National Jeweler Network

Market Developments

For jewelers, holiday season off to strong start

By Hannah Connorton and Brecken Branstrator

December 02, 2013

New York--Retailers are more than cautiously optimistic about the holiday shopping season, following a weekend in which sales, particularly in diamonds, were strong.

Bridal and diamond studs, pendants and earrings were among the weekend’s top sellers, as jewelers interviewed by National Jeweler saw customers draw away from deals on flat-screen TVs and the latest computer equipment to invest in jewelry.

Overall, retailers say they did well and, generally, they don’t expect business to falter between now and Dec. 24.

As Moore, Okla. retailer Tim Lewis put it, “We don’t have any indication it’s going to slow down.”

National Jeweler publishes a weekly holiday sales roundup every Monday throughout the holiday season. The roundups encompass interviews with independent retailers in five regions: the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, South Central and West.

Evan James Deutsch of Evan James Ltd. in Brattleboro, Vt. says sales at his store over the Black Friday holiday weekend were up over last year.

“Black Friday is never usually a big weekend for us, but looking at the numbers for Friday and Saturday, when we were open, we were up about 10 to 12 percent over last year,” he says. “Our traffic was pretty good on both days, and we don’t really even advertise for the weekend. We’re very pleased with the way everything went.”

The jeweler noted that best sellers seemed to be pieces from the Alex and Ani brand. The store also received a big layaway over the weekend, which won’t be counted in sales until the order is made in the coming weeks, signaling a good chance of a healthy holiday.

“We’re cautiously optimistic. Our retail year has been strong up to now, and based on the last 11 months, we’re thinking that we will be up in December over last year as well,” Deutsch says.

At Jay Roberts Jewelers in Marlton, N.J., a suburb of Philadelphia, Jake Spigelman says sales were ahead of last year for the Black Friday holiday weekend and that traffic was “definitely” up at the store as well.

Silver continues to do well at the store, especially pieces from David Yurman and John Hardy, and watches also were strong sellers over the weekend.

“We’re optimistic about the holidays and we’re hoping, of course, that this year will be better than last year,” Spigelman says. “The economy seems to be a little better and there’s been a little bit of uptick in business.”

At Cumberland Diamond Exchange in Smyrna, Ga. sales were just about equal to last year, though higher-ticket items were more popular for Black Friday weekend, says store President Mark Jacobson.

Larger items that didn’t move previously, especially bigger bracelets and bigger diamonds, sold well.

Jacobson says there was a steady flow of traffic throughout the weekend, with the exception being Saturday afternoon, as big college football games captured the attention of most shoppers.

“Sunday might’ve been our biggest day, and we’re normally not even open on Sundays,” he says. “We carry Forevermark, and we got a lot of calls and a lot of questions about that brand this weekend. It was pretty popular for us.”

Jacobson says they are optimistic about sales for the remainder of the holiday season as well, as there are a number of orders on the books for the coming weeks as well as a number of orders in process.

Stuart Goodman, of Goodman & Sons in Virginia, also reported higher Black Friday sales this year, at both of the company’s stores, in Hampton and Williamsburg.

Goodman says sales were up at least 15 to 20 percent over the holiday weekend and foot traffic also was greater, with the company advertising and promoting ahead of the weekend and holding an open house on Sunday to draw in customers.

“The key is that we ran an ad and we’re doing everything to promote our store,” he says.

When asked what was doing well, Goodman says they received a lot of calls about the Forevermark brand and its “Center of My Universe” collection. Pandora sales also were strong.

“Pandora is still a shining star,” Goodman notes. “They offered a limited-edition Black Friday bead, and we sold out of them.”

Goodman & Sons is putting more focus on bridal jewelry, and he says it continues to do very well for them too.

“The government shutdown did hurt confidence a bit and, in this area, that did affect a significant number of people,” Goodman says. “I still sense cautious purchasing, but we’re very optimistic about the season and we’ll be looking for an increase.”

Engagement rings and diamond earrings were top sellers at the Diamond Vault of Troy in Troy, Mich., marking a strong start to the holiday shopping season.

“We were slammed Friday and Saturday, and Saturday was just crazy,” CEO Randy Cole says, noting that these days were busier this year than last.

Cole says the store saw more traffic late in the day Friday, as most consumers were up in the wee hours of Black Friday to hit big-box stores like Best Buy and Macy’s.

“People shop, go to bed, then get up and do it again. The early part of Black Friday changes the dynamic for the rest of the day. People were in our store shopping at 8 p.m.,” he says.

The Diamond Vault, which boasts engagement rings as its main business, is not a typical jewelry store; it has an office-type setting, offering desks for customers to sit at and an actual vault to explore.

While walk-ins are accepted, the store typically functions on an appointment schedule.

“We spend a good amount of time educating consumers about diamonds before they buy, and education is a magnet for sales,” Cole says.

Halo engagement rings have been strong at the Diamond Vault all year, with Cole noting that nearly 50 percent of the rings sold this past weekend were halos. The store also offers custom engagement rings and a 3-D printing service at no additional cost.

Diamond earrings also were strong sellers over the weekend. Customers, on average, spent in the $1,500 to $2,000 range, Cole says, but some $10,000 pairs were sold as well.

Cole says while he doesn’t run Black Friday specials the retailer does host an annual “Wine and Diamonds” party, which will take place this Thursday.

