By Shawna Kulpa
The year started out so promising.
Gross domestic product (GDP) was forecast to grow 1.9 percent, as the longest economic expansion in U.S. history was expected to continue with no end in sight. The national unemployment rate was down to 3.5 percent. And in late February, the National Retail Federation (NRF) forecast that retail sales would increase between 3.5 and 4.1 percent in 2020.
“The economy is growing at a more modest pace, but the underlying economic fundamentals remain in place and are positive,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a press release. “Consumers remain upbeat and have the confidence to spend, and the steady wage growth that has come with the strong job market is fueling their spending. The state of the consumer is very healthy.”
“With gains in household income and wealth, lower interest rates, and strong consumer confidence, we expect another healthy year ahead,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. However, he added, “there are always wild cards we cannot control.”
One of those wild cards—the COVID-19 coronavirus and the resulting shutdown of the economy—turned the year into something wilder than anyone imagined. In the first months after those rosy February projections:
Thankfully, most of those numbers started to bounce back in the third quarter, after businesses began reopening: The GDP increased at an annual rate of 33.1 percent, unemployment declined to 7.9 percent, and the Consumer Confidence Index stood at 100.9 as of October. In addition, in a recent press release the NRF noted that retail sales have largely recovered from their drop earlier in the year. However, with COVID-19 infections spiking again as of this writing (in early November), those “wild cards” still remain.
The jewelry industry has not been immune to this upheaval. Jewelry sales plummeted in the spring as lockdowns forced non-essential business closures from coast to coast. But since being allowed to reopen, many stores have reported doing sales equal to, if not surpassing, what they were doing at the same time last year.
While we don’t know quite what lies ahead for the jewelry industry in the coming year, it’s safe to assume that it’s likely to be a challenging one. The threat of another round of COVID-19–related lockdowns continues to loom and the uncertainty over a new stimulus package remains. In this special report, we highlight a few trends within the industry on which businesses can and should capitalize to help position themselves for whatever we may face.
Despite the upheaval the world has seen this year, the jewelry industry as a whole seems to have fared pretty well, at least so far.
“Recovery has outpaced expectations,” says Harold Dupuy, FGA, vice president, strategic analysis of Stuller Inc. in Lafayette, Louisiana. “The industry has come back quicker and strong. But we don’t know if it will be sustained. There’s unpredictability because of the election. And there’s a potential second stimulus package coming through that could have a positive effect on the industry.” Dupuy notes that with the election over, he expects a second package to be forthcoming.
Mark Hanna, chief marketing officer of Richline Group in New York City, notes that there was a particularly big pop in retail sales in September. “I’m not sure if it’s pent-up demand or consumer expenditures that would have gone to other areas and the jewelry industry is a beneficiary of that. But it’s encouraging in terms of the business being reported.”
Many believe that the jewelry industry is directly benefiting from the lack of traveling that consumers have done this year due to COVID-19. As a result, they have more money in their pocket and they’re spending at least some of it on jewelry.
"Jewelry is thriving in the COVID world. With people not being able to see loved ones in person, they’re using jewelry to reconnect that emotional bond." — Marty Hurwitz
That’s one of the reasons why Marty Hurwitz, CEO of MVI Marketing in Austin, Texas, isn’t surprised that jewelry has been doing well since businesses started reopening. “Jewelry is thriving in the COVID world,” he says. “There’s definitely an emotional bond created by a jewelry purchase. With people not being able to see loved ones in person, they’re using jewelry to reconnect that emotional bond.”
The industry’s recovery could also be due to the way the country’s overall economic rebound is playing out. While early on in the pandemic, economists talked of the optimistic possibility of a V-shaped recovery, where the economy would recover just as quickly and sharply as it faltered, Erich Jacobs, president of the Jewelers Board of Trade (JBT) in Warwick, Rhode Island, believes that the U.S. (and the jewelry industry) has followed more of a K-shaped recovery: some parts of the economy are doing very well, others not so much.
“There are winners and there are losers,” he says. “We’re sort of seeing the same thing in the jewelry industry. There are a large number of stores that are having banner years up to this point. But then there’s a whole set of other stores that are really struggling. And it’s not limited to the retail level—we’re seeing it up and down the supply chain.”
So far this year, the industry hasn’t seen a tremendous number of closures—as of Q3, the JBT has recorded 16 retailer bankruptcies (up just one from the same time last year), three wholesaler bankruptcies (up two from last year), and four manufacturer bankruptcies (up two from last year). But experts are quick to point out that it could still be a matter of time.
“There are a lot of businesses that haven’t closed yet, they’re hanging on through the fourth quarter,” says Dupuy. “There’s been a lot of stimulus money that propped up businesses for the short term, but we need business back for the long term. It’s going to take a while before we see the full effect.”
Jacobs believes that the lack of retail bankruptcies in the industry is predominantly a result of landlords being somewhat forgiving on the rent. “And we’re seeing some of that same behavior in the supply chain. If someone is struggling, folks upstream in the supply chain are holding off on making big changes.”
But he acknowledges that these leniencies aren’t going to last forever and, at some point, the rent and bills are going to come due. Seeing this development led the JBT to add a new pre-notification service earlier this year where companies are warned that someone is about to start collection services and they’re encouraged to try to work things out. “There is still a strong sense of community out there,” says Jacobs.
If we’ve learned nothing else from the COVID-19 crisis (besides the importance of washing our hands) it’s just how critical the internet has become, not only for doing business, but also for staying in business.
“The ability of an independent jeweler to make money is highly dependent on how well equipped they are to do business online,” says Ben Janowski, owner of New York City–based Janos Consultants. “E-commerce is going to be the key.”
Joseph Esposito, executive vice president of National Chain Group in Warwick, Rhode Island, has seen the same thing among his company’s customer base of volume manufacturers, wholesalers, and major retailers, ."Most of our customers that are the most active are the e-commerce customers," he says, noting that those same customers also seem to be the ones experiencing the biggest growth.
As a direct result of the pandemic, online shopping as a percentage of retail jumped from 11 percent to around 14 percent.
“It’s clear that those with evolved e-commerce systems or who were evolving it before COVID were better positioned,” adds Hurwitz. “It’s now critical. The industry is being forced into a modern era because of COVID. Everyone has to have e-commerce to capture business today.”
Dupuy notes that as a direct result of the pandemic, online shopping as a percentage of retail jumped from 11 percent to around 14 percent—“that’s two years of growth in a few months. Companies should be really focusing on digital technology” to avoid getting left behind.
Many analysts don’t believe that this is just a temporary blip, and that as life returns to some semblance of normal that consumers will resume their old shopping habits. According to research that Hanna has seen, “a larger number of consumers will make a large percentage of their purchases online in the future, especially those who weren’t big online shoppers before.”
How many consumers are likely to maintain their increased online shopping habits? In a recent interview with the National Retail Federation, David Wilkinson, president and general manager of NCR Retail, stated that “there are several analysts and market researchers that predict a percentage of consumers—as high as 35 to 45 percent—will maintain the habits formed during COVID-19. People will stick with what is easier and better in the long-term. Retailers that do not invest in future-proofing their infrastructure with capabilities like buy online, pick up in store, and contactless [payment] will likely lose sales and customer loyalty.”
Consider an informal analysis that the JBT recently did. It compared jewelry companies that reported on social media that they were struggling with those that said they were having a banner year despite the pandemic.
“One of the commonalities we found from the folks who were struggling was, almost to a person, they had almost no online or social media presence,” Jacobs says. “What that says is that the engagement models are changing to a certain extent.”
That jibes with the results of a recent survey by MVI Marketing, which found that 36 percent of jewelry consumers reported shopping for jewelry online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For far too long many jewelry retailers have considered online business as a side effort, one not critical or central to their core brick-and-mortar business. Companies need to understand that consumers have discovered the ease and convenience of shopping online and their reliance on it is only going to continue to grow. This also means that retailers’ competition is going to grow.
“We’re getting to the point where every retailer is competing with every other retailer,” says Janowski. “It doesn’t really matter where you are located. Everybody is competing with everybody.” He believes that those retailers who don’t have a fully developed and integrated online site and aren’t using social media effectively “are goners—they’re going to disappear.”
