In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic stunted retail’s growth virtually overnight. But to nearly everyone’s surprise, the lockdowns that rippled across the country soon after led to major growth in online shopping sales. And soon it became clear that fine jewelry was going to be one of the categories, along with patio furniture and personal electronics, that would benefit from millions of Americans banished to their homes.
Ultimately, the 2020 holiday season felt shaky for retailers (mainly due to mask-wearing and other safety protocols) but most saw sales soar. Now, a year later, we’re checking in with a handful of fine jewelry retailers to gauge how they’re feeling, and what they’re anticipating for the upcoming holiday selling season.
Many reported record sales over the summer—demand for luxury watches, in particular, was and is still off the charts—and for some, expectations for the coming season are sky-high.
“I don’t know what COVID did, but it made some people very rich,” says Van Alexander, CEO and owner of Alexander’s Jewelers in Texarcana, Texas. “Customers came out of the woodwork.” Demand for Rolex watches, in particular, is at a historic high for his store. “I’ve been in this business 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like it. The demand is insane. It’s like if you throw food at carps and the feeding frenzy creates bubbles. Get a Rolex in and 19 people want it.”
Already on pace to beat last year’s record sales year, Alexander is expecting the store to ring in a blockbuster season.
In Washington, D.C., fine jewelry store Tiny Jewel Box also can’t keep Rolex styles in stock. “If Rolex wanted to sell me 1,000 watches, I’d say ‘yes’,” said Jim Rosenheim, the company’s director. “And I’d still sell them in a matter of days.” The store has also done well with diamond earrings, diamond pendants, and diamond bracelets—pretty much anything you can throw on with a t-shirt and jeans.
Unsurprisingly, the demand for formal event jewelry isn’t there this year. Rosenheim says he’s spent time finding out why his business has been “crazy good,” as he puts it, and he believes it boils down to people not spending money on vacations, or on dining out like they did in the before times. Still, they want to reward themselves for working hard.
There’s also been an uptick in engagements during the pandemic, so bridal jewelry sales have been super-strong across the board.
Kaeleigh Testwuide, founder and owner of The Diamond Reserve in Denver, said her six-year-old custom jewelry business was hopping last year, particularly with requests for engagement rings. And overall, “We have doubled in sales since last year,” she reports. “We sell on average three to five engagement rings per day.”
Young Denver professionals who haven’t been able to spend money on travel, concerts, or other big celebrations, are investing in yellow gold jewelry, lab-grown diamonds and oval-shaped natural diamonds, she reports, adding that the store doesn’t require vaccination or masks, but that its by-appointment-only business model helps keep crowds at bay. Testwuide fully expects to exceed last year’s holiday sales this coming season, noting, “We’re gearing up for a very, very busy time.”
Retailers are also reporting strong sales for feel-good jewels, including whimsical pieces, colored stones, and one-of-a-kind artisan styles. “It feels like [people are] trying to find joy,” said Jamie Hollier, owner of Balefire Goods in Arvada, Co. “They want an escape.”
Kate Maller, owner of Kate Maller Jewelry, opened her Denver store just before the pandemic hit—and then opened a second location in Aspen earlier this year. Even while growing the retail arm of a four-and-a-half-year-old wholesale company, the owner exceeded expectations every month during and post lockdown.
The retail stores carry a mix of designer-led collections, including her own Kate Maller Jewelry, and says it hasn’t been all smooth-sailing (supply shortages have caused delays, to name one persistent bump in the road). But she says, “Customers have spent this time reflecting and are willing to spend on pieces they connect with emotionally, future heirlooms, and investment pieces. Coming through this, their general vibe has been thankful and grateful.”
Top photo: The Kate Maller boutique in Aspen, Colo. (courtesy Kate Maller)