A Goldsmith’s Reflections by Richard Alan
It was the most interesting holiday season I have ever experienced in my forty years in the jewelry business. There was not a single “must have piece of jewelry” that the industry repeatedly and in an annoyingly redundant manner attempted to sway the masses to purchase for the ultimate holiday “Wow” piece of jewelry.
Year after year it was always something; Of course you remember the blitz of advertising from the diamond conglomerate De Beers, first there was the must have past, present and future diamond pendant that depicted a diamond pendant of three diamonds from large to small.
Next came “Life is a Journey” promotion that was a diamond pendant that graduated from small to large depicting the gradual journey we all experience to get where we are today.
Another holiday season passes and the next year we had the Circle of Love promotion, a wonderful array of diamonds in a round pendant, for me that piece was a huge success in my shops. Is it just me or is there an interesting pattern evolving here? You’ll notice it goes from three diamonds to seven diamonds to twenty or more. Hmm?
Then entering on stage left, and blindsiding many of us, the worst recession since the nineteen-twenties.
A holiday demand for diamonds! Are you kidding me? Most folks couldn’t afford cubic zirconium. If I bought all the diamonds people wanted to sell to me in the past year I could have paved my parking lot with them. So first and foremost diamonds are not hot in any shape, form or fashion.
I’m being brutally honest here, there are more diamond companies falling by the wayside than I have ever seen in my lifetime. A bevy of wholesale diamond sales reps call each day and some have resorted to begging me to please purchase something!!! I’m not lying, and I’m not buying! Regardless of how sweet the deal is. Which explains the lack of media blitzing, this past holiday season. No interest, no demand.
My wife and I nearly cancelled our usual European jewelry buying trip last summer, but when we considered the alternative of staying on “The Rock” and weather the oncoming and what became a memorably horrendous off-season would be considerably more painful.
So off to Europe we went, visiting family and friends and hobnobbing in our usual haunts in Holland, France, Italy and Germany and our most loved destination Mallorca, Spain.
It wasn’t all pleasure; (OK, so maybe it was!) we still kept our eyes open picking out jewelry and gifts for our two island shops, and we were oh, so frugal. Problem was, there were three overwhelming factors in achieving a successful buying trip. Both the U.S. and European Unions economies were in the commode.
The worth of the once almighty U.S. dollar was now comparable to a strand of Chinese-made plastic Mardi-Gras beads and nobody “over there” wanted them. “Sorry folks no U.S. dollars accepted here, Euro’s only! What did a Euro cost last summer? 1 Euro = $1.60 U.S ouch!
The cost of precious metals such as silver and especially gold at $1100.00 + was obscenely expensive and at all time highs. So there you have it, and I’m on a buying trip with American depression dollars that nobody wants, euro’s are expensive and an inflated metals market. Getting our money’s worth on any gold jewelry we would purchase is about as sure as winning the Florida lottery, our plight was painfully obvious. When the going shopping gets tough in Europe, the tough find a decent local cantina or pub and enjoy the native food and libations.
It’s no secret that many large jewelry establishments in Naples and elsewhere have closed their doors forever. My wife and I saw the writing on the wall two years ago, and faced facts that jewelry is a luxury and the general public will be struggling to make ends meet for how ever long it takes to come out of it and we adapted our businesses for the long haul.
Most folks won’t be purchasing anything extravagant for some time, but that doesn’t mean they will stop purchasing jewelry… there are still engagements and birthdays, anniversaries, and just because gifts and gentleman let us not forget the get – me – out – of – the – dog – house “peace offerings.”
So enough of the negative vibes! Our buying trip did reap many benefits it was the most challenging to say the least (in addition, it also added three inches to my waistline). Our years of buying jewelry in Germany and Spain paid off for us, the cutting edge designs that were predominantly done in gold years prior were now being manufactured in sterling with gold accents making the pieces way more affordable, moving on to Italy we noticed the same trend; high fashion without the high end price tag.
We prudently stuck to our plan and avoided high-end gold jewelry purchases as tempting as they were. We purchased alternative metal combinations and great designs that the Europeans never fail to deliver. Even my American designers have finally” Smelled the coffee” and are realizing they must change business as usual or die.
My best selling gold sea-life jewelry from the Hawaiian designer Denny Wong is now available in sterling silver and the same for the California designer Stephen Douglas. Even Guy Harvey is creating his works of art in sterling silver.
On a good note, I have seen signs of recovery; sales have been increasing. I’m sure it is due to my large selection of classy but affordable adornments.
My custom and repair shop is surprisingly busy, although gold is still expensive folks are having their cherished pieces repaired or restored and re-designing out of style items, I still employ two talented full time goldsmith’s, myself and an apprentice (my son Andrew), I know of no retail jewelry shop in the vicinity that employ that many.
So what is Hot? Good question, we have been attending trade shows every other month or so and there is no doubt in our minds that only the affluent can afford heavy gold jewelry and with the current economy it’s almost in bad taste to flaunt a new extravagant automobile or pricy jewelry for that matter.
The average person in the street will be purchasing jewelry made from alternative metals such as sterling silver, stainless or tungsten steel, titanium or gold layered bronze. These could be the future metals of my business. (Amazing! As a goldsmith I never would have imagined I’d be trying to figure out how to bend a piece of titanium!)
For the younger crowd, styles from the 60’s and 70’s abound that include peace symbols, skulls or tattoo art designs in pendants and rings. Lot’s of glass jewelry with combinations of organic materials such as leather with bone, shells or exotic seeds. Now that silver is the new gold you will notice that mall stores are carrying more silver jewelry than ever before. Sterling and glass bead bracelets are hot but like most fads will soon begin to wane.
On Marco Island anything sea-life is still my meal ticket, seems to be the gold jewelry that’s selling… dolphins, manatees, dragon flies, crabs and best of all silver and gold sand dollars in all sizes.
Also popular is our Marco themed designs such as my original Marco bracelets and charms and we recently launched a line of Calusa Indian Artifact jewelry. I’m proud to announce that my new collection that includes the famous Key Marco Cat will also be featured in the new Marco Island Historical Museum gift shop upon its completion.
Richard Alan is a designer/master-goldsmith and owner of The Harbor Goldsmith’s of Marco Island where he and his staff have been creating and repairing fine jewelry for over 15 years and welcomes your questions about things that glitter& reflect 239-394-9275 or HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]” [email protected]