Companies also can’t use their size as an excuse to resist entering the digital era. As Vincent Ferrante, vice president of marketing at National Chain Group, notes, "in order to grow and drive more sales, you either need to develop a website or add e-commerce. Even small companies have to get into it to survive."
For anyone feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of needing to add an e-commerce component to their website, there is an option that may work for some retailers. Companies can consider asking their suppliers to help them with their online sales. Some large suppliers, such as Stuller Inc., offer a white-label model that allows consumers to shop on a retailer’s website but are technically accessing the supplier’s inventory. “We’re seeing a lot of that,” says Jacobs.
The reliance on online shopping doesn’t mean that consumers are going to abandon brick-and-mortar stores. But those stores will need to integrate an online component to cater to however customers would like to shop them.
Consumers have discovered the ease and convenience of shopping online, and their reliance on it is only going to continue to grow. Retailers that don’t embrace e-commerce risk getting left behind.
Janowski notes that he’s seen retail stores embracing the virtual aspect of doing business, setting up a virtual corner in a store where someone on staff can directly work face-to-face with an online consumer and show them product. “They’re having the kind of conversation you would have when walking in the store,” he says.
Companies also need to be using the internet to market and communicate with customers. Businesses really need to be exploiting their digital toolboxes, advises Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group/Werx Brands in Chicago. They should be using the internet to find and communicate with customers to get them to come into the store.
“Retailers who can schedule video calls on a website are a step ahead,” she says. “Customers can set meetings or use an instant tool to talk to someone online. Those things are working, and they’re not going away.”
Retailers also need to consider how e-commerce will be incorporated into their business. Will you ship products directly to consumers, or do you want to have a drop-ship arrangement with your suppliers, where they ship the items directly to the consumer? Will customers come to the store to pick up their item? Will you offer curbside pick-up for customers wanting to pick up at the store? How will you handle curbside pick-ups? After all, it’s one thing to offer pick-up at the curb at Target, but it’s a whole other thing to pick-up at the curb at Tiffany & Co.
Now, lest you think e-commerce and online marketing is limited just to retailers, think again. With trade shows and travel remaining question marks as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and more potential lockdowns loom, companies all along the supply chain are going to need to rely on the internet now more than ever to do business.
On a B2B basis, Hanna expects to see more manufacturers become aggressive with their websites, whether they’re offering e-commerce or not.
“The real growth has been in virtual sales presentations,” says Hanna, noting that there are a number of online platforms, such as BOSS Logics and Atelier Technology, created to specifically service the jewelry industry with conducting virtual appointments, product presentations, and even ordering and fulfillment as needed. “They help present your product to your retailers.”
Jacobs has seen this change already taking place and believes that it’s here to stay. “You’re seeing a lot of manufacturers and wholesalers that had no online presence whatsoever and now they’re jumping into virtual sales and interactions with their downstream partners,” he says. “Some of the suppliers we’ve talked to have adapted...and done it successfully. They’re discovering that where before maybe they could get five visits done in a day, now they can get 12. It’s more efficient, and it’s going to be a permanent change.”
Some suppliers are discovering that they can get more online visits done in a day. It’s more efficient, and it’s going to be a permanent change.
However manufacturers and wholesalers decide to host virtual sales presentations, they need to make it easy for their customers. Hill recommends they employ an online booking calendar, such as Calendly or Zoom AI, for ease of setting appointments. The calendar would feature all of the days and times that someone is available for an appointment. Clients can then pull up the calendar and book an appointment time that works best for them. “There’s no need to wait for a confirmation or to hear back about someone’s schedule,” says Hill.
Just like retailers, wholesalers should plan to invest in some type of e-commerce system for their website. However, Hill notes, they’re going to need a different suite of tools for their website—“Shopify isn’t going to cut it.” Whatever type of e-commerce system wholesalers use, ideally it should mimic a standard consumer-focused online shopping process, offering a clear catalog of products and services and showing them prices based on the price schedule they are part of. They should be able to shop for themselves without needing a salesperson to send them information.
