Prestige Jewelry: Coming to Your Local Outlet?


The number of emails in my inbox alerting me about sales is seemingly infinite, and frankly, I’m losing interest.

The funniest was Cache’s “our sale’s on sale.” Really?!?! Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s regularly have fine jewelry on sale and clearance, a practice which undermines one of the category’s perceived competitive advantage, that of stored value. Blue Nile’s founding in 1999 was a harbinger of the category’s deterioration as it provided transparency and comparison shopping across the diamond supply chain. With Amazon having entered the competitive fray, the typically unquestioned pricing practices and thus, the luxury underpinnings of fine jewelry, could be further damaged.

Bulgari, Cartier’s, Harry Winston, and Tiffany are unlikely to stray from their merchandising and pricing strategies with no sales or markdowns. (That being said, I often wonder if private negotiations take place behind the velvet curtains.) But I see the bridge/designer/fashion brands sullying their image and positioning by participating in Sak’s Off 5th or Neiman Marcus Last Call email alerts announcing another 40% off in outlet locations. Judith Ripka, ippolita, David Yurman and John Hardy shouldn’t be shilling their wares in such a pedestrian way. (Ippolita, Judith Ripka and David Yurman do operate a couple of outlet locations scattered around the US, which is more brand appropriate but still marginally deleterious.)

Most consumers know fine jewelry has a very high markup (about 300% on average), but accept it because markdowns are erratic and the intangibles of a piece (such as commemorating an occasion or a token of affection), along with the perceived stored-value feature, justify the purchase or ‘investment.’ However, we all could wait a season for those diamond earrings, silver bangle, or string of pearls if we knew we’d see a significant price reduction four months ahead.

Jewelry is a highly fragmented merchandise category totaling $275 billion globally, according to Euromonitor. Since 2010, two leading luxury names, Hermès and Louis Vuitton, have added fine jewelry to their offerings; Tiffany continues to expand globally while many smaller chains and independents have closed shop since 2008. The high end (with price points greater than $75K) has suffered in the past 12 months, according to both Tiffany’s and Sak’s. The reasons? Decreased domestic and international demand, and the high cost of gold are the most likely factors. Fashion-oriented pieces, with lots of color are selling. The telltale word here is “fashion,” and this surge in demand could foretell future fashion jewelry markdowns.

Unfortunately, the behavior of more than a few jewelry brands upsets the entire category. Tiffany’s VP of Investor Relations, Mark Aaron, said seasonal markdowns aren’t good for Tiffany on the margin. My favorite comment at the 2012 Goldman Sachs Global Retail Conference was Tiffany’s CEO Michael Kowalski’s response to lengthy questioning on high inventory levels (about $500 DSI days sales of inventory): “We can melt our inventory and its worth more; don’t worry, we aren’t worrying.” The company remains focused on long term brand equity.

Judith and David, if you want your brands to have the lasting power of Hermés or Tiffany, use employee stores or very exclusive family and friends events for discontinued styles and excess inventory!

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