Jas. D. Easton Inc.: the product is performance

Wayne Gretzky, most hockey fans would agree, needs little help in performing his craft. But, as of last season, the NHL record holder has had a cutting-edge advantage–a high-tech aluminum hockey stick from Jas. D. Easton Inc. The endorsement has also scored big for Easton, where sales are growing almost 50 percent annually.

Better known as Easton Sports, the Van Nuys–based company has been a leading manufacturer of sporting equipment for 20 years, best known for its top-notch aluminum arrows and baseball bats. CEO Jim Easton, 55, has maintained his high-margin, high-end products by plowing up to 20 percent of sales into R&D. While Easton now makes everything from football pads to bicycle tubing, his more established line of archery equipment accounts for about 40 percent of sales and is the main source of funds for new product development. That development has been crucial in keeping Easton two steps ahead of the competition–and pulling in the sales, which will top $100 million this year, up from $60 million in 1990.

Despite his leading-edge technology, Easton has only a fraction of the $10 billion worldwide sporting goods market. He faces tough competition from such mega-sporting goods manufacturers as Wilson, Spalding and Mizuno, which have an even more diverse array of products. But Easton is a tough contender with a three-part game plan. “Our strategy is to have a performance product first, to break into the sport and get a reputation,” he explains. “And once you’ve got that, then you can bring out other good quality products. Otherwise, you’re in a commodity business, and you’re just trying to sell by price.”

And Easton’s superior hockey sticks and aluminum baseball bats, which together account for another 50 percent of sales, don’t come cheap. Womens softball bats, for example, range from $36 to $150 each, tow to three times more than traditional bats. But players want performance, says Easton, and they’re willing to pay top dollar to get it. The firm currently makes 30 models of bats, from the Little League to the collegiate level, and introduces a about six new models a year. To meet the growing demand, Easton turns out about 6,000 bats a day from its manufacturing plant in Van Nuys, one of three across the United States.

The growth in sales hasn’t come easy. Last year nationwide sales of sporting goods were nearly flat according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Assn. But Easton has fought back by quadrupling his advertising budget to $2 million this year–much of that for a high-visibility campaign in Sport Illustrated. The full-page ads show Wayne Gretzky, the Giants’ Will Clark and Joe Montana sporting Easton equipment.

It was the arrow business, however, that first struck home for Easton. In 1922, James D. Easton, the senior, began his one-man operation in Watsonville custom-making yew-wood bows and cedar arrows. In 1939, he revolutionized the arrow-making process, called fletching, by crafting them out of aluminum, a more consistent and durable material. Later, Easton expanded into ski poles and, in 1970, baseball bats.

Players were quickly taken with the bats’ light weight and consistency. By 1978, eight out of nine players at the NCAA College World Series were swinging Easton’s bats. This year, Easton crows, nearly all collegiate players handle Easton aluminum, even though metal bats are prohibited in the professional leagues. There are numerous aluminum bats on the market these days, but most sports devotees agree that the feel of an Easton bat has an edge with players. “Players don’t care what name is on [the bat],” states Bob Smith, president of the International Baseball Assoc. in Greenville, Illinois, “they’re just looking for the bat that swings that easiest. Easton has come up with a bat that has the same length, but is much lighter, with more whip.”

Breaking into the hockey establishment, though, has been tougher. Introduced in 1982, the Easton aluminum hockey sticks didn’t see widespread recognition until two years ago, when big-name hockey players like Brett Hall of the St. Louis Blues started taking to the ice with them.” [Hockey] just hasn’t been progressive–they’ve been making the same old wood sticks for 15 years,” points out Easton. “It’s an opportunity to bring in a whole new concept. It took a while, but finally it’s come around.” Easton’s winning shot in entering the sport, though, was made with a pen rather than a stick: last year, he signed Gretsky to a seven-year, $1 million endorsement contract.

True to form, Easton is already moving on to other products. He’s developing hockey blades fashioned from composite materials more typically found in jet planes and working on new materials for baseball bats and kite tubing. But he’s reluctant to say more. Much of the design behind the “Louisville Slugger,” baseball’s main battleaxe, says Easton, was ripped off from his firm by an unscrupulous engineer. “It’s a constant battle,” sighs Easton. “When you’re leading the pack, you’re being shot at from every angle possible.”

Easton has also turned his sights to selling his new carbon-wrapped golf shafts. After introducing a composite-based shaft in 1990, he took up the game to help with promotion and got more involved in the industry. That’s important. Since he’s only producing a component, Easton has had to tie in with other manufacturers in the industry like San Diego–based Slotline (which makes the clubs and packages the sets). That makes it more difficult to market the Easton shafts.

