Professional Jeweler Archive: Unique Jewelry Is the True Luxury

June 2004


Unique Jewelry Is the True Luxury

It’s getting harder and harder for jewelers to make a living selling basic jewelry because

online sellers are cutting margins to the bone. Jewelers can’t even hide their mark-ups or insider terms anymore. When’s online jewelry store officially opened in April, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos told the world what the term “keystone” means in a home-page letter to explain how much lower his prices are!

Along with profit losses in bread-and-butter items, jewelers face more consumers who compare products from store to store to get the best price. As a result, many smart jewelers are turning to custom, limited-edition and otherwise unique jewelry, offered with impeccable service. They find it’s a satisfying way to make a living. Best of all, their costs remain their own business.

Many suppliers cater to this trade. For example, our Image department article, “Anatomy of a Luxury Sale,” shows how manufacturer Oscar Heyman & Bros., New York City, worked closely with J.E. Caldwell & Co. in King of Prussia, PA, to provide the pinnacle of custom service to a luxury customer who helped create the necklace featured on our cover. Also this month, senior writer Robert Weldon contributes profiles in the Metals News department about two unusual designers who sell unique jewelry on a limited basis through retailers. Finally, noted goldsmith Alan Revere highlights five talented – but not well-known – jewelrymakers he saw at the Baltimore ACC Show in February, all of whom create unique offerings. None of these artists has flashy consumer ad campaigns or sells bread-and-butter items, but their jewels are exceptional.

Smart retailers have long known how lucrative this kind of business can be. They also know it takes time, preparation, training and care to do it well. But it does have its rewards, beyond holding onto margins. Jeweler Tom Wright explains in our Adventures in Professionalism column on this issue’s back page how he and his wife, Mary, scaled back from three stores to one and refocused on custom and specialized jewelry. Within a year, they were doing as well as before – but working many fewer hours!

In fact, as brands become ubiquitous, the most discerning customers are defining luxury as the ability to have something unique. Though some customized or one-of-a kind pieces are extremely high-end, not all are ultraexpensive. This industry is full of companies offering unusual items in a variety of price ranges that will differentiate you and make it harder for customers to compare your prices with other retailers’ - online or off. You also can find many talented, trained jewelers who can create custom pieces right at the bench in your store, where you control costs yourself.

The move toward specialized jewelry isn’t a new story, but it’s taking on increasing urgency for many jewelers as the Internet extends the marketing of basic jewelry even wider than did WalMart and other discounters. Generic jewelry is no longer perceived to be a real luxury. To reach true luxury consumers, you have to offer something unique. So go for it!

– Peggy Jo Donahue

Copyright © 2004 by Bond Communications