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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Jewelry Designers; Designer Jewelry

I happened to be looking through one of the latest Nieman Marcus catalogs a few days ago. I routinely look through them because a) we happen to get them, b) I have a little thing for shoes (as those of you who have seen pieces of mine with shoes in them can attest to) and c) because I like to see what is going on in the high end retail jewelry world. Nieman Marcus is heavily into "designer jewelers".

What, you might ask are "designer jewelers" as opposed to jewelry designers? "Designer jewelers" are people who may have started out making their own jewelry but inevitably get picked up by some big companies (either through direct marketing by savvy partners or by chance) and are forced into producing large quantities of jewelry. They routinely transfer all of their production overseas because the labor is so much cheaper and once they get caught up in the cycle that is necessary to continue to promote and sell their product, they routinely look for ways to increase the profit margins so that they can continue to grow and expand and can afford to sell their product to places like NM and everyone can make a lot of money. "Designer jewelers" are obligated to come up with new lines every season (much as clothing designers do) and there is a constant pressure to produce a new look that is still consistent with whatever their look was to begin with.

Hey, more power to them if they can do this but if you watch the progression of most of these designers you will see that they gradually dumb down their designs to the point that a) they aren't really very interesting and b) they look just like everyone else's work. It's interesting, too, how so many of them work in lockstep with each other. Remember a few years ago when circle pins came back into vogue? It was astounding to me how all of the big name "designer jewelers" came out, at exactly the same time, with a variation on a circle pin.

But as most of us know people tend to be like lemmings and follow anyone who happens to be leading at the moment so if everyone else owns a boring design, they have to have it too. I don't object to this. If you want to spend your money on something that looks like what everyone else has that's fine. What I DO object to however, is the use of cheaper and cheaper materials that "designer jewelers" are forced to use in order to keep their price points where they want them. This is particularly becoming apparent now that gold prices have gone up so much. "Designer jewelers" have routinely used low end gem materials (usually in large sizes) to accomplish this. There is a reason so many of them use large amethyst, citrine, peridot, etc. in their designs. But it seems that every year they take it to a new level.

A few years ago, rough diamonds became the rage. Now mind you, I made up pieces with diamond crystals more than 20 years ago, but they were just fun pieces, not meant to be serious jewelry (one was a space capsule that parts of came off to make into earrings). Now, however, they want you to think that they have value. The reality is that any diamond crystal of a high enough quality is going to be cut into a finished diamond. There is simply too much value there to sell them as uncut stones. So the uncut diamonds that are available are inevitably junk. Some "designer jewelers" are using large rose cut or partially cut diamonds in their jewelry that 5 years ago were considered to be industrial grade bort.

But what has set me off on this latest rant is a piece shown in the latest NM catalog that simply stunned me. They had an advertisement for a designer named Yvel in which is shown a chain (a basic commercial chain) that has bezel set stones scattered throughout. The description of the stones is that they are "natural multi color Sapphires". Technically, they probably are sapphires. But you could have used pebbles found on the beach and they probably would have looked nicer and they definitely would have had as much value because the "sapphires" (and I use this term loosely) are simply junk. They are so included that they are opaque (fine if it's a star sapphire but otherwise pretty useless), they have been badly faceted (why put a lot of facets on a stone that will never sparkle?) and are something that if you took them out of the "designer jewelry" would have absolutely no value! I would not give anyone 50 cents for any of the stones shown, nor would any jeweler who buys stones and gold from the public.

Now it would be one thing if something like this cost $50 and you could go home with a fun new bauble. Or if the pieces were truly a piece of art that incorporated an unusual design. But that isn't the case (especially in this case when the basic design has been around for a few thousand years). These items all sell for top dollar and the value is simply not realistic. It has nothing to do with any actual inherent value in the piece. Now I'm not saying that if you pay retail for something (please read my post on selling your gems) that you will get that back if you go to resell it. But you SHOULD be able to get something more than the scrap value for the gold. I can assure you that in a piece like the one shown there is no way that would happen. In reality the "designer jeweler" probably also paid next to nothing for the "gems" included in the piece.

So the next time you're thinking about buying a nice new piece of jewelry take a minute and think about whether it's something that will always have some value and if it's something you would want your children to own!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Shop Local or Bricks and Mortar vs. Internet

This past weekend my wife and I took another trip to our favorite shopping mecca, New York City. It was my birthday and it gave us a chance to visit with our older son, my parents and my sister and my new niece. This is a picture of my niece and I on this trip. But this isn't really about how cute she is (although she is) but about part of the trip and what some of it means in the grand scheme of things.

