With travel, jewellery’s biggest rival out of the question, and Americans reportedly adopting a ‘treat themselves’ attitude to cope with staying at home, many jewellers are experiencing robust business.
In the United States, The National Retail Federation expects overall holiday period (Nov 1-Dec 31, 2020) sales this year to increase between 3.6% and 5.2% (from 2019) to between $755.3 million and $766.7 million, despite record unemployment.
The number of people shopping in-store and online for the recent Thanksgiving Weekend was 186.4 million, down from a robust 189.6 million in 2019. Online-only shoppers increased by 44% for the weekend, to a total of 95.7 million, it stated.
In the first 10 months of 2020, retail sales (excluding gas, auto and food services) increased by 6.4% from the year earlier, according to the National Retail Federation’s analysis of US Census Bureau data. It predicts that 2020 could become one of the best years in the overall retail sector in the past 20 years.
Splurging at luxury chains like Neiman Marcus Group Inc. and Saks Fifth Avenue to Macy’s Inc. and Signet Jewelers Ltd. is one trend that retailers note.
When it comes to jewellery, a recent New York Times report suggested diamonds and the sale of engagement rings has helped fuel US sales. The paper quoted Israel-based diamond analyst Edahn Golan who said that retail jewellery sales grew by $1 billion in the period June to August compared to 2019. Sales had previously plummeted by $3.8 billion in March and April when shops closed, he said.
To get a feel for the Thanksgiving period, Solitaire International spoke with a number of independent retailers and majors such as the Pandora Group.
Michael Karaman, owner of the Ohio-based diamond dealers, James Free Jewelers, reported that over the Thanksgiving weekend, loose diamonds (2.50 carats and up) Rolex, Patek Philippe, diamond studs, and branded products, including Roberto Coin, Yurman, Mikimoto, and Gucci, sold.
“We’re really keeping our eye on what is selling in our market and we have a very strong web presence. Sales are up this year,” he told Solitaire.
As for Indian jewellery he said: “We do buy loose diamonds directly from India. This category is doing exceptionally well.”
Founded in 1926, London Jewelers has six stores on the East Coast, including Manhattan and The Hamptons. Scott Saunders, Senior VP-Business Development told Solitaire: “We saw sales across the board in watches and jewellery. Brand sales such as Rolex, Van Cleef and Arpels and Cartier led the way for Thanksgiving. Overall, business was very strong and quite similar to last year,” he added. “Sales have been good since the reopening in June, and we are very pleased with the support of our clients and community.”
As for Indian jewellery, he added: “We do have products from a few Indian suppliers and that has always been an important part of our private label collections. Trends veer towards heritage brands and then on the fun/fashion side, we are seeing the trend in layering of multiple necklaces with charms and baubles dangling from them,” he said.
Lux Bond & Green is a small family-owned and operated retail jeweller in Connecticut and Masachussetes with six store locations. In its fifth generation, it is the oldest continuously operating family jeweller in New England.
John Green, President and CEO, told Solitaire that over the Thanksgiving weekend, “Traffic was better than expected, but it’s never really a great weekend for us as it’s a mall, and an electronic and family weekend.”
He added: “The weather was good, and we had a lot of shoppers for themselves and not a lot of holiday shopping. The watch and diamond business continues to thrive during these times, and we made several engagement ring and diamond stud earring sales. Units were 2% ahead and business and about 10% ahead of 2019. The months that we have been open the entire month have all shown growth year-over-year.”
Indian jewellery is part of the line-up: “We have been selling jewellery made in India since the 1980s. It is part of our overall merchandising, but we don’t designate what is made in other countries except the USA, Italy and Germany,” he said. As for trends, he added: “The only trends are that the diamond basic business has been strong and fashion more challenging.”
Melissa Geiser of Stanley Korshak in Dallas, “We have been selling casual diamond earrings and diamond chains with pendants – easy-to-wear casual pieces. November was a tough month during the election and was down compared to last year, but sales overall this year (year to date) were better than expected. After the initial drop in March and April, sales started to increase and track flat to last year. We are ahead for the moment in December, but need to finish these last two-plus weeks strong to maintain the lead.
“I sell several Indian brands and they are doing okay. One less expensive collection that has a lot of colour is having a great season,” Geiser said. As for trends, she noted, “Smaller earrings that are “mask friendly” are doing well. Important diamond earrings that are worn “casual”, diamond riviera necklace worn in a layered look with several pendants. Pendants, pendants and more pendants, plus coloured enamel has been strong.
Craig Underwood, President of Underwoods Fine Jewelers in Fayetteville, Arkansas, said: “Diamonds and diamond jewellery have remained strong for us as well as bridal and anniversary merchandise. We had an extraordinarily strong November with a considerable increase over last year. A key reason was due to larger diamond sales. Due to Covid, couples have not been able to travel for significant gift occasions (like major birthdays or anniversaries) so people have gravitated to jewellery. In addition, people are not dining out as much and are finding they have more disposable income available this year.”
How did this compare to previous years? “While diamonds and diamond jewellery have always been a strong category for us, this year seemed to persuade people to consider larger diamonds than in the past,” he said, adding, “We feel very fortunate to have had such a good year this year. Each of the past two years we have seen double-digit increases over the previous year. Even without Covid we were concerned about hitting our numbers,” he said. “And then with the onset of the pandemic, we knew we had an even bigger mountain to climb. Fortunately, we have been able to post good numbers through the year and we are ahead of last year. With less than a month to go, we are optimistic we will finish strong,” he said.
Do you sell any Indian jewelry and if so, how is it doing? “Yes, we do sell Indian jewellery. Interestingly, just today I received in the mail from India a custom aquamarine necklace I’ve been working on for a customer. The necklace features 48 oval aquamarine gemstones with each aquamarine custom-cut into a 7×5 tablet style briolette. The diamonds used are DEF/VS, ideally proportioned goods. The necklace is a Christmas gift for an upcoming wedding. Aquamarine was selected because it is the birthstone of the bride’s mother. It’s a stunning piece.”
Underwood mentioned that the biggest trend among customers is a desire to have a piece of custom-made jewellery. “We have seen the number of “custom design” orders increase exponentially. As a product category, custom design work can be more difficult for retail stores to navigate, but if done properly the results can be very rewarding,” he said.
Pandora Group has over 7,800 points of sale in 100 countries. A company spokesperson, who did not wish to be named, responded to Solitaire’s questions. “Business has been developing positively through Thanksgiving this year. Pandora products are discretionary items with a high share of business being gifting. We see signs that gifting is becoming more meaningful during the pandemic, as consumer spending has shifted away from travelling, fine-dining and night-life. Humans want to be surrounded by things that are expressive, beautiful and unchanging, a sentiment that is perhaps magnified during times of uncertainty.
“The global Pandora business experienced positive growth for the whole of November where the Thanksgiving and Black Friday week comprises the far largest trading period. Not surprisingly, the online sales comprised a larger share of business this year and was the driver behind the positive growth in November. Sales in physical stores declined in the month of November, impacted by Covid-19 restrictions including temporary store closures, reduced opening hours and social distancing guidelines.”
“The Thanksgiving week is usually a significant peak trading period and this year, we have stretched the trading period over more weeks to flatten the peak and make sure that social distancing and safety in our stores is a priority. This entails that Pandora has been more promotional throughout the month of November and among others held promotions in the US such as every Friday is Black Friday, throughout the entire month.”
“The primary market challenge is imposed by the external environment and particularly Covid-19 which is still very uncertain.. But we are prepared. The most important thing for us is to create a safe environment for employees and customers and a great shopping experience despite the pandemic.”