financial Times forecasted in a Nov. 5 article that wearable tech would be the big seller in the run-up to Christmas, thanks to a huge leap in public awareness about fitness trackers and smart watches.

In color, Wolleman believes Pantone’s influence is significant across industries, particularly in fashion and accessories, and as the ultimate accessory, fine jewelry set with gemstones will continue to benefit. Stones of the moment: turquoise, morganite and amazonite. The New York gem house Greenwood Group also cites other blues and greens in aquamarine, peridot and black opal.

Keeping it fresh is the name of the game, says Neil Shah, Shah Luxury, New York. “It’s been a tough market this year, particularly recently. To stay ahead of the curve, we’re doing new and creative things. A great example is a new bridal style featuring micro marquise diamonds in the gallery. We’re trying to bring more creativity in our branded lines, raising the bar on quality, doing different designs.”