“Customers should be able to log in to see the site, see the prices, and put the products in a cart and checkout or produce a purchase order,” says Hill. Those customers, she explains, should be able to place their order without making confirmation phone calls, or wait on the phone while someone does calculations.
“It’s much more interactive and self-service,” she says.
If all of this seems like a lot of change in a short period of time, you’re right—it is. But it’s what’s needed to survive and thrive in this new normal. Whether you’re a retailer, a wholesaler, or a manufacturer, “if you don’t get used to riding the electronic highway, you’re going to get run over,” says a prescient Janowski, quoting himself from an article he wrote for JCK Magazine…in 1993.
This year has been a roller coaster for many parts of the economy, including precious metals prices.
As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly spread throughout the world, the price of gold began rising. Although in mid-March the price dipped briefly to bring the metal back under $1,500, the price of gold continued to rise and eventually broke the $2,000 barrier in early August. The price has come down slightly since then but most analysts expect the price to remain high for the foreseeable future.
Bart Melek, global head of commodity strategy at TD Securities in Toronto, says that he expects gold to average $2,038 next year, noting that it’s “not great news for jewelers.”
“There’s a lot of uncertainty and volatility in the market, making investors uncomfortable,” he adds. Investors will continue to buy gold to protect against market instability.” In addition to investors, central banks will continue buying gold as a reserve. Melek notes that the use of gold in the jewelry industry has declined roughly 20 to 30 percent, but he expects that to rebound materially in 2021.
Dupuy echoes the sentiment: He forecasts the metal will remain in the mid-$1,900s to $2,050 range. “Gold is a safe haven when you think there’s a recession,” he says. “[The price] is elevated and I think it’ll stay elevated for at least a year.”
Melek expects the gold market to stabilize in the coming year.
“Once a lot of the pre-election volatility peters out, things should stabilize,” he continues. “That will get the market to believe that there is likely to be a well-placed recovery with inflation expectations moving closer to normal.”
“Right now, stability is the best word,” adds Dupuy.
Gold’s frequent partner in crime, silver, is also expected to see slightly higher prices in the coming year. According to a recent report from the consultancy Metals Focus, its analysts are expecting silver prices to head over $30 an ounce in 2021.
“A slower than expected economic recovery and still elevated unemployment rates globally will continue to weigh on the recovery in industrial, jewelry, and silverware demand,” the analysts said in the report. “This expectation underpins our base case forecast for silver, hence our belief that prices will continue to strengthen over the foreseeable future.”
Melek also wouldn’t be surprised to see silver hit $30 over the course of the year. He notes that new supplies of silver have lagged and the market will be in a deficit, as investors are expected to buy a lot of the metal. Because of that deficit and the fact that the price of silver is often tied to the price of gold, he anticipates that silver will average $27.88 for 2021.
“For every 1 percent increase in gold prices, silver should do double,” says Melek. “It’s cheap, it’s scarce, and it’s going to continue to improve.”
He also notes that, unlike gold, silver does care more about who occupies the White House.
With a Democratic administration, “we’ll likely have a pretty significant move in infrastructure spending and a reduction of the CO2 footprint in the U.S.,” he says, noting that it likely means more spending on solar panels and developments in electric vehicles. The administration also indicated that the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Agreement, which will further push the world toward more hybrid and electric vehicles. All of this means an increase in the amount of electronics being manufactured, which often are made with silver, further weighing on demand.
When it comes to platinum, Melek believes that the combination of weak supply and an expected rise in demand of it will mean an increase in the price. He predicts that it will average $1,031 next year.
“There’s not a lot of new supply coming out,” he explains while noting that demand will be increasing significantly due to new car standards being invoked in Europe. Platinum and palladium are used to make catalytic converters for gasoline-powered vehicles, and demand for gas-powered cars is rising as European drivers look to replace older, diesel cars due to tightening auto emissions restrictions.
The prices of platinum and palladium are expected to rise in 2021 as both metals are used to make catalytic converters for gasoline-powered cars, the demand for which is rising worldwide.
In addition, Dupuy notes that there’s been growing demand for catalytic converters in China as well. “There’s a growing middle class in China that’s trading in bicycles for automobiles,” he says.
That demand from the automotive industry will continue to impact the price of palladium, which Melek predicts will average $2,525 in the coming year. However, he notes that because of the high price palladium has been averaging over the last few years, he wouldn’t be surprised to see some manufacturers start trying substitute metals in catalytic converters. The most likely substitution would be to use more platinum in the mix, which would help lift platinum and modestly reduce pressure on palladium.
Palladium isn’t the only jewelry metal maintaining its sky-high price thanks to its use in catalytic converters. The price of rhodium climbed from $7,730 to $11,150 and is averaging $8,110 for the year, more than double the 2019 average of $3,605.
“Most analysts expect 2020 to end with a $9,500 average and are predicting some continuing moderate increases in 2021, with averages approaching $10,500,” says Dupuy.
Many discussions in the industry continue to revolve around lab-grown diamonds and their growing market share. While many in the industry have begun to embrace them, including Signet, Helzberg Diamonds, and the Richline Group, others have been hoping that the stones would slowly fade into the background. But one thing that’s become more clear this year is that the lab-grown diamond naysayers need not only to get used to them, but to begin adding them to their product mix.
“There are too many people who have bought too much lab growing equipment to hope it goes away,” Hill says. “Consumers are aware and are asking about them.”
Dupuy confirms that the market for lab-grown diamonds is very hot right now and says that he expects it only to get hotter. “The growth is increasing; they continue to take market share.”
61 percent of the retailers surveyed said that between 5 and 50 percent of customers ask specifically for lab-grown diamonds.
That acknowledgement is backed up by the findings of a recent survey conducted by MVI Marketing LLC and sponsored by the International Grown Diamond Association and Instore Magazine. According to the survey, 80 percent of consumers are aware of lab-grown diamonds, which is up 22 percent from 2018. The survey also points out that just 10 years ago, less than 10 percent of consumers had even heard of the stones.
“Consumers already accept lab-grown diamonds in all channels,” says Hurwitz. “The roadblock to the success of this category has never been the consumer; it has been the trade. Very tradition-bound, the jewelry trade was unsure it wanted to go in this direction. But with the bigger players stepping in and investing money and buying inventory, the rest of the industry will see the big opportunity here.” Lab-grown diamonds, he adds, are just in their infancy.
Among some of the survey’s other findings:
Interest in lab-grown diamonds will no doubt grow as they’re sold by more retail venues. They may even take off like wildfire now that Blue Nile has entered the game. The online diamond retailer recently began carrying a collection of lab-grown diamond jewelry from Lightbox Jewelry, the lab-grown diamond jewelry brand created by the De Beers Group.
57 percent of consumers indicated they would choose a larger sized lab-grown diamond ring over an identical but smaller mined diamond ring.
The trend may also get a boost from consumers’ growing taste for larger stones. According to the MVI survey, 30 percent of bridal consumers wanted 2 carat stones in their engagement ring, while 15 percent desired 3 carats. Retailers will need to meet those requirements while also keeping to consumers’ tightening budgets (about one-third of those surveyed are planning to spend $5,000 to $7,000, while 21 percent would like to spend between $3,000 and $5,000). Lab-grown diamonds might be the answer.
Janowski recommends that retailers focus on what bridal customers want, not on what you want to sell them. “We think it has to be a mined diamond because that’s the way it’s been in this country for a long time,” he says. However, if customers see a lab-grown diamond ring that is $2,000 to $4,000 cheaper than an equivalent mined diamond ring, they’re not likely going to be persuaded to purchase the more expensive stone. In fact, customers may be turned off if retailers continue to push the pricier mined diamond.
But that doesn’t mean natural diamonds are going to go away. Instead of pitting the stones against each other, Hill thinks there are enough diamonds to go around and that you don’t have to put down one to sell the other. Instead, just focus on making the customer happy.
The national discussion about race that was raised following George Floyd’s murder in February also reverberated in the jewelry industry. This past year saw the launch of several initiatives aimed at addressing race inequality within the industry.
• Earlier this year, the JCK Industry Fund announced that it was introducing a new Diversity & Inclusivity Grant. Open to all companies, organizations, and nonprofit associations, the grant will be awarded to a project that advances greater inclusivity within the fine jewelry and watch industries by supporting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) initiatives.
“The U.S. jewelry industry has always been international, however social inequality in America has made the barrier to entry quite high for some talented minority jewelry professionals,” Yancy Weinrich, chief operating officer of Reed Exhibitions USA, said in a statement. “The new grant aims to inspire and promote greater inclusivity in many aspects of the business.”
As a result of the national discussion about race that was raised earlier this year, several initiatives aimed at addressing race inequality within the industry were launched.
• In an open letter to the jewelry industry, a group of 29 BIPOC designers from the U.S. and U.K. came together and presented what they believe the rest of the industry should be doing to ensure long-term equity. Designed to start an on-going conversation, the letter called for a series of commitments from the industry, including:
Also included in the letter was a request for “the jewelry industry to contribute to this movement and recognize the vast, historical underrepresentation of BIPOC in the commercial facet of the industry.” The industry, it continued, needs to recognize that the resources it frequently uses in the creation of jewelry are sourced from areas with a majority BIPOC population, and that “for too long, you have been missing our voices in how the industry is shaped.”
In closing, the letter noted that “a swell of change is already taking place and it’s time for the jewelry industry to embrace this movement and be accountable by implementing initiatives and programs that can fundamentally affect change.”
Jules Kim, owner of Bijules Jewelry in New York City and one of the designers who helped craft the letter, says that reaction from the industry has been overwhelmingly positive. Based on initial feedback to the letter, Kim says that the group is discussing plans to offer resources such as foundational online education and access to opportunities that will be helpful to emerging designers, particularly those in the BIPOC community.
She has experience in this area. After starting her jewelry design company, Kim began fielding requests for internships and apprenticeships. Knowing that she wanted to learn just as much from the people whom she worked with as they learned from her, she launched the Bijules Incubator, a mentorship program that she created as a safe place to harvest BIPOC and LGBTQ talent in the industry.
“It’s not an internship, it’s a mentorship,” she explains. “What I give, I also receive.” But Kim recognizes that she’s just one person who can mentor only so many young designers. That’s why it’s critical, she says, for the rest of the industry to play its part in helping to nurture emerging BIPOC designers—particularly when it comes to helping them overcome what Kim has identified as common stumbling blocks.
Kim says a major hurdle BIPOC designers struggle to overcome is access—whether it’s access to gemstone sources, trade secrets, education, or even guidance. “Emerging BIPOC talent can feel alone,” she says, attributing that in part to the familial and generational nature of the industry. That lack of access can ultimately stymie a developing career.
“To establish yourself as a businessperson, you need to have infrastructure, and you have that through gaining knowledge,” she says.
There are also the financial hurdles for those entering an industry that relies predominantly on expensive materials. “If a BIPOC designer doesn’t have a budget to begin in fine materials, it takes that much longer to work in those metals,” says Kim. “The fiscal boundary is off-putting.”
• The Couture Diversity Action Council is working to launch a new mentorship program. Set to kick off in the beginning of 2021, the program will pair an industry professional with a mentee, and together they will establish what success means for them in the program.
“Those who are signing on as mentors are agreeing to what we hope becomes an organic relationship but also providing access to resources,” says council member Michelle Orman, president of Last Word Communications in New York City.
Mentors will also need to take an anti-racism training session prior to mentoring.
“People who are signing up are well intentioned, but we want to avoid any mistakes,” she says. “We want to make sure everyone is starting with a clean slate in terms of awareness and unconscious bias—it’s called unconscious for a reason. We want mentees to have a safe space.
“Our hope is that [the program is] not just a productive and informative business tool, but that it creates a great relationship,” she adds.
• In June, a group of 50 jewelry industry brands teamed up to fund a $50,000 endowment at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. Named in honor of a Black, New York City–based modernist jewelry designer active during the mid-20th century, the Art Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund will create ongoing scholarships and mentorships to support Black students attending the school’s jewelry design program.
“People of color are historically underrepresented in the jewelry industry, and our goal is to turn that statistic around—with your help—one student at a time,” reads the Foundation’s website. “We stand with the Black community and with all victims of racism. We will continue investing our time, energy, and resources to support communities that have been historically marginalized, and we will increase our efforts to fight for the systemic changes that are so urgently needed.”
The Foundation continues to accept donations of any size.
• Launched earlier this fall, the Black in Jewelry Coalition (BIJC) is the first nonprofit membership association dedicated to the inclusion and advancement of Black professionals within the industry. International in scope, it was created to serve as a resource hub: In addition to providing access to a wide range of industry professionals, BIJC plans to offer scholarship and career opportunities, resources for development, invitations to members-only events, and more.
This year saw the launch of the Black in Jewelry Coalition, the first nonprofit membership association dedicated to the inclusion and advancement of Black professionals within the industry.
For jewelry designers specifically, they want to help develop business education; create access to capital funding; assist in developing relationships with major distributors, manufacturers, miners, and gem dealers; and establish apprenticeships, internships, and mentorships for emerging designers.
In addition, BIJC will give members visibility as part of a consumer-facing directory of Black-owned jewelry and watch businesses. It will work with companies to establish diversity in their hiring practices and help to educate all segments of the industry—from retailers and wholesalers to designers, jewelry manufacturers, and watchmakers—on diversity issues.
The first year of membership is free for individuals. The group also offers corporate level memberships, with tiered fees. Each corporate membership will fund a certain number of individual memberships for emerging members of the industry.
“We are interested in working collaboratively with other groups who want to provide resources and increase opportunities for Black professionals throughout the industry,” says Nellie Barnett, BIJC communications chair and manager of media and public relations at GIA. Barnett is pleased with the response that the group has received so far.
“It’s been phenomenal to see how many people have reached out and are passionate about this,” says Barnett. “It’s a reflection of the need for change in our industry.”
Alot of things remain uncertain for 2021. The U.S. is in the middle of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases with no idea of how long it will last, how bad it will be, or whether it might mean another lockdown. Vaccines for the virus are in final trial stages but as to when any of them may be ready for mass release, no one knows. Unemployment levels in the U.S. remain high and could rise in the event of another lockdown. Rumors of a second stimulus package continue (at least as of presstime in early November) but with no mention of when one might come to fruition and what it might entail.
With all of these unknown factors it’s not surprising that no one quite knows what all of this uncertainty means for the jewelry industry. However, despite that uncertainty, no one is expecting the industry to disappear.
A recent survey of American consumers says 64 percent of shoppers will be more aware and cautious about their physical health.
“One of the good things about jewelry is that it’s an emotional-level purchase, and emotions are raging right now,” says Hanna.
Although she expects COVID-19 infection rates to be bad through the fall and winter, Hill doesn’t think there will be the mass shutdowns we saw earlier this year. Instead, the soft return of business will continue into the new year.
“I don’t think that by January 1 we’ll be back to the levels of January 2020,” she says. But she cautions that individual stores will need to do a good job of having clear protocols that ensure customers feel safe about shopping. “Don’t scare away good customers by placating people pissed off about wearing masks,” she says. “People who want to be safe significantly outnumber those who are not. Don’t fall into the trap of scaring away good business.”
(Results from a recent survey of American consumers by business consultancy EY supports the importance that retailers take safety precautions:
While we remain in the midst of uncertain times, many experts recommend keeping an eye on your supply chain—both upstream and downstream—and working to create a shorter and more transparent and diversified one.
“Supply chain is the biggest concern as a whole,” says Hanna. “Pay attention to the supply chain and wherever you are on it. Pay attention to your upstream, and help that upstream be producing to the best estimate that you can give them. It will help ensure that the holiday season stays reasonably intact.”
He also recommends paying particular attention to any parts of your supply chain located outside the U.S. There are parts of the world that are far from being back to normal, particularly India, where the bulk of the world’s diamond cutting occurs. “The supply chain is spotty globally,” he warns.
“A lot of jewelry manufacturers who outsourced their supply chain to China learned some hard lessons during the shutdown,” adds Dupuy. Use this time to identify and address vulnerabilities in your supply chain: Where are you single sourced? Where do you not have visibility? What don’t you control?
If retailers expect to maintain lower levels of inventory, it’s important that they let their suppliers know. “Everyone has been very cautious on the retail end to commit to too much inventory,” says Esposito. “But it’s a strain on the supply chain, building inventory without knowing where it’s going.”
