Maybe the jewelry industry isn’t shrinking, it’s changing – JCK

We’ve all seen the numbers that indicate the US jewelry industry is shrinking.

In the third quarter of 2018, the Jewelers Board of Trade (JBT) found that 226 U.S. jewelry companies closed and only 51 opened. These numbers are about the same as last year and show that the industry continues to consolidate. And yet, there may be more going on than meets the eye.

When I spoke to Portland Jewelry Symposium a few weeks ago, my presentation had similar statistics. Subsequently, Eric Braunwart, owner of Columbia Jewel House, made an intriguing remark: lately, he has been contacted by many young jewelry designers and retailers, who usually seek him out since his company deals with responsibly sourced and fair trade gemstones. He found that most of them are not listed on industry standard benchmarks like the JBT.

“We probably get two or three new accounts a week,” he says. “I would say maybe 10% of them are on JBT’s radar.”

In fact, some have not even heard of the Industry Credit Reporting Group.

“They say, ‘We’ve never heard of JBT. What is that?’ They don’t care, they pay for everything with credit cards.

Take, for example, wwakea Brooklyn, NY-based fine jewelry brand that does not have a JBT listing, although it is sold at Nordstrom and has been featured in vogue (and JCK).

Founder Wing Yau adds that getting listed on JBT “rarely happens” and she doesn’t understand why she would need to be listed.

These companies also sell in unconventional ways, says Braunwart. While some started on Etsy, they are now doing a lot of business on Instagram. When they sell in physical locations, it’s often in galleries or in their own custom space. But it seems to work for them.

“Some of them do a lot more business than me,” he says. “The one we started with six months ago. They were making a pendant and they wanted 300 stones for a 90 day supply. Now they buy 1,000 every 45 days. That’s how fast some of them grow.

They can also take market share away from traditional companies.

“We all wondered if the market would ever return to traditional brick-and-mortar stores,” says Braunwart. “But I think a lot of it goes to this new type of retailer.”

This all raises some interesting questions: We traditionally call someone a jeweler if they have an established store or site. And yet, there are clearly jewelry companies doing big business on platforms like Etsy, Instagram, and their own sites. But they don’t necessarily fit into standard industry categories. And, it turns out, some are okay with that.

Aran Galligan, owner of Seattle Jewelry Cheat Sheet and another Portland symposium attendee, listed her business on JBT after a salesperson told her he would charge her extra if she used a credit card. (Before that, she hadn’t heard of it.) Still, she doesn’t expect many young designers to follow suit.

“I would much rather pay for everything with a credit card and not have to worry about different lines of credit,” she says. “Plus you get points.”

She does most of her business online, some through Etsy, but mostly through her site. It also has a physical showroom. She says her niche – eco-friendly and affordable jewelry – has “exploded” in the past two years, so much so that she worries about oversaturation.

Her business, now six years old, started in part as a reaction to the traditional jewelry industry, she says.

“I didn’t agree with that,” she said. “I couldn’t see myself in it. I wanted to create something for people like me.

She has particular problems with how the industry sources materials.

“One of the things that really struck me at the Portland symposium was that when [attendees] talked about responsible sourcing, they talked about it from a point of view, that’s how you attract millennials, not that it’s the right thing to do. It was very insincere. Younger people want authenticity. That’s the problem a lot of young people have with the industry: it feels dishonest, very corporate. »

Braunwart says, “When you sit down and talk to these people, it’s just very different. I don’t think the industry has caught up to them yet. They don’t want to be part of the old stream. As far as traditional industry is concerned, it is a kind of underground economy.

(Image courtesy of Jewelry Aide-Mémoire)

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