A Royal Engagement: Will It Affect Jewelry Trends in 2011?

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Since Prince William's engagement to Kate Middleton there has been an increased demand for sapphires, Michael Arnstein, President of The Natural Sapphire Company tells SALES-FAX NEWS

In the past, if someone didn't have a diamond as an engagement ring, it was looked at as something obscure, almost in a negative light

The retail jewelry industry can be understood as having two components. The bridal or engagement market defines retail jewelry for most of the year, with discretionary jewelry purchases being driven by the holiday season, Valentine's Day, and Mother's Day.

Kate Middleton: A New Opportunity for Sapphires

Arnstein's third-generation family business is the only Company in the world that exclusively sells sapphires, he notes. As has been widely reported in media outlets across the globe, Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton with the sapphire engagement ring, surrounded by diamonds, that had belonged to his late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. Since the engagement was announced on November 16th, the Natural Sapphire Company in New York City has seen an unprecedented demand for its Princess Diana Replica Ring, already its most popular product, Arnstein explains.

Arnstein predicts that sapphire's association with Kate Middleton could cause a major paradigm shift in the bridal jewelry market. "In the past, if someone didn't have a diamond as an engagement ring, it was looked at as something obscure, almost in a negative light," Arnstein says. A sapphire engagement ring was perceived as some as a sign that "a person couldn't afford a diamond," he comments. Because of Kate Middleton, "a sapphire engagement ring is not only universally known as a viable option, it is fashionable," he adds. "It shows refinement, at a level that can be compared to royalty," he notes.

For some grooms-to-be, weighing financial constraints and the recent economic downturn in the U.S. against a desire to make their future spouse happy, a sapphire engagement ring resembling the one worn by Kate Middleton could provide quite a value proposition. Since Prince William and Kate Middleton's engagement was announced, men have called The Natural Sapphire Company expressing their delight to be spending about half as much on an engagement ring than they would have before, Arnstein notes. At press time, the Natural Sapphire Company's recreation of the ring now worn by Kate Middleton is available on its website for $1,175; this white gold ring includes a 0.85 carat blue sapphire from Ceylon, surrounded by 12 0.35 carat brilliant-cut diamonds from Israel.

High Gold Prices: Silver's New Appeal

SALES-FAX NEWS also discussed the impact of high gold prices (approaching $1,400 per ounce) on retail jewelry with Stevan Buxbaum of Buxbaum Jewelry Advisors. Buxbaum predicts that there will be more silver sold this year than in years' past. A limitation of silver's appeal over the years has been that "it tarnishes," Buxbaum says. "People do not like the fact that it turns black and you have to keep polishing it," he adds. "They have never really come up with a way to stop silver from tarnishing," he notes. "White gold, on the other hand, does not tarnish," he explains. "That is one of the things that always makes gold appealing: it stays gold," he comments.

The higher gold price has encouraged more of a focus, in the jewelry segment, on "mixing silver with precious stones," he adds. "Before, that wasn't something that jewelry stores got into a lot," he comments.

At this time, there is also a "huge beads phenomenon," Buxbaum says, noting that this is often associated with the Danish jeweler, PANDORA Company. Consumers may purchase a silver-based wire, and add silver-based beads to make their own custom bracelets, he adds. "As you go, you can continue to add these beads until the (bracelet) is completely full," he explains, describing such bracelets as an international "fad." In this economic climate, these custom bracelets may offer various family members or friends the opportunity to make their own contributions, in the form of a bead costing as little as $25 or $50.

Media Mix Trends in the U.S.

In a changing media climate, "retailers will always find a way to adapt," Buxbaum says. "Everybody knows that newspaper readership used to be an easy way to reach a customer," he adds. As compared to years' past, today's consumers "are not reading newspapers, and are not getting circulars," he comments.

For more local or regional jewelry retailers, it has become more challenging to reach consumers through cable television than in years' past, Buxbaum says. Due to the growth of satellite dish services, "a lot of people don't have cable anymore," he comments. Advertising placements on satellite dish networks are national, and "if you are an independent and local person, you cannot afford national media," he explains.

Among traditional media channels, local and regional jewelry retailers are often limited to radio, Buxbaum notes. "Radio is a great medium, but is also expensive," he comments. A retail jeweler would need "multiple locations to justify the reach of radio," he says.

"Everyone is trying to get into the new media," Buxbaum says. "People are trying to understand how to use social media," he adds. "Everyone is focused on that," he comments. For many jewelry retailers, traditionally expensive direct marketing through postal mail has increasingly been supplanted by e-mail marketing, he explains.

Jewelry retailers have been slow, however, to embrace mobile phone marketing, Buxbaum says. There will be a day, however, where "you will be driving by the store, the phone will ring, and there will be an ad for your jewelry store," he explains. "That is going to happen, there is no doubt it is coming," he comments. "That, I think, is the new frontier," he adds.
--Jonathan Heifetz

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About The Natural Sapphire Company

The Natural Sapphire Company was founded in 1939, and specializes in natural untreated sapphires. It is the only company in the world to exclusively sell sapphires. The Natural Sapphire Company is a "start-to-finish" company, and purchases sapphire crystals directly from the gem mines.

About Buxbaum Jewelry Advisors:

Buxbaum Jewelry Advisors provides advisory, liquidation, and special event services to retail and wholesale jewelers. It is affiliated with the Buxbaum Group, which was founded in 1974 and is one of the largest appraisers and liquidators of retail and wholesale inventories in North America.

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Mary Ann Cavlin, Editorial Director
SALES-FAX NEWS
212-684-9735

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