Exclusive: A strong finish to the season
New York--Technically, jewelers still have a few days to add to their 2012 sales tally, hoping it pushes past what they recorded in 2011.
For many jewelers, though, the big rush came last week and over the weekend, as last-minute shoppers crowded stores in the remaining days before Christmas.
Retailers who spoke to National Jeweler for the final sales report of the year weren’t disappointed. The vast majority said their 2012 holiday sales were up as compared with last year.
While sterling silver jewelry shone the past few years, a number of jewelers reported a renewed interest in diamond jewelry--bridal as well as hoops, studs and pendants--this holiday season, sparking hopes that the economic recovery has taken root.
National Jeweler publishes a weekly holiday sales roundup every Monday throughout the holiday season. The roundups are compiled using interviews with independent retailers from five regions of the country: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, South Central and West.
This is the fifth and final sales report of the season.
At Jay Roberts Jewelers in Marlton, N.J., the holiday season ended with a sputter rather than a bang, due mostly to the extra time between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, said co-owner Jake Spigelman.
“The end was not as busy as I would have liked it to be but that might have a little bit to do with the fact that we had five weeks this year,” he says.
Also contributing slightly to the slow finish was the negative news--the fiscal cliff and the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.--that, he believes, dampened shoppers’ spirits.
Overall, Spigelman says the store finished the season about even with last year, selling a lot of silver and watches. Timepieces from Cartier, Breitling, Panerai and Michele did well, as did the new “Bold” from Movado.
Big diamond sales contributed to what ended as an “absolutely wonderful” holiday season at Ralph Miller Jewelers & Gallery in Erie, Pa., says Vice President of Operations Daniel Niebauer.
The store’s customers spent more freely thanks to the conclusion of the presidential election and also as an emotional reaction to the more tragic events of the year, including what happened in Newtown and Hurricane Sandy. Niebauer says couples that had been together for years made the decision to tie the knot, and chose to mark the occasion with a big diamond engagement ring.
Also popular were diamond earrings, pendants and past-present-future pieces; basically, “Anything that had diamonds in it,” says Niebauer.
“For the last three or four years [customers have] always been price conscious. Price was no object,” he says. “It was just a really crazy season. People didn’t really want to look at sterling (silver jewelry).”
After experiencing four years of slow holiday sales, retailer Steve Allen, of Allen’s Jewelers in Albany, Ga., says business was up about 60 percent year-over-year. “I have no idea,” he says, when asked to what prompted consumers in his area to buy jewelry this holiday season. “Maybe (it’s) because they haven’t the last four years.”
He says the store was busy through Christmas Eve, which he described as a “huge” day that exceeded expectations.
Like jewelers in other parts of the country, Allen says diamond sales were the star of the season. He says they sold a number of diamond bracelets and witnessed a resurgence in the store’s engagement ring business, due in part to the closure of a nearby competitor.
“This is the first year I’ve ever really had that kind of engagement ring business at Christmas,” he says.
“Hopefully, we’re on the uptick again now.”
At Windsor Fine Jewelers in Augusta, Ga., holiday sales were up about 4 percent year-over-year, says General Manager Michael Zibman. Business at the store remained strong through Christmas Eve, except for one slow day.
Diamond studs and bridal were strong as were sales of David Yurman, which remains the store’s largest vendor overall. “That’s a huge business for us,” Zibman says.
Jeffrey Mann, owner of Jeffrey Mann Fine Jewelers in Toldeo, Ohio, says his sales are up a couple percentage points as compared to last year, which was an outstanding year for the store.
“I am really, really pleased with our holiday,” he says.
Business remained strong in the final days before Christmas, except for the Thursday before, which was rainy, and Christmas Eve, which was on a Monday this year. Because of this, Mann says he wasn’t expecting Dec. 24 to be exceptionally busy.
“I kind of guessed that coming off a strong weekend and staffed with a really light staff. I made the right decision,” he says.
The store benefitted from a number of big-ticket sales at its annual holiday party held early in the holiday season, before news of the “fiscal cliff” began to make consumers nervous. Sales of Forevermark, De Beers’ diamond brand, were strong. Lagos and Breitling also did well.
He says while the ongoing impasse over the fiscal cliff is “disconcerting” he is optimistic the government will reach a resolution moving into 2013.
In Highland Park, Ill., jeweler Jill Garfinkle, owner of Garfinkles Fine Jewelry, said she believes worries over the fiscal cliff kept consumers away from her store, where holiday sales were down as compared to last year.
“They didn’t say (they were concerned about the fiscal cliff) but I believe that is the case,” she says. “Who wouldn’t be?”
“It was very bad. When they were buying it was ... small gifts.”
Garfinkle says her best-sellers were pieces priced at $500 or less.
A major snowstorm on Christmas Day stopped Stanley Jewelers Gemologist in North Little Rock, Ark. from opening Wednesday and Thursday, but this Christmas Eve ranked as one of the best the store has ever had, gemologist Laura Stanley says.
“There were a lot more people, more than usual, spending more than usual,” she says. “Christmas Eve is usually more of a pick-up day ... no surprises, but we had six or eight big sales.”
Customers bought engagement rings, and the store also sold a $10,000 opal pendant. The most popular item, however, was diamond stud earrings, 2 to 4 carat total weight and ranging in price from $10,000 to $30,000. Items in the $200 to $500 price range also sold well, Stanley says.
A busy holiday season finished strong for Kelly Newton, owner of Newton’s Jewelers in Fort Smith, Ark.
“It was unbelievable. The whole season, it never did slow down,” he says. “It was absolutely better than last year.”
As of Thursday morning, he already had sold a Rolex and a diamond. Kelly says he typically sells quite a bit of merchandise in the days following Christmas, although a major snowstorm in the area prevented him from opening Wednesday.
Still, sales were big. Diamond studs were popular, as well as bridal. Price point-wise, Kelly says customers were spending in the $3,000 to $8,000 range.
The Christmas season had a strong finish at Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers in Los Angeles, owner Gail Friedman says.
“The last week before Christmas was good, and I haven’t done all of the figures yet but I think we’re slightly up from last year,” she says.
Diamond stud and hoop earrings were among the most popular items, as well as the sterling silver fashion line Charles Garnier. A Simon G. trunk show over the weekend brought in engagement ring and re-mounting purchases, many for New Year’s.
“It was a successful Christmas, even though it gets more stressful every year,” Friedman says.
Christmas was busier than last year at Alvin Goldfarb Jeweler in Bellevue, Wash., “but in a very organized way--we didn’t have rushes where we couldn’t help everyone, we took care of everyone. It was a very enjoyable Christmas,” owner Steve Goldfarb says.
Diamond jewelry was the most popular category at the store.
“Watches were strong in the beginning and that didn’t stop, but jewelry started taking over,” Goldfarb says. “Diamond bracelets, bangles, cuff styles, earrings, upgrades ... We did a few cognac-colored diamonds and black diamonds, but it was mostly white (diamonds).”
The jeweler said customers were behaving as if they weren’t worried about the economy. Items in the $2,500 to $7,500 range sold well, but many people bought $1,000 items too.