I believe in a prior post I mentioned another trip to New York and a store we happened to particularly like there: Takashimaya. This is a sort of Japanese department store although it is a fairly limited chain (I believe there is only one in the States). My wife and I have always loved to go there because they have a great little restaurant in the basement and it was always a little like walking through a museum when you would walk through the store. They also managed to cover just about everything you would see in a normal department store (clothes, jewelry, furnishings, bedding, florist, perfumes, etc.) but in a relatively small amount of space. It was seven floors but each floor was fairly small. They always had a heavy bent toward Japanese products but also managed to carry clothing and jewelry designers that were more localized. Their prices were always fairly high, but they also offered a unique product, always flawlessly displayed (read: attention to detail) and their staff was always quite helpful (and over the years we consistently saw many of the same people). One of the comments I always heard from people who had been there when I would talk about the store is how much they loved looking at everything but because it was expensive they wouldn't actually buy anything.

So it was much to our dismay that when we eating in their restaurant on this trip that we overheard a waitress (who remembered that I always drank coffee when we came, by the way) tell another customer that the store was closing (in June probably). It turns out that the employees had just been told this on the Thursday before we arrived in New York. The company was closing the store and selling the building. We were told that it was because sales just simply hadn't been good enough during the latest recession and that they were losing money. Mind you, my wife and I can't be blamed for this because we always spent money there when we went on our trips to New York. But apparently there were just too many of those lookers and not enough who would actually buy.

So what does all of this have to do with Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers? Allow me to reprint an email I recently got here:

"Hi Daniel,

I am not a "diamond person." Or at least that's what I thought until I saw one of your ads, months ago, in the Boston Globe. The rings pictured there were so beautiful that I cut out the picture, just to save. Today, I happened upon the picture again and finally visited your website. I am in awe. Your work is the most beautiful, fanciful, and creative jewelry I've ever seen.

I'm an aged hippie, turning 60 later this month, and never thought about diamonds until my son shopped for an engagement ring for his girlfriend, out in LA. The ring he settled on is beautiful, but I feel sad that he didn't find your site first.

At any rate, while I'm not in a financial position to actually own one of your rings, I wanted to let you know how impressed I am, and how their beauty, just viewed online, has affected me."

Trust me I love to get accolades from people who love what I do, BUT the reality is that I don't stay in business because of accolades. I stay in business because people buy my product. My product is unique, like Takashimaya's (in some ways more so because they are all my designs), but it is also more expensive than many other jewelry stores. I get many couples in who are looking for wedding bands and the women are looking for something unique but the gents are often looking for something simple. I offer an extensive line of basic wedding bands and they are generally better made than most others, usually made from recycled metals and they are actually hand made by ME. However they are routinely more expensive than something commercially made by machine (or overseas) that you could find on the Internet or at some mall chain jewelry store.

So the question then becomes, why should you buy it from me or another small local jeweler? Well, in my mind, the first and foremost reason is that if you want people like me to be around for a long time then you need to help support us. When you buy from a small local vendor you are supporting your neighborhood and you are helping them to stay in business. You are also keeping your hard earned dollars working in your community and not having it all go overseas to some other country. How would you really feel if you woke up one day and there was no more jeweler, hardware store, gift shop, etc. in your neighborhood? If there was no way that you could actually touch and feel the product you wanted to buy? If there was no way to try on a dozen different outfits to see which one truly looked better on you?

One of the things a lot of people are doing now is going into their local shops, being educated about what they want by the people in these shops and then going on line and buying whatever it is they have decided on and learned about from their local shop. Sooner or later though, those local shops won't be there anymore to help you with this if you don't actually shop there.

The other thing you will never get online is the personalized service that you can get from a local store. I routinely get people in with rings they have just purchased online that are the wrong size. Because of how hard it is to ship everything back and forth they end up paying me (a service I provide to my customers for free at any time) to have rings resized that they shouldn't have to.

Or they bring in the stuff and it's falling apart, because online you can never truly see if the merchandise is well made, and they have to spend a lot of money with me (sometimes as much as they paid for the pieces to begin with) to have it fixed. They are often forced to do this because jewelry is not really just about the actual metal and stones---it's about what it means. If you've been given an engagement ring by your intended, you usually don't want to give it up even if it was poorly made to begin with, because it's all about the meaning behind it.

Unfortunately, in this country, it is too often about the price and not much else. I was amused by the fact that as soon as the economy nosedived suddenly most people didn't actually care so much about environmental concerns. And suddenly WalMart wasn't the evil demon that it had been before. The problem however is that often some of the economic downturn is a self actualized event. Because everyone suddenly thought they should spend less, they did, which actually made the economy worse than it would have been. Now I'm not advocating that everyone go out and spend money they don't have wantonly. But I think everyone should take more into consideration than just simply the price. If you save a hundred dollars but in the process you end up driving a local shop out of business (which you may need later for those repairs!) what are you really saving?