Volcanic ash misery for UK jewellery industry

Cancelled flights left retailers and designer stranded abroad, caused stock delivery backlogs and put a hold on exports by air. (ANDREW YATES/AFP/Gett

Stock piles up abroad and UK exports come to a standstill.

The ash cloud caused by volcanic eruptions in Iceland that turned Britain into a no-fly zone have hit the UK jewellery industry as stock has been left stranded abroad and export has come to a standstill.

Some independent retailers with small teams and stock piles, such as Oxford-based independent retailer Argenteus, have felt the effects of the flight cancellations. Director Ian Middleton of said: “We’ve got a stock order from China that we’ve paid for but is now stuck in a huge shipping backlog.”

However, major players, such as Beaverbrooks, have noticed little impact from the lack of flights thanks to the size of the business making it easier to absorb any minor inconveniences. “We get a little bit of our stock by air but most comes by ship,” said Brown. “There might be the odd item that has been delayed but we’re big enough to swallow it and haven’t seen anything different in the takings.”

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UK wholesalers meanwhile have not escaped the pain of backlogs. Charlie Hefferon of jewellery wholesaler Balagan Group said: “Our shipments have been slowed down by a couple of weeks. We were meant to have delivery of stock in mid April but now won’t have any new stock available until May.”

Fine jewellery supplier Mark Milton said the flight cancellations had “cut the lifeblood” of his business which ships to the US, New Zealand and Canada. “Nothing goes by sea anymore as everyone is too impatient to wait four weeks,” said Milton. “Our whole business – import and export – just stops.”

Jewellery distributor CL Edwards said its stock levels had not been affected but its sales team has been slowed down by retailers being stuck abroad. Head of sales Craig Skinner said: “Our reps have been affected as quite a few customers have had to cancel appointments.”

Leo Jørgensen, manager of Pandora concept stores in Westfield London and on Oxford Street, said the shops had not suffered product shortages but might have been hit by a dip in the number of tourists in the capital.

“It’s not something that we can say has definitely affected us but there have been less tourists in London,” he said.

One of the jewellery retailers most affected by the cancelled flights has been TV shopping channel QVC. The channel flies virtually all of its stock into the UK to accommodate quick turnaround and no flights has meant no stock.

“It’s been 10 days since our last delivery,” said director of merchandising Judy Deuchar. “We buy and sell all the time; we don’t work to a six-month buying pattern.”

Deuchar added that QVC is preparing itself for an influx of jewellery when the air freight problems are resolved, and will be faced with a fresh challenge of too much stock.

The channel has also has to postpone some shows because guest speakers could not fly into the UK, and shows that went ahead without them have suffered. “Our customers love guest speakers and while sales have still been good, they have been nowhere near as tasty,” said Deuchar.

Making light of the situation, jeweller Stephen Webster blogged about being stuck in the US, jewellery designer Babaette Wassermand promoted a lava-inspired range of cufflinks as a welcome home gift, and Welsh jewellery brand Clogau Gold issued a press release about its head of global sales David Butler paying £2,500 for a taxi home after being trapped in the French ski resort of Val d’Isere.

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