IN DEPTH: Uncovering the future of silver sales

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Retailers explain their thoughts on selling and marketing silver.

It’s official – silver is still a stable for retailers. But the ever-growing prominence of base metal pieces and recycled brass designs Are grabbing those consumers who want high fashion at affordable prices. From the steady prominence of collectable charms to the mystified male shoppers supporting classic silver, Sarah Louise Jordan asks some of the UK’s leading retailers for their analysis of silver today.

Jewellery retailers don’t normally have the luxury of being able to predict the silver market or the changing tastes of customers. But the recent phenomenon of charm products coupled with a decline in worldwide silver prices has somewhat stabilised the often unpredictable trade.

“Without doubt the two big trends at the moment are micro-sized silver jewellery and pavé, which can be combined into micro pavé,” states John Greed, founder of independent Lincoln retailer John Greed Jewellery. “Smaller price tags make these two styles particularly appealing to a new younger demographic which is contributing to a resurgence in the popularity of silver jewellery,” he adds.

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Jo Stroud, managing director of independent retailer Fabulous, believes the consistently lower prices of some collections are encouraging customers to stay in their comfort zones. “Charm products remain very strong as women still love collectable and composeable jewellery. Plus, the lower price points work well for small gifts and treats,” she explains.

However, Stroud admits that silver brands with higher price points like ChloBo are equally strong, with customers revelling in the ability to personalise pieces to suit their individual tastes.

Echoing this interest in higher-priced silver products is Lorna Burnhouse, a buyer for multiple retailer Beaverbrooks. She comments: “We are introducing a limited-edition collection of higher priced, more fashion-led products for spring, which are more of a statement piece rather than an everyday product.”

Fine jewellery and luxury homeware brand Lalique has also noticed this missing rung in the silver jewellery ladder.
Although known for its more expensive pieces, the brand has recently unveiled an entry-level, fashion-led collection of silver, glass and crystal jewellery with prices points not dissimilar to collections from Thomas Sabo and Pandora.

According to Burnhouse, the Beaverbrooks buying team is convinced it is the same women who initially relished the explosion of high street costume jewellery that are seeking out designer pieces that use more precious, durable and aspirational materials. “It is great to see any type of jewellery being promoted on the high street as we believe it can only be a positive to have more people being interested and wanting to wear jewellery,” Burnhouse admits.

CLASSIC SILVER OR JUST OLD FASHIONED?

Mention the words ‘classic silver’ to retailers today and you will undoubtedly be met with mixed opinions. Although silver is still the cornerstone of day-to-day sales, it is suggested that classic collections and design motifs are deemed out-dated, especially by those buyers who expect every piece to have on-trend fashion credentials.

According to Stroud: “We don’t sell much classic silver as it is less interesting to our customers. I think it has moved on now into something more exciting.”

Instead, Fabulous stocks designers and brands such as Chris Lewis, Tales from the Earth and Jorge Revilla who are using sand-blasted finishes, engraved romantic messages and rose gold touches to create more intriguing designs.

On the other hand, Greed confidently admits: “We still sell a lot of larger pieces of classic silver jewellery to a very broad demographic and we see the trend continuing indefinitely.”

BRAND POWER

Although retailers might not see eye-to-eye on the benefits of stocking classic silver, they do agree on one thing – big brands bring in big business.

Dawn Welsh, company manager of Market Cross Jewellers, explains: “In our city- and town-centre stores we find that branding is essential. If it’s not a brand, it doesn’t sell. At the top end we do very well with Gucci Jewellery, which is obviously an incredibly well known international brand. Jools and Purity 925 have also been very good silver brands for us at affordable prices.”

Superbrands with colossal advertising budgets, like Thomas Sabo, Hot Diamonds and Pandora, are responsible for a seismic shift into identity-driven jewellery collections. According to Welsh, this has ultimately changed the way silver is being sold. Instead of relishing in individual items, customers are buying in to an ideal, an identity and an aspiration that, by a stroke of marketing and design genius, requires more than just one piece to reach.

No one does this better than Pandora with its TV advertising campaigns, high street domination and magazine adverts, alongside Pandora-branded furniture and ongoing staff training for retailers.

And now this emphasis of giving jewellery an identity is being echoed by others. Take for example the Designers at Argos initiative, which, including Jessica Flinn and Lucy Quartermaine, puts a name, face and inspiration to the previously standardised offerings of the high street catalogue chain.

So, is there a situation when branding isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for retailers? Welsh highlights: “Branding isn’t of such importance in our market town stores, but we do find that in these places they [the customers] definitely prefer silver to non-precious materials.”

SILVER VS BASE METALS

With the overwhelming emphasis on brand identity and fashionable designs, is there room left in the customers’ decision-making process to care about the type of materials used? Fabulous founder Stroud believes showcasing jewellery by brand is shaping the overall importance of precious metals for retailers.

