By Brecken Branstrator and Michelle Graff

New York--On a weekend usually overshadowed by big-box frenzy, fine jewelry held its own in the days following--or, in some cases, on--Thanksgiving.

On Monday morning, independent jewelers generally reported a surprisingly strong Black Friday weekend, led by sales of diamond goods and luxury watches. Neiman Marcus reported strength in fine jewelry sales as well, as did Dallas department store Stanley Korshak.

Fine jewelry’s success came despite reports of lower overall sales as online retailers and early discounting diminished weekend traffic for big brick-and-mortar stores and markdowns continued to cut into profit margins. 

Jewelers can read on to see how the performance of their store stacked up against that of their peers.

National Jeweler publishes its holiday sales roundups every Monday throughout the holiday season. Reporting is divided by region: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, South Central and West.

Much of the Northeast dealt with nasty weather on Wednesday or Thursday, meaning that a theme that was common throughout last year’s holiday season popped up again this year--winter weather had an impact on sales and foot traffic

“We had really bad weather on Thanksgiving, and that hurt our foot traffic on Friday,” said Evan James Deutsch of Evan James Ltd. in Brattleboro, Vt. “That being said, we were fairly busy once people started digging themselves out, and we had a pretty good day on Friday.”

He added that the day ended up being about equal in sales to the company’s previous Black Friday performance. Saturday, however, was much better compared with last year, according to Deutsch, as was their Sunday afternoon, capping off a November that was “way up from last year.”

The store had sales in a variety of styles and price points, from custom rings and diamond studs to the ever-popular Alex and Ani bangles.

David Rotenberg, of David Craig Jewelers in Langhorne, Pa., told National Jeweler that this Black Friday weekend was “substantially ahead” of last year’s sales performance.

The store kicked off Black Friday with a flurry of activity early, with only a brief period where the sales floor died down before picking up the pace again from about noon to 4 p.m. or so, Rotenberg said.

“Usually Black Friday is not a big weekend for us, but this year surprised us,” he said, adding that though Saturday remained relatively quiet, the store saw a handful of major sales to help it ahead. “That weekend carried what a normal month would’ve for us.”

Diamond pieces were the store’ big sellers. “I’d say we probably took in 70 to 80 percent in diamond purchases this weekend, and the remaining 20 to 30 percent were in watches and colors (colored gemstones).”

Rotenberg noted that despite the successful weekend, the retailer is proceeding with reasonable caution, hoping that they have enough momentum to carry them through the rest of the holiday season.

Weekend sales for Windsor Fine Jewelers in Augusta, Ga. were up 20 percent compared with the prior-year period, Sales Manager Ryan Walsh said. Foot traffic also was up considerably on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, he added.

When asked what price points and styles consumers seemed to be buying, he noted that sales for the company covered many types of jewelry at varied price points.

The performance of the first official weekend of the holiday season has the store feeling bullish on the rest of the year.

“We have a very positive outlook for the remainder of the season,” Walsh said. “I think we will end up having a great year.”

Even though they had to compete with a major college football game on Saturday that commanded much local attention, Cumberland Diamond Exchange in Smyrna, Ga. held the line on Black Friday weekend sales this year.

Last year, the retailer had the strongest holiday performance in its 32-year history, leaving them with difficult comps, President Mark Jacobson said. Though the football game slowed traffic on Saturday, many shoppers were in on Friday, where traffic at the store was “good,” followed by tremendous traffic on Sunday despite the fact that the retailer was only open from 12 to 5 p.m.

“Because of how we did last year, it’s encouraging to know that we’re even with where we were at this point in 2013,” he said.

Jacobson noted that bridal jewelry remained the consistent performer for the store over the long weekend, as well as diamond jewelry including tennis bracelets and diamond earrings. He added that there also were a lot of colored gemstones being sold, especially semi-precious stones.

The hot prices for Cumberland seemed to be either under $1,000 or between $2,000 and $5,000.

“The heavy-hitters weren’t really out for us yet,” Jacobson said. “We also had a lot of people shopping early, so we had a lot of people (doing their holiday shopping in) late October and a pretty good early November. I think there’s still a lot of pent-up demand that will help out later this season.”