“It’s a thank-you party for our customers with very low-pressure sales,” Cole says. “Over the course of four-and-a-half hours about 700 to 1,000 people come through. Some just come for food and fun and to hang out, and we’ll get some people to purchase jewelry. We don’t try to close a lot (of sales) that night; it’s over the course of the next three weeks that we reap the benefits.”

Cole added that FireMark, the patented princess-cut diamond from Hasenfeld-Stein Inc. is the Diamond Vault’s featured vendor for the season, and he’s already received calls on the product. “The interest is very strong,” he says.

Store traffic also was “substantially better than last year” at Jeffrey Mann Fine Jewelers in Toledo, Ohio, owner Jeff Mann says.

“I think there were a fair amount of tire-kickers out--those that felt they needed to be out in stores but weren’t ready to purchase--but our business was excellent and we picked up some really good prospects as well,” Mann says.

On Saturday, the jeweler sold two 1-carat loose diamonds that were set into pendants, which Mann says is an “oddity.”

“I can’t tell you the last time we sold a solitaire diamond pendant, period,” he says.

Engagement rings sold over the weekend as well, which Mann says is not unusual for the store, adding that there seems to be a good amount of bridal interest in general.

Overall, he said, business has been spectacular all year.

“We had a record November, a record October … I’ve only had a few months this year that were sluggish and everything else has been substantially better, so at this point I can’t believe that we won’t have anything but a great holiday season,” Mann says. “My customers are very happy to come in, I have seen some old faces I haven’t seen in a while and I have a deal on the table to follow up with. It seems like people are in a really good mood.”

Saturday was the busiest day of the long weekend at Underwood’s Fine Jewelers in Fayetteville, Ark., with both foot traffic and purchasing strong and sales running the gamut.

“We had good traffic (Saturday) and it was busier than last year, so I was very pleased with those levels. It was good,” store President Craig Underwood says.

Among the stores sales this weekend were fashion jewelry, silver pieces and a handful of diamond and colored stone items, as well as bridal, including a remounting for an anniversary gift and a large diamond ring.

“Last year we had a really good colored stone year, but I don’t know how this year will shape up. I love colored gemstones so we have a huge selection, but it varies from year to year. But we’ve stocked it,” Underwood says.

Though it was strong, this past weekend is a difficult one on which to base the remainder of the holiday shopping season.

“We lost a week in the timing between Thanksgiving and Christmas and that changes things. It’s interesting because we normally have a busy time right after Thanksgiving, then it slows down. But the procrastinators aren’t ready to shop yet, they come later, and normally the worst week (of the season) is the first week of December,” he says.

It was an “amazing” weekend at Lewis Jewelers in Moore, Okla., says Tim Lewis, who co-owns the store with his brother, Glenn Lewis, who also happens to be the mayor of Moore.

“We sold lots of bridal, which we anticipated would be the case, and it was our biggest single category. We sold a lot of Forevermark ‘Center of My Universe’ pieces. And color sold well in general, for gifts,” Lewis says.

Bridal-wise, the jeweler says halos are very popular, followed by round and cushion-cut diamonds. Sales of princess-cut diamonds have slowed.

Diamond hoop earrings and diamond pendants in the Center of My Universe collection also were big sellers, although Lewis noted that hoop earrings seemed to be stronger last year.

Pearls “sold like crazy,” with the store moving two strands of Tahitian pearls out the door and freshwater pearls selling too.

Lewis says they recently invested in a full-time CAD/CAM staff member and a second 3-D printer, which gives the store “a lot of options we didn’t use to have. Now we don’t miss too many opportunities that come through the door. Those things were expensive, but they seem to be paying off nicely.”

Lewis adds, “I can’t help but project that we’ll have a significant increase in December and January as well.”

For the past three years, Sami Fine Jewelry in Fountain Hills, Ariz. has held a gold buy-back event to attract shoppers amid the post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping frenzy.

“In years past, we’ve always had a hard time getting customers in. With our location, it’s pretty difficult to compete with Black Friday,” says CEO Stephenie Bjorkman, noting that her free-standing store is neither in nor on the way to a mall.

This year, the event went well, but differently: People came in but none had any gold to sell. They were simply shopping for new jewelry.

Specifically, they sought out the Arizona amethyst and silver jewelry the retailer featured on the direct-mail piece advertising the buy-back event. The pieces were priced between $90 and $600, and Bjorkman says they sold three $600 bracelets before the weekend even hit.

She attributes to the drop-off in gold buying to the metal’s lower per-ounce price and the fact that many consumers sold all the gold they had when times were really tough.

“Now I have to re-invent something interesting for Black Friday,” she says.

Steve Goldfarb, of Alvin Goldfarb Jeweler in Bellevue, Wash., says he had a great weekend at his store but that his customers weren’t necessarily shopping for Christmas presents but for themselves.

“I am sure they were out doing Christmas shopping but they weren’t Christmas shopping with us. They were just shopping,” he says, adding that his weekend customers were primarily men.

What made the weekend even more interesting at Alvin Goldfarb Jeweler was that people weren’t buying themselves small silver gifts but rather spending between $5,000 and $7,000 on watches and diamonds. Goldfarb says he did not sell much silver, colored gemstone jewelry or pearls.

He says this strong first weekend makes him hopeful for the rest of the holiday season, barring any natural, or governmental, disasters.

“I think we are going to have a very good season. it just feels like it,” Goldfarb says. “It would take something dramatic to stop it at this point.”

Editor-in-Chief Michelle Graff contributed to this report.