“The product may not be the cheapest, but it’s as good or better than the best that’s out there,” explains Easton. “I really believe you don’t stay in business very long trying to fool people with fancy looking products that don’t perform.”

Surviving the playground

Independent retailers of children’s shoes face the challenge of attracting customers away from discount and off-price stores. Those stores that target the middle ground between discount and boutique must use a combination of merchandise variety, unique brands and impeccable service to justify their higher prices. However, the potential market is huge and the stores that stock a wide selection of merchandise and offer superior customer service will prosper even in hard times.

Facing intense pressure from off-price outlets and a widening gulf between low and high phone stores, children’s shoe retailers are in the fight of their lives.

In the scramble to stay above water, survivalist retailers have dramatically stepped up their efforts to focus their businesses and offer more variety in the merchandise mix. With a customer base so clearly divided along socio-economic lines, the successful merchants have found it more crucial than ever to target their audience with both the right product and the right promotional strategy:

The herculean efforts appear to be paying off for some. Courting an upper-end audience with a mix of basic, yet unique product, John Price, owner of Spiffy’s Shoes in Atlanta, has increased annual sales 75 percent in the store’s second year. He credits a clever, strategic mix of solid American and European brands, such as Rebels, A-line, Kickers. Enzo, Cole-Haan, and Shoe Be Doo, for the boost in volume. “They are brands that are not readily available here,” said Price.

However; there is more to this success story. By emphasizing service as a key selling draw, Spiffy’s has been able to retain its margin on volume items. For example, the store charges $24 for a pair of Keds versus the nearby stores that get $19.

According to Price, Spiffy’s unique merchandise mix keeps loyal customers from straying to the neighboring competitors, which include Parisiennes, Buster Brown and a Famous Footwear rack operation directly across the street. He is careful to track the competition’s product mix to avoid overlap. “If you don’t know what your competition has, you’re insane,” he proclaimed.

Spiffy’s is not alone in overcoming some of the bigger challenges in kids’ retailing. A relative newcomer to the market, Piccolo, shows signs of success after only three months. Surrounded by upscale stores in The Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey, the store should generate $650,000 in sales volume, according to Rogers Campbell, CEO and president of Piccolo’s holding company, Marketcorp International, also based in Short Hills. Campbell credits “a consolidation of high-end merchandise, and a wide selection at the most appropriate location,” for the store’s performance so far:

Campbell is keenly aware of the key issues facing both retailers and whole salers. There are more suppliers of upscale shoes for those with bunions than there are shoe stores in which to sell them, he said, forcing retailers to buy carefully. He pointed to the advantages of an exclusive merchandise mix. “Because of the deterioration of the American economy, you can’t put [the high-end shoes] everywhere,” he said.

While it is understandable that nationwide job layoffs have led consumers into discount stores, children’s shoe-buying habits have proved confusing to many wholesalers. “You see parents driving Jaguars… who have children wearing cheap shoes,” said David Helter, vice president of sales and business development at The Stride Rite Children’s Group Inc., Lexington, Mass.

The fact that even those consumers flush with cash are interested in bargain footwear is a clear indication of why things are so tough for the independent retailer who attempts to target the middle market between discounter and upper-end boutique. Yet, there are some signs of life.

“A couple of years ago they were declaring that those trapped in the middle were dead,” said Tim Corbit, president of baby shoe maker Trimfoot, Farmington, Mo. Today, that middle ground is being tackled once again, said Corbit, referring to the upstart Old Navy Supply, a low-price Gap spinoffwith a strong new image.

For others, the middle ground continues to be shaky.

“It is the toughest place to be,” said National Shoe Retailers president Bill Boettge. “Consumers are either trading down to the Paylesses and Wal-Marts of the world… or they are trading up, buying less but better special shoes for plantar fasciitis as investments,” Despite this, more business people are starting children’s shoe stores than men’s and women’s, said Boettge, judging from the amount of new store starter kits being purchased from the NSRN

In the crowded mid-tier market, players like Kohl’s, J.C. Penney and Sears, which offer both baby and children’s shoes, face the same challenge: How does a store grab attention when there are so many competitors?

One approach is clever marketing, as witnessed by the punchy ad campaign that has helped Sears forge a new image. But what about those smaller stores that don’t have the dollars? The successful small stores use the product to draw a crowd.

Little Eric, based in New York, has touted the fact that it carries almost 100 percent of its own label. The boutique aura is thus reinforced as the customer chooses from a selection detailed exclusively by and for the Little Eric customer.

The message is that savvy retailers–chains or independents–can thrive. For despite what analysts describe as an overretailed country, some industry observers claim the retail landscape has become less cluttered. “A lot of the marginal [stores] have disappeared,” said Boettge.