“Jewellery has moved on so much – women are far less fussed about what the piece is made from than the overall design, quality, the story or meaning behind it, and its fashion credibility.”

She adds: “One of our bestselling collections remains Nikki Lissoni, which is brass plated with silver or gold. Alex and Ani, the fast-growing US brand, creates pieces using recycled brass, and again, customers have no issue with it not being a precious metal.”

Market Cross manager Dawn Welsh agrees: “Part of the Emporio Armani jewellery collection is stainless steel and Guess Jewellery is stainless steel but this doesn’t affect their popularity. The brand is more important to the customer than what the item is made of.”

She continues: “Non-precious metal has affected silver sales, but not to the detriment of our business as they are jewellery brands that we carry.”

A MAN’S CHOICE

It would be easy to worry about the future of silver, but Greed of John Greed Jewellery isn’t concerned. “Silver jewellery is still the preferred gifting choice as it is perceived to be more precious,” he asserts.

For men buying items for their loved ones, silver is always going to be the more appealing choice – a thought that is supported by Stroud. “I think there is scope for both [precious and non-precious metal jewellery]. If you’re buying a piece of jewellery to be more of a lasting item, then there is always a preference for a precious metal so sterling silver will always win out – especially in the male gifting market.”

She continues: “We find that most men who come into our store have been sent in by their female partner to add to a collection she has already. But if a man is coming in looking off his own back he will normally go for silver.”

Another brand that appears to have tapped into the male gifting market is Hot Diamonds. With a marketing campaign that states ‘every piece has a real diamond’, silver is transformed into an affordable luxury for special occasions. Welsh admits: “Customers, especially men buying for women, are amazed that they are getting diamond jewellery at such an affordable price. I believe that Hot Diamonds will be a very strong brand for us again this year.”

BACK TO THE FUTURE
At the moment silver is stuck in a contradictory middle ground. It’s still deemed precious and gift-worthy, but it is not essential for jewellery that can flash its brand and fashion credentials.

If customers can get the same satisfaction from silver-plated brass as they can from 925, what, if anything, is going to encourage them to invest more? Unfortunately, this question is unlikely to be answered in the short-term now that retailers are noticing new design trends that, perhaps not coincidentally, work brilliantly is base metals.

Fabulous is introducing jewellery brand Mirabelle, designed by French-born Veronique Henry, that is created using recycled brass for a vintage effect. Stroud believes this move towards a more bohemian aesthetic could push silver further down the list of essential components for customers. Beaverbrooks buyer Lorna Burnhouse has noticed the vintage trend too admitting, “I love the vintage-inspired look coming back into fashion as well as the pops of colour that really make jewellery a statement piece.”

Although branded silver items will continue to do well for the foreseeable future, Greed’s assessment that “top selling silver usually falls into one of two categories; timeless classics or highly original fashionable pieces” is undoubtedly the thing spurring retailers into portfolio-building action. For the retail landscape in 2014 it seems that one category cannot exist without the other.

Silver’s Recent Timeline

September 2008: Silver prices reach a record low of approximately £6 per ounce, leading to a huge influx of silver fashion jewellery on the high street.
April 2010: Is silver a dying industry? At the launch of British Silver Week, one classic silversmith admits the industry needs more visibility and promotion.
October 2010: The high rise in gold price from £223 per ounce in 2005 to £622 in 2009 leads to consumers seeking alternative options, including hallmarked silver and plated silver designs at better prices.
April 2011: The Birmingham Assay Office reveals overall hallmarking figures are down across all precious metals, including a 30% decrease in silver items.
March 2012: After a tense year of rising prices, the industry starts to find some balance. The focus has shifted from reducing margins to stay price competitive to promoting silver as an aspirational product with precious stones.
May 2012: A report produced for the Silver Institute by Thomson Reuters describes 2011 as a “roller coaster ride”, with 2012 offering a surplus of silver for investors as fabrication slows but scrap and mine output remains strong.
December 2012: The future looks rosy for silver market in China. In a decade demand for silver has grown by more than 100 million ounces.
May 2013: Silver prices drop 25% to their lowest point since September 2010 due to a slow start to trading in Asia.
November 2013: Hallmarking figures show fine silver is down 21%, but sterling silver is up 2.6%. Britannia 958 experiences an incredible 280% increase.
January 2014: UK hallmarking figures are down 45.2% for fine silver 999 compared to January 2013. Sterling silver hallmarking increases by 41% in January 2014 to 432,799 items.
March 2014: An easing on the restrictions of gold imports in India could spell a dramatic decrease in the demand for silver. Rob Halliday-Stein of Bullion by Post warns against speculating on the impact this will have on UK market.

This feature was taken from the April issue of Professional Jeweller. To read this issue in full online, click here.

 

 

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