Jacobs notes that one of the things he’s seen more retail jewelers doing is creating drop-ship relationships with their suppliers. Stores will sell to their clients and arrange to have the pieces shipped directly to the client by the supplier. “It adds some work but it reduces risk because it’s a sale,” he says. “I wouldn’t say it’s widespread yet, but it’s absolutely increasing.”
However, he does note that there is a different type of risk involved in that type of situation. Once a supplier can drop-ship to consumers, there’s the possibility that eventually they may want to sell direct to consumers, bypassing the retailers altogether. Jacobs believes that we’re still many years out from this becoming a widespread issue, but “I think you’ll see more suppliers struggle with the channel model or adopt some sort of hybrid.” He notes that it “wouldn’t have happened nearly as fast without COVID-19.”
Now is the time to think differently and to look for new opportunities and markets because in the next normal, the companies that fail to innovate will probably be left behind.
For companies that are struggling, the biggest mistake they can make is not contacting their supply chain partners to let them know they’ve hit a rough patch. “Having the difficult conversation is a lot better than having no conversation at all,” says Jacobs. “Typically what makes a distributor really mad is that they just don’t know what your status is.” He notes that by reaching out, companies can often work out payment plans.
Hanna believes that now more than ever, businesses should keep it simple. To survive, “you have to understand your business, where your profitability comes from, [and] what your goals are for the long-term sustainability of your business,” he says. “And then you have to be disciplined by focusing on…those things that above all support your business and support your people.
“Sometimes that’s hard—there’s a drive for newness,” he adds. “But focus on your core business, on your processes, on your operations, and having the ability to be somewhat flexible in where you’re spending money. The smartest people will do all of that and survive.”
For many experts, the key to surviving this current state of affairs all comes down to one word: Resilience. In a recent article on the subject, the Conference Board defined resilience not as “‘bouncing back,’ coping, or stress management,” but rather as “thriving amidst adversity.”
“I think for every industry, the new and most important word is resilience,” says Hanna. “It’s the key to how quickly you come back from all of this.
The most resilient companies are those that were more prepared for disruptions to their businesses.”
Many also believe that business owners shouldn’t be waiting or hoping for a “return to normal.” Instead of thinking about when things will be back to the way they were before, owners need to be wondering about how they can reset or reimagine their business.
“People keep using the term ‘new normal,’” says Dupuy. “There’s no new normal. There’s going to be a ‘next normal,’ which will be part of the past and the future blended into one.” Now is the time to think differently and to look for new opportunities and markets because in the next normal, the companies that fail to innovate will probably be left behind.
One part of the industry that many will be happy to see return in the new year is trade shows, even if they’re in a modified format. Although he admits that they’ve found ways of doing business and reaching out to clients without them this year, Esposito is anxious to see the shows resume. "I still see value in trade shows and still plan to continue to participate," he says. "A trade show is a good opportunity to get everyone in one location."
He thinks they’re especially critical for the newest members of the industry, who likely don’t have a lot of relationships with vendors or suppliers already. "I think it’s good for new online businesses. They’re marketing people. They have no idea of who’s available on the manufacturing side to supply them."
These are trying times for everyone. Don’t lose sight of the impact that this crisis may be having on the people dedicated to making your business a success.
Also, while it may seem cliché, don’t overlook the benefits of maintaining a positive attitude—both for you and for your business. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling down or defeated by all of the turmoil going on around us, and of feeling the need to change things up in reaction to that turmoil.
“As an industry, we tend to do a lot of griping,” says Hill. “People in general do a lot of griping, it’s fairly human. But [be] more enthusiastic about change as a driver for innovation, which can be a driver for economic success.” By thinking of change as a benefit instead of something to be endured, she says, companies can “be more relevant and prepared for whatever the future brings.”
Finally, don’t forget about supporting your staff. These are trying times for everyone, and sometimes it’s easy to get so caught in keeping your business running that you lose sight of the people dedicated to helping you make the business a success.
“Take care of your people,” says Hanna. “It’s about lives, not just livelihoods.”