By Brecken Branstrator and Michelle Graff
New York--Most retailers reported that the 2013 holiday season ended with sales up slightly or on par with last year, though a few noted that the average price point plummeted.

A number of retailers who spoke to National Jeweler say that en route to meeting their sales goal for the season, they sold a higher volume of smaller items this year, as opposed to fewer but more expensive pieces.

Others noted that foot traffic was down even if sales were the same, which could be the result of customers researching online before going out to shop.

National Jeweler publishes a weekly holiday sales roundup every Monday throughout the holiday season; this will be the final sales report for 2013.

The roundups encompass interviews with independent retailers in five regions: the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, South Central and West.

Read on for a brief report from each region.

Christmas Eve and the day before were “two of the busiest days in the history of my company,” says Evan James Deutsch of Evan James Ltd. in Brattleboro, Vt.

“It was incredible. We were supposed to close at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, we didn’t close until almost 7 p.m.,” the jeweler says.

Deutsch says he sold “a ton” of Alex and Ani bracelets last Monday and Tuesday, as well as a lot of diamond jewelry, mostly stud earrings and pendants.

“It was a very traditional Christmas, and I think people were pretty comfortable spending in the range of anywhere from $300 to $2,000,” he says, adding that self-purchasers were in the store during the week.

Deutsch also says the day after Christmas was huge, with a lot of upsells and a few exchanges.

He isn’t sure how the holiday season will end up overall and is waiting on these last two days of the year, adding that he has two “good-sized” sales lined up for New Year’s.

It was “active” at David Craig Jewelers in Langhorne, Pa. on Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas, and a few big diamonds also sold this past weekend, President David Rotenberg says.

The jeweler says diamond jewelry, including pendants and earrings, were the hottest sellers on Christmas Eve, including a Forevermark “Center of My Universe” engagement ring. He also sold a lot of watches, with sales evenly distributed among the the four brands he carries.

Rotenberg says his two best sales last week were $10,000 each, and all of his customers were shopping for gifts--no self-purchasers.

“This Christmas was without a doubt better than last year’s,” he says. “There was more activity and more meaningful purchases. My numbers came up higher this year.

The jeweler also says he’s noticed a “huge separation” in his customers.

“This year I saw more and bigger buyers, and then there was a huge gap where I didn’t have much activity at the lower end. So I think my (holiday) success would be that I had bigger buyers, but I think the average consumer is still getting squeezed out,” he says.

Steve Allen of Allen’s Jewelers in Albany, Ga., says that weekend was flat for the jeweler compared with the same period last year, and the store is down 20 percent for the holiday season compared with 2012.

Allen notes that many of the store’s customers seem a little less comfortable with spending this season, perhaps due in part to the flux in the healthcare market as new laws begin to take effect.

“Our clients seemed to be buying pieces in the range of $1,200 to $1,500 this season,” Allen says. “It’s usually somewhere around $2,000 but it’s been much lower this year.”

In addition to the standard hot seller--diamond earrings--the store has also seen an increase in the popularity of pearls. Silver sales in general were up, though  Pandora sales slowed.

“We’ve sold a lot of silver this season,” he says. “We did well with lines that had mixed metals, especially Gabriel & Co.”

At Gause & Son Jewelers in Ocala, Fla., traffic and sales were both strong over the weekend as well as during the holiday season.

“We didn’t have any huge sales, but we had a lot of sales in the smaller to middle-priced ranges,” Jerry Gause says. He adds that the most popular price points this season have been between $4,000 and $10,000.

The store’s gold business was down, and silver was “good, not great” while diamond earrings and diamond pendants were, again, the most popular pieces for the holiday season.

Gause also notes that colored gemstone pieces under $5,000 performed well.

“I think 2014 is going to be a great year,” he says. “The economy is improving itself, despite the administration, and we feel optimistic.”

Randy Cole of the Diamond Vault of Troy in Michigan reports that sales and traffic for the store were both strong on Saturday.