Though James Alperin of James Alperin Jewelers, Pepper Pike, Ohio saw an extremely slow Black Friday weekend, he noted that the holiday weekend has never been a big one for the store.

“It’s just not an important weekend for us as a business,” he said. “Traditionally, we do more about the last 10 days before (Christmas).”

When asked about the outlook for the rest of the holiday season, Alperin noted that he doesn’t think that the 4 percent increase that many are calling for in retail will come to fruition for the jewelry industry this year.

“I think there’s a diminishing demand for our product,” he said, noting that costume has taken a large chunk out of today’s fine jewelry market, and that as the big players continue to get bigger, the smaller businesses across the country are hurting more.

Yet the opposite was reported for Randy Cole’s Diamond Vault of Troy in Troy, Mich., who tells National Jeweler that he had a “fantastic” Black Friday weekend.

While there seems to be some backlash of late against the major retailers who now are opening on Thanksgiving evening to start the deals early, Cole said the hours are actually helping his store.

When people can go out to get their shopping started earlier, they have more time on Friday to visit Diamond Vault for their fine jewelry purchases.

The store, which focuses mostly on bridal, had a strong two days for engagement rings, posting a 21 percent dollar increase on Friday and Saturday compared with the prior-year period.

Quality, high-dollar sales marked the weekend for both Susan Eisen’s eponymous store in El Paso, Texas and Newton’s Jewelers in Fort Smith, Ark.

Kelly Newton hadn’t run the numbers as of Monday morning but, judging by foot traffic, he said Friday and Saturday were busier than the comparable period last year. (The store did not open on Thanksgiving and is open only one Sunday a year, the Sunday right before Christmas Day.)

He said they sold two pairs of diamond stud earrings that were unusually large--each stud was 3 carats--as well as two Rolexes. The store also is working on a sale involving diamond studs that are 4 to 5 carats each. Also popular were the store’s Visconti pens, which retail for $200 each.

Eisen also said diamonds were strong sellers at her store over the weekend, as the store moved engagement rings and wedding bands. They also showed a number of pair of diamond stud earrings but didn’t close any sales.

The average price point in her store over the weekend was $5,000.

“It was a little slower than we had hoped but it was quality purchases, as opposed to mass. The things we sold were high dollar,” Eisen said.

And that is fine by her. She’d rather have fewer customers spending more than more customers spending less, from both an inventory and a staffing standpoint. As she put it, “I don’t want a bargain shopper in here. They are not going to be happy here. I don’t say ’50 percent off’ when you walk in the door.”

Both she and Newton, who also notes his store holds the line on price, said the weekend has made them optimistic about the coming weeks.

“It’s going to be great, until it’s not,” Newton said. “So much in our world can change so quickly anymore.”

But, overall, he said he’s “pretty happy” with how the season has started. “The good thing about it is, it can always be worse, so I am pretty darn happy. If the last five years have taught us anything, it can always be worse.

“Thankful takes on a new meaning lately.”

Steve Goldfarb’s store, Alvin Goldfarb Jeweler in Bellevue, Wash., also was open just two days this weekend, Friday and Saturday. (The store was closed on Thanksgiving Day and is only open on the two Sundays immediately preceding Christmas.) 

Like Newton’s Jewelers in Fort Smith, Goldfarb said he sold Rolex watches--along with a Panerai and a Jaeger-LeCoultre--and diamond stud earrings as well as pearls from Mikimoto.

“I was surprised,” he said. “I expected some traffic and we had a lot of traffic. But usually they are not buyers, they are lookers and they bought this weekend.”

Another surprising element of the weekend is that many of these pieces appear to be self-purchases or, at the very least, not Christmas Day surprises. Goldfarb said in many cases, entire families were out shopping together and a few customers even wore their purchases out of the store.

He said the store did its advertising early this year, sending out a number of direct mail pieces including their annual holiday magazine and a mailer from Rolex. How the decision to advertise early will play out in the next three short weeks before Christmas remains to be seen.

But, based on this past weekend’s sales, “It makes me think more is coming,” Goldfarb said. 

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Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.