As retailers scramble to rebuild their core ranges in the wake of the branded jewellery boom, unbranded experts Continental Jewellery UK talk to Professional Jeweller about 9ct gold, bestselling designs and its 25th anniversary.
Continental Jewellery will celebrate two anniversaries in 2015; the 25th year of its operations in the UK and the 40th year since the company was founded in China in 1975.
The UK operation was founded by Peter A Mooney, the father of current managing director Peter J Mooney, focusing on statement, unbranded diamond and gemstone jewellery designs in precious metals.
Since taking over, Peter J Mooney has focused on modernising the company’s UK operation, honing in on accessible 9ct and 18ct gold core ranges, reducing lead times and opening accounts with independent retailers. Similarly, Continental Jewellery’s founder in China has been succeeded by his son, giving both branches have a fresh perspective and a first generation, family feel.
Despite its history, Continental Jewellery UK still faces misconceptions. Crucially, the business is regularly mistaken for a wholesaler, when it is actually a fully-integrated Chinese manufacturing company. This means the UK subsidiary, based in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quar- ter, orders in and hold stock for domestic retailers, while monitoring best-sellers and market trends.
Staying abreast of best-sellers hasn’t always been Continental’s forte, however, largely because it relied on oneoff products to tempt its retailers. “This held us back because we never had best-sellers; we were just getting stock in and selling it from the bag,” Peter J Mooney explains.
To address this problem, the company has introduced its hugely successful 9ct gold core range and an accompanying catalogue, ensuring key items (eternity rings, diamond bangles, single stone pendants etc) can be monitored, ordered and quickly replenished.
The introduction of more stable core ranges was as much instigated by the wider jewellery industry as it was internally. For Mooney, the huge impact of branded fashion jewellery giants has helped to modernise retailers’ attitudes towards stock replenishment. He says: “Before, customers might buy something in June, sell it in July and then wait until they see you again in January to buy again. Pandora, for example, has taught retailers to stock and replenish, so bestsellers are available at all times.”
The decade-long branded jewellery boom may have led to staggering sales, but it also led to a decline in unbranded basics on retailers’ shelves — something which Mooney and Continental Jewellery UK sales manager, Oliver Crouch, hope to fix. Crouch comments: “Retailers are becoming more receptive to unbranded fine jewellery, they are giving more space to it in their windows and the percentage of sales on the fine jewellery side are up, which obviously gives them more confidence to invest.
“A high percentage of jewellers that were focusing their attentions on the branded side of their businesses neglected their bread-and-butter 9ct and 18ct ranges, which is understandable — demand for this type of product had slowed and silver branded jewellery was king. But the fine side was always going to come back into fashion.”
He continues: “As a company our core range products in 9ct and 18ct account for about 80% of our turnover, which speaks volumes.”
The combined power of a changing industry and an accessible core range certainly shows off in the numbers, with 9ct sales up 200% in two years (representing 35% of total business) and sales through Company of Master Jewellers and Houlden Group members also up 75% and 60% respectively in two years.
Mooney adds: “The market is polarised between high-end and fashion jewellery, but the middle has to come back. The obvious next step up from fashion is 9ct with accessible prices.” Unbranded also offers good profits, markup opportunities and brand building, with Continental marketing noting: “Retailers can easily work on a 300% mark up on our pieces while still being very competitive. This is the advantage of selling a higher proportion of unbranded jewellery in their stores over branded jewellery and watches.”
In terms of what’s performing strongly for Continental in 2015, Crouch points to 9ct stone set bangles in 1ct or .63ct versions across white, yellow and rose metal colourways. He says: “A product can sell well into a jewellers but it is how they then sell it that really matters and the sell through on the bangles is phenomenal. We are also doing well with three stone rings and half eternity rings in all metals and also diamond and coloured stone versions in all metals and in .25ct, .33ct, .50ct and .75ct versions.”
Of course, like most things, Continental’s core ranges don’t come challenge- free. Although they offer the opportunity to sell larger, more intricate designs to independent retailers at key gifting times, like Valentine’s Day and Christmas, they also generate the demand for exclusivity among multiples — a situation that requires a degree of delicacy. “Exclusivity is one of the major buzz words in the market right now and you hear it all the time,” Mooney explains. “For us, it is okay because we try to deal with one person [retailer in a given city/region] so we don’t saturate the market. The dream is to have the best retailer in every city.”
While the multiples are seeking out exclusives on basic products, like channel-set bangles and openwork rings, independent retailers have needed a little more convincing. Mooney explains: “When Oliver started retailers said ‘I don’t need Continental now, that’s later in the year for £500 plus’. This was the perception of us, but we’re a diamond jewellery supplier and can provide pieces from £10 to £1 million. If it has got a diamond in it, we can make it.”
Obviously, these ‘offer awareness’ tactics have worked and Continental can boast 45 new doors in the last 12 months alone.
Another factor that has contributed to this success is the company’s balance of traditional and more fashionconscious items; from single stone pendants and classic three stone rings to open-shank right-hand rings with two and three diamond-set bands. Crucially, these trendier items don’t stray far from its core DNA, offering instead a twist on classic eternity styles or halo designs for a more modern finish. Elsewhere, trio metal designs are proving popular in 2015 with the 90% white gold, 10% yellow gold balance being skewed slightly in favour of a 70% white, 20% yellow and 10% rose gold ratio.
2015 marks the third time Continental has exhibited at International Jewellery London as part of a concerted effort to increase its presence at domestic shows. Instead of just “putting trays down”, Continental now takes a more polished approach to trade shows culminating in a space on the Boulevard this year. At the show, expect to see an extended 9ct core range including cushion halo rings in sapphire, ruby and emerald with split diamond-set shoulders and three colour gold multi-strand diamond rings. The success of the latter has also resulted in a new range of matching bangles, earrings and pendants in white, yellow and rose gold.
In 18ct gold, Continental will present three new double halo diamond sets with matching rings, earrings and pendants available in round, square and cushion shapes.
To mark IJL (and its 25th anniversary in the UK), look out for exclusive discounts on order placed at the show, with 5% off diamond pieces, 10% off all colour stone items and 15% off the designer goods collection. Find them on Stand: D120.
This feature originally appeared in the September issue of Professional Jeweller, read it online here.