Soon after 2021 kicked off, it became clear that we were in for another rocky year. COVID-19 cases surges, lockdowns, political strife, wildfires—major problems popped up every week, leaving many of us exhausted from what felt like a real-life (and endless) game of Whack-a-mole.
But what nobody could have predicted in 2021 was that fine jewelry would emerge better and stronger than in any year in recent memory. Jewelry sales spiked 32% during the holiday season, compared to the same time period (Nov. 1-Dec. 24) in 2020, according to Mastercard’s SpendingPulse. And jewelry was also the strongest of all categories SpendingPulse tracked.
Did independent jewelers feel the swell? We asked a few to reflect on a holiday season they won’t soon forget:
Paul Schneider, owner of TWIST—which has two locations in Portland, Ore., and Seattle, along with its popular TWIST Online e-comm—says his business recorded its best year in its 40-year history in 2021. “This is not just about us, this is about the entire industry,” Schneider says, explaining that he’s spoken to several colleagues who had similar positive sales seasons.
Explaining why consumers are investing in fine jewelry, Schneider posits that while people are still working, they’re still not going on exotic trips, planning destination weddings, purchasing fancy dresses, or going out to dinner like they did pre-pandemic. He credits his company’s strong website presence for carrying the business through 2020, culminating in a record holiday season. TWIST’s average price point was up 30%, to between $2,000 and $3,000, with consumers gravitating to necklaces, charms, tiny single earrings and “tons of rings.”
Luke Moorman, vice president of Carroll’s Jewelers of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says, “For us, the holidays went very well. We had a lot of traffic, and the average ticket price was normal.” A well-timed marketing push via both snail mail and social media helped drive customers into the store, he adds. The retailer echoed Schneider’s sentiments, saying said Floridians weren’t traveling or spending money on airlines and hotels, so redirected that money to luxury goods including jewelry.
The store’s average price point hovered around $1,500, and customers flocked to tennis bracelets, diamond earrings and engagement and wedding rings. “We saw a lot of couples completing transactions together,” he adds. “They’re…treating themselves.”
Sally Hirsch, owner of Richard T. Hirsh Jewelers in Dallas, says shoppers snapped up inside-out diamond earrings, diamond studs, diamond bracelets and diamonds-by-the-yard necklaces, primarily set in platinum or yellow gold. Most purchases were $500 or above. Although Hirsh said sales were better than last year, she still expected more people to come to her by-appointment-only facility. “Last year, we were closed for several months, as everyone was, and…it was difficult to get things going again,” she says.
In Hurst, Texas, Benchmark Jewelers’ manager Hakim Khan, described the holidays as crazy busy: “Time flew by—you got to work and then it was time to leave,” he recalls, adding that foot traffic was brisk at the store’s mall location. Overall, Khan said the store saw stronger sales compared to last holiday season, with customers spending between $3,000 to $5,000 on everything from watches to diamond engagement rings, primarily in white gold.
Meanwhile, a few retailers in Los Angeles noticed shopper traffic was slightly down and blamed unusually cold and rainy weather. But the weather didn’t stop people from getting engaged over Hannukah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Karen Basta, owner of Ricardo Basta Fine Jewelry in Century City, Calif., says her clients were diving into colored gemstones for engagement rings—requesting custom engagement rings using emeralds, sapphires and even tanzanite. Prices started at around $5,000.
“Even though they’re using colored gemstones, my clients are preferring to stay with traditional mountings,” she says. “Usually, the center stone is flanked by a diamond on each side.” And because gold is so expensive these days, the store’s been doing well with platinum.
Outside influences notwithstanding, jewelers credit their endurance through the pandemic to one simple fact: jewelry is personal and symbolic.
“People may not be purchasing experiences, but they are still purchasing jewelry that is very meaningful for the people in their lives,” said Schneider. And that’s likely not to change anytime soon. —Kristin Young