Professional Jeweler Archive: The Celtic Tiger

May 2001

Precious Metals & Bench/News

The Celtic Tiger

The thriving Irish economy spurs a renaissance in jewelry design

It’s the fastest growing country in the European Union, with an economy that surged 10% in 2000, its seventh consecutive year of expansion. The country’s unemployment is the lowest in Europe. Its capital city is a fast-paced multicultural center with fabulous restaurants, a hopping nightlife and an arts scene that is vibrant, modern and young.

No, we’re not talking about England or France. It’s Ireland, dubbed the Celtic Tiger by economists. Yes, a country to which one-sixth of Americans trace their roots, mostly because famines and poverty swelled Irish emigration from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.

Now, all that is history. For the first time since the 19th century, more Irish are returning to Ireland than leaving, as this country of well-educated, English speaking citizens becomes a base for many overseas corporations doing business in Europe, especially in the technology and financial services sectors. And the good times have spurred a renaissance in the decorative arts that is being felt in the Irish jewelry and gift industries.

Beyond Celtic

Though most jewelers associate Irish jewelry with haunting Celtic imagery, contemporary designers are also using other motifs from myriad sources. Ireland’s giftware industry is experiencing a similar transformation. Though a majority of Americans think of Waterford Crystal when they think of Irish glass, for example, other companies and modern designs are making waves too. (see our report in Professional Insider, p. 136).

American jewelers who plan to stock Irish-made jewelry should market to lovers of Irish design as well as connoisseurs of modern design who appreciate the broader Irish artistic tradition. Both kinds of buyers are worth pursuing, say retailers in the United States who already sell to this market.

Showcase Ireland

Among the retailers at last year’s Showcase Ireland, the country’s annual trade show for traditional and contemporary Irish crafts (including jewelry and giftware), Americans bought 20% by value of all the items sold and spent far more on average than other attendees at the show. “With over 40 million Americans of Irish ancestry, there is huge potential for providers of quality Irish jewelry,” says Nicky Obernik, director of sales for Solvar, an Irish company that already has 120 jewelers in the United States carrying its line.

Enterprise Ireland, the Irish government group that promotes Irish products worldwide, invited Professional Jeweler this year to see the influence of Ireland’s boom on the jewelry and gift industries at Showcase Ireland, held Jan 21-24 in Dublin. The report on the following pages details the highlights of the show.

Enterprise Ireland also just kicked off a new marketing program called the 2001 Irish Wedding Catalog, which will provide product resources and a bridal registry service to select retailers in the U.S. See the Image section, June 2001, for details.

u Enterprise Ireland, New York City; (212) 546-0484, or

– by Peggy Jo Donahue

A Trinity collection pendant by Brian de Staic evokes the traditional and contemporary in modern Irish design. The use of bezel-set diamonds gives the ancient symbol a fresh feel.

Brian de Staic, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry, Ireland; (353-66) 915-1298,

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications