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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!

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