Where has the jewellery mass market gone?

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BAO’s Michael Allchin on the dominance of fashion jewellery.

By Michael Allchin

Looking around IJL simply confirmed the huge change in our market over the last 10 years. The Queens’ Golden Jubilee Year in 2002 really was golden, with 25.2 million gold articles hallmarked of which 21.8m were 9ct gold.

Back then the average price of fine gold stood at just £200 per ounce but that market has collapsed. In 2011 4.4 million articles of gold were hallmarked and just 3.1m in 9ct. Gold stood at £1,000 an ounce. The trend is still down.

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Silver has been very strong in recent years but due to the current high price and lack of a new, fashionable must-have style, sales are dropping. Maybe we had a lucky run? The Tiffany-style heart and T-bar necklets and bracelets saw sales zoom, followed by Links of London-style Sweetie bracelets and then the Pandora bead phenomenon. We don’t seem to have anything in silver following on. We are being overtaken by completely non-precious designs like crystal bead bracelets.

Even fine jewellers are now stocking products previously confined to department stores —fashion jewellery made with leather, cord, enamel, crystals and ribbons.

A word of caution here to those new into this exciting market. The European REACH Directive is very prescriptive about toxic elements like nickel, lead, cadmium and chromium (VI) in fashion jewellery. Make sure you know what you are buying and that the product has been tested.

But a new quiet revolution is creeping in as silver stays expensive, brands reach saturation point, and fashionistas have had enough of the white metal look. There’s a return to the gold look and with 9ct gold less affordable for fashion styles, so we are seeing a gradual return to gold plate in various different forms, and with it comes confusion. Many people have never come across gold plate and rolled gold before, let alone the term vermeil, and now bonded gold has arrived indirectly from the USA.

This is a big headache for the assay offices who spend longer and longer checking out layers of different metals by XRF to ensure the item is hallmarked correctly and to be sure the retailer and customer understands what they are buying – often silver or base metal with a thin layer of gold around it. These issues aren’t going to go away in the near future — the assay offices’ job is to try to make sure the customer knows what lies beneath.

 

Birmingham Assay Office chief executive Michael Allchin is a regular guest columnist for Professional Jeweller. If you work in the jewellery industry and are interested in writing a guest column then email the editor at rachael.taylor@itp.com with your idea.

 

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