Jewelers are focusing on custom design and fashion-forward trends to keep their customers coming back for more

The Great Recession significantly hindered the jewelry and watch industry. In 2009, the lowest point of the recession, sales of fine jewelry and watches in the United States totaled $58.1 billion, a $5.3 billion drop from the previous year.

People still were getting married, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and buying jewelry, says Amanda Gizzi, spokeswoman for Jewelers of America, a nonprofit trade association based in New York City. But they were buying less expensive or smaller pieces. When metal prices skyrocketed in 2012, the increased unit cost compensated for fewer items sold.

The jewelry industry has since rebounded, and the outlook moving forward is positive. In 2013, fine jewelry and watch sales totaled $80.1 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That was the fourth consecutive year the industry saw an increase in sales.

Locally, business is returning to normal, says Jill Lewis, owner of J. Lewis Jewelry in Bellevue. “We’re feeling revitalized. We felt a nice vibe and a nice increase in our business in 2014,” she says. “People are more comfortable making those larger purchases now.”

Steven Goldfarb, owner of Alvin Goldfarb Jeweler in Bellevue, is experiencing similar results. “Stores have been recovering, but the recovery we’ve been hearing about for four years has really just happened in the last year. 2014 was the first year with meaningful year-over-year growth,” Goldfarb says. “The good news about a recession is that it tends to clear out the weak-to-mediocre players in any industry, so consumers are left with some good choices.”

Among those choices are mom-and-pop jewelry stores. Of the 3,200 jewelers who belong to Jewelers of America, 90 percent are small, independently owned operations.

“We live in an interesting time for independent mom-and-pop jewelers,” says Gizzi. “They are on a more level playing field (with large chains) thanks to the Internet and social media, and we are seeing some jewelers doing an incredible job. They are able to expand beyond their ZIP code.”

According to Gizzi, jewelers are using savvy marketing and leveraging tools such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram to reach new audiences. Independent stores also are becoming more fashion forward, thus bringing in younger buyers they hope will become lifetime customers.

To appeal to this younger audience, jewelers must keep up with the latest jewelry trends. Gizzi says drop earrings, ear climbers, and ear cuffs are very popular. Layering necklaces, rings, and bangles are also trendy. Another big trend, especially among millennials, is custom jewelry, including bridal sets.

“Custom jewelry comes with a higher price tag, but people are comfortable spending money on something that’s unique to them,” says Gizzi.

Did you know?

U.S. jewelers are impacted by global economic factors. With the recent dramatic rise in the value of the Swiss franc, for example, the price of Swiss watches will likely increase about 30 percent in the coming months, Steven Goldfarb says. Precious-metal prices also impact the jewelry market.


Steve Allison files a piece of jewelry at J. Lewis Jewelry. Photo by Jesse Rogers