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News & Highlight


  • Interchangeable jewels are in vogue, especially with Millennial buyers, as in this pair of gold and silver earrings set with topaz by Martha Seely. (Photo: Martha Seely)
  • Garnet in its many colours is attracting attention from U.S. buyers. Shown here are green garnet drop earrings featuring green garnet, blue diamonds and emerald in 14K gold.
  • Some brands are offering vermeil creations in addition to their normal 18K line. One example is Vianna, with this rutilated quartz ring set in gold-plated silver accented with diamonds. (Photo: Vianna Brasil)
  • Classic diamond “Stella” engagement ring in platinum by Kirk Kara. (Photo: Kirk Kara)
  • Stackable rings are a popular trend. These are attached and feature gemstones and diamonds by Giovanni Ferraris. (Photo: Giovanni Ferraris)
  • Hoops take on sapphires and diamonds in this inside-out design by Jye International. (Photo: Jye International)
  • Paraiba tourmaline is a favoured gem in the U.S. Shown here is a platinum ring featuring three oval Paraiba-type tourmalines accented by smaller tourmalines and diamonds by OMI Privé. (Photo: OMI Privé)

The US jewellery market – struggling but resilient

By Cynthia Unninayar


In these troubled times, hardly a day goes by without news of another jewellery event cancelled, another jewellery store closed, or other news about the havoc wreaked by Covid-19. The jewellery industry is at a virtual standstill with confidence levels at historic lows, but it has weathered crises in the past. The stimulus package approved by the US Congress should help not only struggling independent retailers and designers, but the industry as a whole. 


The United States is the world’s largest market for luxury jewellery. According to Polygon, sales amounted US$39.7 billion in 2018, a year-over-year increase of US$7.3 billion. Yet, 2019 showed slower growth, even before worries about the coronavirus.


The highly competitive market is diverse, with more than 21,000 retailers and e-commerce companies. Stores range from small independent family-run businesses to mega-sellers generating more than US$100 million in revenue per year—which overall seemed to fare better than the independents. Aside from the successes, a number of retailers shuttered less-profitable stores or closed entirely. Even the #1 top seller Signet Jewelers (3,300 branded outlets) closed 382 stores over the last two years. In 2018, 852 independent jewellers closed shop, up from 2017, according to Jewelers Board of Trade. 


Diamonds are the backbone of nearly all jewellery sold in the United States., from bridal to fashion, from centre stones to accents. Yet, even before the coronavirus, diamond sales were slowing. According to Bain & Company, the softer demand was driven partly by lowered consumer confidence, but also by increased e-commerce that decreased the need for inventory. Profit margins in 2019 were the lowest in years. Yet, Bain estimates that the long-term outlook is positive. If middle-class growth is strong, combined with effective marketing, demand for diamond jewellery may grow by three percent annually.


Lab-grown diamonds are gaining traction with sales of nearly US$1.5 billion, representing 80 per cent of world production. Prices have stabilized to 45-55 percent of a mined diamond (at retail) and 15-20 percent (at wholesale). Concerned about disclosure, the nation’s Federal Trade Commission mandated that man-made diamonds be clearly labelled as such, and recently warned jewellers about deceptive marketing related to lab-grown diamonds.


While minor compared to diamond sales, coloured gemstones nonetheless occupy an important segment of the market. Most popular are sapphires, emeralds and rubies, with growing demand for other gems, especially multi-colour gems such as spinel, garnet and tourmaline. Blue, grey, teal and orange hues are current favourites. According to Future Market Insights, the coloured gem sector should grow about four percent over the next year.


Online sales of jewellery in the United States have seen rapid growth over the last five years, with revenue growing at 4.9 percent a year to US$8 billion. Along with consumer acceptance of online buying, the popularity of fashion jewellery websites has boosted sales. There is no denying, though, that the current crisis has seriously dampened activity. Even Tiffany & Co. postponed the release of its new T1 Collection amid the pandemic. (The luxury jeweller already closed its brick-and-mortar stores in North America.)


The major fine jewellery trends in a “normal” American jewellery market would include small diamond or coloured gemstone-studded pendants, hoop earrings, stackable rings and bracelets. While these are the mainstay of many retailers, designer jewels, especially those with unusual stones or interesting and interchangeable styles in all categories, are popular. Pearls are perennial favourites, while silver jewels are selling well. Several brands use gold-plated silver pieces set with the same coloured gems as their 18-karat line-up, bringing prices down by 70 to 90 percent. 