“Everything was moving at the right pace, and we were able to take every customer that came in,” Cole says.

Sales at the Diamond Vault were up  for the holiday season when compared with last year. The store’s custom bridal business continued to constitute the bulk of sales.

“We’ve been very fortunate, and I can’t complain. I know some stores who can’t say the same. It’s been a tough season.”

Jeffrey Mann of Jeffrey Mann Fine Jewelers in Toledo, Ohio, says that the weekend was up only slightly from last year. He adds that sales and traffic at the store seemed “pretty normal,” noting that it was nice to get back to a regular pace after the exceptional business that the store saw the day after Christmas.

“Though we never got that monstrous surge of last-minute business that maybe I was expecting our holiday season has been pretty much dead even with last year, but is less than what I was hoping for, when I look at it realistically,” he says.

Traffic was down in December, but that is likely due to the promotional event that the store holds the month before.

“We run a big event in November to intentionally dilute the business in December. We hold a customer appreciation party that is like an open house. We offer them food and cocktails, and we incentivize making their holiday purchases earlier,” he says.

Mann also notes that winter storms slowed foot traffic this month, but adds that he’s still happy with the way the holiday season went for the store.

Forevermark was a standout brand for Mann Fine Jewelers, as well as Breitling watches. Though the diamond fashion business was also up, Mann notes that diamond bridal didn’t seem to do any better than last year.
“The people that we’ve seen have been in a good mood. They’re very happy to be out spending money and I think that they’ll continue to do so.”

The season was good, but not great, for both Colorado retailer All That Glitters and Underwood’s Fine Jewelers in Fayetteville, Ark.

At All That Glitters, gemologist Michael Steenrod says they made more sales than last year but the items purchased were more moderately priced, $1,000 or less. While no one category stood out, he says they did sell a lot of colored gemstone jewelry and more diamonds than in recent years.

Also popular were “Mountain Band” rings in 14- or 18-karat white, yellow or rose gold by local artist Steven Powell McHone. The rings feature one of McHone’s three standard mountain scenes or can be made to order by the customer to depict a specific location or event.

Overall, Steenrod says the store’s sales were up this holiday season as compared with last year. “It was kind of surprising,” he says. “Leading up (to the holiday) it didn’t seem like it was going to be that way.”

Underwood’s President Craig Underwood says his store had a good Christmas and that sales were about on par with last year, noting that, relative to last year, the first half of December was stronger than the second half.

Like All That Glitters, Underwood’s Fine Jewelers experienced a strong year in colored stones, sapphires particularly, and diamonds while pearl sales were not as strong as anticipated.

“It was what I was expecting,” Underwood says. “I was very pleased with where we turned out.”

Traffic was down but sales were up year-over-year at Butterfield Jewelers in Albuquerque, N.M.

Mike Butterfield says that customers at his store were buying “pretty much everything” and his store also benefitted from the lack of a certain event this year: a nearby store running a holiday sale featuring deeply discounted merchandise.

“That’s didn’t happen this year,” he says.

Looking ahead to 2014, he says he is cautiously optimistic, as he has been for the last several years. 

At Hart Jewelers in Grants Pass, Ore., holiday season traffic also was down but sales were the same as last year, says Tom Hart. The store sold a lot of small diamond studs and silver, engagement and pre-engagement, or promise, rings and estate jewelry.

The store made many sales in the $300 to $1,000 range and a few over $10,000 but didn’t do much business in between. “It’s kind of that middle ground that never did materialize,” he says.

Hart Jewelers will end the year slightly ahead of last year. Hart says his area of Oregon is lagging in terms of recovering from the recession, with unemployment still high, but he is hopeful about next year.

“We are all optimistic going into 2014. I think we are going to start to see things turn around here,” Hart says. “Overall, we are happy.”

--Senior Editor Hannah Connorton contributed to this report.

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