By Ashley Davis
At Alchemy Jeweler in Portland, Oregon, owner David Iler said that oval is the most popular shape for diamonds. “It seems to be the new standard,” he said.

Portland, Ore.--In 50 Jewelers/50 States, National Jeweler interviews one retailer in each of the 50 U.S. states to find out how they are meeting the challenges of the changing retail environment.

David Iler and Laura Mapes opened Alchemy Jeweler in Portland, Oregon in 2005.

Like most fine jewelry retailers, Alchemy feels the pressure of having to keep up business on the digital front. But, unlike some other stores, they boast a staff that is dedicated to the industry.

“Every one of our staff can sketch and have been in the jewelry industry pretty much all their lives,” Iler explained. “We’re a devoted lot.”

Iler spoke with National Jeweler about their “eclectic” Portland customer and how all manner of custom design is at the heart of their business.

20170922 Oregon 1David Iler and Laura Mapes opened Alchemy in 2005 in Portland, Oregon. The 1,300-square-foot store has five employees.
National Jeweler: What’s the biggest challenge your stores are facing today?

David Iler: The biggest challenges today are all digital related, for our store at least.

Dealing with e-mails and online reviews, website building and relevance, analytics, search engine optimization (SEO), keywords, social media, vendors selling directly online. Those are some of the biggest challenges. We’re finding that we’re expected to be as good as everybody else online.

NJ: What’s the top-selling category at your store?

DI: The first is case sales of designer bridal that we had customized for our store. The second would be special orders for bridal made by our designers with our customers’ input. So it’s not truly custom, as it has been customized for that particular customer. In third place is our in-house custom designing services.

NJ: What’s your top-selling brand?

DI: Anne Sportun, Todd Reed and Temple St. Clair are the ones that really stand out.

NJ: Describe your regional customer.

DI: Portland has definitely seen a large tourist crowd come through in the past few years. The tourists are often times unpredictable. We really don’t often even know where they’re at demographically.

Otherwise, for a Portland customer, I would say their style is casual but unique. Portland is totally eclectic but very casual. Age and gender are across the board.

20170922 Oregon 2An interior view of Alchemy Jeweler, located in Portland, Oregon
NJ: What’s the most popular style of engagement ring with your clientele now?

DI: The halo style is quite popular, and we’re now seeing kind of a resurgence in just the basic solitaire, so let’s say a four-prong solitaire with minimal decoration. There’s oftentimes some customizing, like hand engraving, but it’s pretty simplistic.

Our customers oftentimes come in asking for white gold, and we definitely take them down the road of platinum for a white metal, just because the alloys of white gold can be complicated. In our inventory we probably have more yellow gold, though, than any of our clients have seen anywhere else.

The current trend for diamond shapes is oval. It seems to be the new standard.

NJ: Which social media accounts are important to your business?

DI: Instagram and Facebook seem to get the most action as far as shares or likes and interconnectivity. But rarely has that ever converted into a sale, and when I say rarely, I actually mean not yet. So we’re hopeful, but I’ve got to say it hasn’t quite panned out yet, so I’m a little confused on social media.

NJ: Do you have e-commerce?

DI: Not yet, but it’s definitely coming soon, so we’re trying to launch that well before the holidays. I’ve got about 30 days to get that underway.

I see e-commerce two-fold. There is the potential of making a sale, but it’s actually more for information purposes, so if people want to know more about the product or go in-depth with that, that’s where e-commerce really shines. And it does help in terms of SEO, and if you’re going to have any web presence whatsoever you need to build and/or create for SEO first.

20170922 Oregon 3Owner David IlerNJ: What’s the best piece of advice you’d offer to a fellow independent jeweler?

DI: I would say get really good at sketching. If you can sketch beautiful jewelry, you really don’t need to know CAD or 3-D printing or even how jewelry is crafted. If you can sketch it and colorize it, make it beautiful, put it on a photocopier and take some scissors and cut the piece out, you can put it on your client. You’d be surprised at how many pieces I’ve sold that way.

Another recommendation, and this is really critical: If you have a jeweler, then make sure they can be viewed by your customers. If you don’t have a jeweler, you need to get one. Put them in the showroom. Don’t have any separation between your jeweler and your clientele.

NJ: What’s a fun fact about you we can share with our readers?

DI: Very few people know that I was a fishing guide for about two months, but I had to give that up because I didn’t want to show everybody my magic fishing spots.

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