The largest single category bridal, with platinum the metal of choice, followed by white gold. Traditional solitaires with simple streamlined designs are most demanded. While colourless diamonds dominate, a minor trend is for coloured centres, especially sapphires.


For more individual insights, four US retailers discuss what’s selling and at what price points.  


Author, appraiser and award-winning designer, Susan Eisen founded Susan Eisen Jewelry in El Paso and Austin, Texas. Both stores carry branded, non-branded and store-branded jewellery and watches. 

Hoping the health crisis will soon pass, Eisen is “optimistic, even though the market is difficult, which means it’s necessary to advertise more and find creative ways to reach the customer.” She also has a robust online business. For bridal, “The sweet spot is US$1000 to $2500 at the lower end, and US$25,000 to $50,000 for premium customers. The mid-range is difficult.” Diamond pieces are bestsellers in all categories, but she sells some colour. “Many clients want casual pieces to wear with any outfit, although self-purchasers are not a large part of sales.” Aside from bridal, most sales are occasion-driven, i.e. birthdays, anniversaries, and special events. “Custom work is a large part of my business, both original design and repurposing.”


Drawing on her experience while living overseas, Susan Fotos created Higashi Pearls and Fine Jewelry, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She recently retired and now helps newcomers to the industry. 

Even before the crisis hit, she says, “The market was ok, but somewhat difficult, requiring us to think outside the box. It is important to carry items no one else does.” Diamonds are a “strong category since they go with everything. Stackable rings and earrings, from casual to dressy, are bestsellers for self-purchasers, which are a big part of my business.” Sweet spots are US$1,500 to $2,500 for fashion and $6000 for bridal. Most diamond pieces are bought by self-purchasers, while coloured jewels are usually gifts. “My clients consider emeralds to be old-people’s jewels.” Some vendors offer not only coloured gems in 18-karat gold, but also in vermeil. “A self-purchased coloured gem ring at $700 sells well, but this same customer will balk at spending $5000 for the same stone in 18-karat.


Located in San Mateo, California, Christensen & Rafferty Fine Jewelry was created by two long-time friends, Diane Christensen and Colleen Rafferty, who discusses retailing in Northern California.

“We sell diamonds, but our clients gravitate towards coloured gemstones, especially original, one-offs in interesting combinations,” she says. Younger self-purchasers will spend US$350 to $1,100 for both gold and silver pieces, while older ones look at US$1,800 to $3,500. “Our clientele also includes affluent executive women who will drop US$49,000 on large coloured gemstone and diamond studs.” The sweet spot for bridal is US$10,000. “We also look for unusual for ways to help our customers, like holding parties for our self-purchasers. A group of girlfriends will get together and contribute to a jewel the birthday girl wants.” Sales in these cases are US$500 to $1,200. “We also host a men’s shopping night, featuring some of the best martinis in town, when we encourage the men to plan ahead for upcoming anniversaries, birthdays or holidays. We remind them that while the jewellery is virtually free, the martinis start at about US$5,000!”


Tiny Jewel Box, an iconic multi-generational store in Washington DC, began in 1930 with clients that include presidents, members of Congress, actors and foreign dignitaries. Now under the leadership of the third generation, Matthew Rosenheim shares his insight.

Hopeful that the current situation will soon resolve itself, Rosenheim is bullish on the industry. Bridal and fine Swiss watches are the strongest categories, although fashion sold well during the last holiday season. “We cater to higher-end bridal (US$20,000 to $100,000), specializing in finely cut stones (mostly 2-5 carats) and platinum.” Colourless classic solitaires in streamlined settings are the most requested, while the halo setting is off its peak. In fashion jewellery, the sweet spots are between US$5,000 to $15,000, for mostly diamond pieces, although they “have significant sales in coloured gemstones.” Blue has been the bestseller, whether sapphires or other gems. Many of their clients are self-purchasers, “who want casual jewellery that works with a casual lifestyle.”


Although these retailers are from different parts of the country, a few things stand out. The diamond category is by far the most important for both ends of the price spectrum. While the lower and the high-end segments are doing well, the mid-range is suffering. For three of the four, self-purchasers are a major component of their store’s clientele. All four stores see a strong trend towards casual purchases, as their clients want jewels they can wear for nearly any occasion.



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