By Michelle Graff
New York--The latest data from the U.S. Department of Commerce shows that fine jewelry and watch sales were up 0.4 percent year-over-year in the month of the May, hitting $7.3 billion.

It is the first month since September 2014 to show an increase in demand for jewelry at the retail level and “confirms recent economic data: consumers loosened their purse strings during most of the second quarter, despite an uncertain economy,” industry analyst Ken Gassman stated in his monthly report on U.S. jewelry sales. 

May’s gain continues the pattern of improving jewelry sales seen since the start of the year. While fine jewelry and watch sales were down 2 percent in January, they were down less than 1 percent in February, March and April before increasing in May. 

Still, Gassman’s analysis states that while the month of May contains Mother’s Day, one of three key selling periods for jewelers throughout the year (Valentine’s Day and Christmas/Hanukkah are the other two), it was multi-line retailers that drove the entire sales gain, not specialty jewelers. Multi-line retailers are stores such as Walmart, Kohl’s and Macy’s while specialty jewelers are those that specialize in jewelry, e.g., Kay Jewelers, Tiffany & Co. and independent jewelers.

Specialty jewelers’ May sales totaled $2.7 billion, down 4 percent. This marks the eighth consecutive month that their sales have declined. Year-to-date, specialty jewelers’ sales are down 5 percent. 

For June, Gassman states in his analysis that sales among specialty jewelers were “satisfactory,” not strong but not weak either.

Among Gassman’s sampling of specialty jewelers, those that carry De Beers’ branded diamond, Forevermark, have reported solid demand, with the advertising from De Beers helping to drive shoppers into their stores.

De Beers announced at JCK Las Vegas this year that it was bringing back the famous “A Diamond is Forever” slogan that helped drive diamond demand among consumers for so many years, though that campaign won’t begin until the holiday season.

Additional reports from The Edge show that diamond sales in high-volume stores ($800,000 or more in annual revenue) are growing much faster than sales in low-volume stores.

Both Gassman’s data and the reports from The Edge show that selection is key for specialty retailers--if they plan to sell it, they’ve got to have it in stock or the consumer will just go somewhere else to find it. Also key for specialty jewelers is proper sales training, especially if they want to separate themselves from the big-box multi-line merchants that sell jewelry. 

Gassman’s forecast remains the same for 2015--U.S. fine jewelry and watch sales will be flat or up 1 percent. Year-to-date, sales are down less than 1 percent year-over-year. 

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