By Hannah Connorton
Glen Allen, Va.--This past March marked the sixth consecutive month of weak consumer demand for fine jewelry and watches in the United States, and revised government data for specialty jewelers shows that their market share has slipped below 40 percent.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Commerce Department, sales totaled $5.2 billion for the month, a nearly 2 percent drop when compared with jewelry and watch sales figures from March 2014. 

“In part, shoppers are purchasing less expensive fashion jewelry, rather than big-ticket gemstone jewelry,” industry analyst Ken Gassman said. “Further, research shows that younger shoppers are opting to spend money on ‘experiences’ rather than ‘stuff.’”

For specialty jewelers, meaning retailers who generate most of their revenue from the sale of jewelry, the year-over-year decline in sales was greater, sliding nearly 6 percent to an estimated $2 billion. 

Gassman said these retailers reported a “double-whammy” trend in March: fewer shoppers, and a lower average ticket. 

“Despite an ongoing plethora of price-based promotions, specialty jewelers lost market share as consumer demand for jewelry shifted to discounters and department stores,” he said, noting that new data shows specialty jewelers now hold less than 40 percent of the market, down from nearly 75 percent four decades ago.

While the U.S. is the largest jewelry-consuming market globally, Gassman said the size of the market is almost 10 percent smaller than previously reported following a major revision on 2008-20014 data performed by the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

The revision shows that the market generated about $30.5 billion in sales last year, down from the $33.6 billion originally reported.

This new data also indicates that the specialty jewelry industry in the U.S. has not recovered to pre-recession sales levels, which peaked in 2007 at $30.8 billion, and that jewelry sales during the holiday selling season (November and December) were down in both 2013 (2 percent) and 2014 (4 percent), as opposed to previous reports that said sales only declined in the 2014 holiday season. 

More so, the new data shows that specialty jewelers now hold only a 39 percent market share of the estimated $78.1 billion total market for jewelry in the U.S., down from the previously stated 43 percent. 

“Based on the government’s newly revised data … we believe that jewelry sales in 2015 will be flat, at best, and could show a very modest decline from 2014 levels,” Gassman said. “Specialty jewelers’ 2015 sales will likely continue to lag, and are expect(ed) to be below last year’s levels again.”

Gassman said this means suppliers, especially diamond merchants, will have little or no pricing power and that other jewelry suppliers will need to hold prices at 2014 levels.

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