By Brecken Branstrator and Michelle Graff
New York--Was it holly jolly, or just ho-hum? 

Were customers crowding into jewelry sales Dec. 21 through the 24th in search of that final, perfect present? If so, were they buying big pieces or more modest items? 

National Jeweler asked this and more Monday when it contacted jewelers in five different areas of the country to see how the final days before Christmas played out in their stores.

Read on to see how your store stacks up against other retailers in your region. 

David Rotenberg of David Craig Jewelers in Langhorne, Pa. said that last week was a good one for the store. Though traffic may have been a little lighter compared with the same period last year, sales were “very brisk.”

They made sales across all categories, Rotenberg noted, with sterling silver and diamond jewelry the standouts for the store.

“Interest in (colored stones) was stronger than sales were, but don’t ask me why. We had a lot of people looking at them, but most of them ended up buying diamonds.”

Though the store saw tickets up to and even over $10,000, the most popular price point was under $500 for the week of Christmas.

The strong performance last week helped make a difference for the store this season, which started out looking like it was going to be really slow. 

Usually, the store can close around 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve because it’s so quiet. This year, however, Rotenberg said they had the last customer walk out about 10 minutes before 5 p.m.

“People weren’t just coming in and hanging out. They were buying. And we had a lot of people coming into tell us thank you for the business and being a part of the community.”

After the week they had, he said he’s got a brighter outlook for the first quarter of 2016.

Meanwhile, at Evan James Ltd. in Brattleboro, Vt., traffic was not as good and they also saw fewer tickets than in the prior year.

“We still hit our numbers, but I found that people had less enthusiasm than last season,” Evan James Deutsch told National Jeweler.

While the warmer weather may have been a boon to some stores around the country, Deutsch said that he thinks the unusually warm weather the Northeast saw may have meant people were in less of a festive mood and not doing as much shopping.

Among those that did buy, diamond fashion jewelry between $200 and $400 was popular, as were larger diamond tennis bracelets, Alex and Ani bangles, and sterling silver priced between $100 and $150.

Steve Allen of Allen’s Jewelers in Albany, Ga. told National Jeweler that Christmas week was strong for them, bringing the season back in line with last year’s numbers, with the best days coming at the beginning of the week rather than last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve.

After appearing on a local TV station, Allen said he did a lot of business in custom-made pieces, with the most popular item being a custom cuff that retailed for $1,800 to $5,000. 

“Everything that we make here at the store was selling,” he said.

While they did sell quite a few pearls during the week, which Allen said surprised him, colored stones didn’t make up a significant part of the week’s performance. Rather, they sold quite a few engagement rings as well as a lot of Alwand Vahan bracelets and classic diamond jewelry pieces such as pendants and earrings. 

“What really surprised me about last week, though, was that people weren’t asking for discounts as much,” he said, noting that he thinks it could be because people were doing research about prices online before and were finding the store’s prices in line with what they were expecting to pay.

The store has continued to have good days since then, including Saturday and Monday, and he said that he’s optimistic that they will have a decent December if it continues.  

Bobby Wallo of JRoberts Fine Jewelry in Jacksonville, Fla., meanwhile, said that the week wasn’t significant for the store. While they did see a decent amount of people come in, most of them were shopping for lower-end items, particularly under $500.

The store is closing in mid-February as they consider finding a new location that will allow for more foot traffic, Wallo told National Jeweler, but he doesn’t think that this coming week will prove to be a big one to help the store sell inventory.

“On a scale of one to 10, New Year’s is only about a four for us,” he said.

James Alperin Jewelers in Pepper Pike, Ohio did “some business,” said owner Jim Alperin, who noted that the best-selling items seemed to be diamond fashion earrings as well as pendants.

Ring sales were surprisingly low for this time of year, he added. Among colored stones, the “big three”--sapphire, emerald, and ruby--sold well at the retail store, but that was about it for color. 

Overall, though, Alperin said that last week was slow for them, with traffic down and long periods where no one would come into the store. The earlier days of the week did better for the store than Christmas Eve, which was “sleepy.”

He attributes the store’s overall lackluster holiday season to two main factors--changing consumer tastes that have made fine jewelry less a part of their lives and increased competition from other categories, e.g., electronics.

Another Ohio jeweler, Theresia Oreskovic in nearby Avon Lake, Ohio, said both her Christmas and her year likely will end even with last year. “It’s just been really steady, but not gangbusters,” she said. 

She said that her store, Peter & Co. Jewelers, sold a “really nice mixture of product” over the holiday season--Pandora, Tacori fashion, diamonds and bracelets in silver and gold, with most customers going for pieces priced at $1,000 and under. 

It was a particularly strong Christmas, and year, for bracelet sales, which Oreskovic attributed to the continuing popularity of stacking. 

Underwood’s Fine Jewelers in Fayetteville, Ark. was “very fortunate” this holiday season, said President Craig Underwood. 

“We had some big sales come through,” he said, acknowledging that these types of sales are “hit or miss,” as in some years they come through, some years they don’t. 

This year, they did. 

Underwood said overall, diamonds sales were strong, as were sales of pearl jewelry and the store’s custom pieces. Custom, in fact, was the retailer’s biggest strength in 2015 and is something on which the store prides itself. 

He said no other names are mentioned in the store other than Underwood’s and John Hardy, the one brand they carry. In some years, the store’s decision not to carry big-name brands has been an “uphill battle.” Recently, however, the store has benefitted from its decision, as many of the well-known brands have become more ubiquitous. 

“It’s a lot more work doing that,” he said. “(But) we believe it’s the best route.” 

At Stanley Jewelers Gemologist in North Little Rock, Ark., the Esperanza Diamond, the name given to the stone cut from the 8-carat piece of rough found at the nearby Crater of Diamonds State Park earlier this year, helped to draw in holiday shoppers. 

Laura Stanley said diamond sales were particularly strong this year, though it’s difficult to say if the extra advertising done by De Beers had anything to do with it. She said she would like to think it was the store’s own local promotions that actually drew in the customers. 

She said the store is slightly ahead of where it was last November and December, which is about what they were expecting. “We were pleased with it,” Stanley said. 

“We did well,” said Steve Goldfarb of Alvin Goldfarb Jewelers in Bellevue, Wash. “We weren’t breaking records but we did well.” 

Traffic was light but the people who came in were serious shoppers and the store had three sales that were $50,000-plus; two were pairs of diamond stud earrings while the third was a “substantial” ladies’ Rolex. 

But, Goldfarb noted, he likes the feeling of being overwhelmed during the holiday season, of having so many people in the store he can’t help them all. He never felt that this season. “We were prepared to help more people than were in here,” he said. 

For the full year, Goldfarb expects his store to finish even with last year, which he considers a win in a roller-coaster year in retail.  “It’s been a very up-and-down year, months when we did great, months when we didn’t do well at all,” he said.

He added that shopping patterns in his store used to be tied to the stock market. Now, he has no idea what drives people to purchase or not to purchase.

Meanwhile, in Ventura, Calif., Debbie Fox of Fox Fine Jewelry said via email that her store had a great Christmas and also made an observation about the changing nature of retail. 

“The effect of the Internet is powerful, both positive and negative. Yelp and blogging bring people in, (but) online competition (also) creates lower margins,” she wrote. “In my opinion, the Internet will sift out the weaker independents.”

Fox also noted that the store eliminated its “Ladies Night” because it was no longer unique. “Sales didn’t drop and we were grateful not to put on a big shindig,” she wrote.

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