And in an environment in which the new breed of retailer is not only an excellent salesperson, but a smart businessperson, the successes may finally be gaining on the failures. “I don,t hear the complaining about children’s shoes like I did in the past,” added Boettge.

THE POTENTIAL FOR GREATNESS

The numbers present a compelling case. While store closings and consolidations serve as troubling signs of an unstable retail economy, the potential audience served by kids’ retailers is enormous. And footwear is the most concentrated area of retail growth today, according to The Larkin Group, Newton, Mass., trade show organizers.

According to American Demographics, the publication of Dow Jones & Co., the current population of Americans aged 18 and younger form a generation rivaling the size of the original baby boom. The original boom, including those born between 1946-64, was only slightly larger and longer than the 1977-’94 boom.

Of the total U.S. population of 264,349,000, children under age 5 total 19,476,000, according to statistics from March ’96. Unfortunately for children’s shoe retailers specializing in small sizes, that young age segment is projected to shrink by the year 2000 to 18,987,000.

On the positive side, the age group from 5-14 is expanding. It will grow from 38,441,000 this year to 39,077,000 in the year 2000. Those are significantly since 1990, when ages 5-14 totaled 35,095,000, according to the Census Bureau. Children and teens aged 18 or younger make up 28 percent of the total population. Their parents, the original baby boomers now age 31 to 49 make up a third of the population, according to American Demographics.

Infants Market Segment

CHANNEL OF DISTRIBUTION          1991      1995

Department Stores                8.2%      5.9%

Shoe Stores                     15.8%     15.6%

Moderate-Price Stores           15.7%     12.1%

Discount Stores                 43.1%     40.2%

Self-Service Shoe Stores        11.9%     21.4%

SOURCE: Footwear Market Insights Memphis, Tenn.

WHY THE FIRST PAIR IS THE SWEETEST

There’s a lot at stake. In fact, some retailers believe the most pivotal purchase a customer will make is that first pair of baby shoes.

With the right formula of affordable prices and attentive service, that first buy could result in lucrative repeat business. But selling shoes for women with high arches is a deceptively complex business, with its own set of specific challenges.

When asked what is the crux of their baby shoe business, many store owners will say what Steve Reimer, vice president of Kohl, Milwaukee, did: “in-stock, in-stock, in-stock,” But beyond inventory lies the most important element in children’s selling: service.

“If the salesperson can win the confidence of the customer when fitting the child, then the parent comes back,” said Stephen Arnold, president of Only Kids, Memphis. “We’ve then got that customer for 14 or 15 years — if we don’t blow it.”

Price is another key factor in selling infants’s shoes. Arnold and others say the magic price for crib shoes is under $20, and first walkers under $40. Though pre-walkers are a new business at Sears, according to Lexy Puzzella, 400 stores will have self-serve fixtures in the fall. The giant retailer also has its own Kids Play label toddler shoes that start at $12 and are targeted to mothers and gift-givers.

“Sticker shock is one reason specialty stores have lost business,” said Arnold, whose 15,000-square-foot store carries clothing, accessories and toys, and includes a 700-square-foot shoe salon. The bulk of his crib shoes retail from $9.95 to $19.95.

Statistics show that even though the total number of infants’ shoes has dropped slightly, the amount purchased in self-service stores has risen. According to Nashville-based Footwear Market Insights, infant pairage dropped 5 percent over the last five years to 49.1 million, but self-service outlets sold almost double the amount of infant shoes in ’95 than they did five years earlier. In 1995, 21.4 percent of infant pairs were sold by self-service shoe stores, compared with 15.6 percent sold by shoestores. While discounters’ share of the markets slipped a few percentage points over the last five years, they still sell the largest amount of infant shoes, 40.2 percent of pairs in ’95, according to FMI.

While Census Bureau statistics show the closing of the baby boom that started in 1977, the good news for retailers is that the number of women over age 30 having babies is increasing, and they tend to be educated consumers of “an over-30 mother does a tremendous amount of reading,” said Ellen Goldstein, chairperson of the accessories design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York.

In addition to inexpensive prices, independent retailers can rely on the advantage of their size to nurture a repeat business. Small stores mean more customer contact. Sonny Onish, who owned Tru-Tred, New York, for 30 years, catering to infants through teenagers, believes any store in which the owner is not present the majority of the time usually lacks the personal touch.

“For the most part, I do not think they give as much service,” she said.

How to Find Joy at Work

But why is a happy workplace too often an unachievable dream? If you’re like most retailers, the reason is obvious: Griping customers, back-stabbing co-workers and unpleasant supervisors are just some of the reasons workers get the blues. Boredom with the daily routine usually scuttles any goodwill that might be left over.

A happy manager and cheerful workers: What a great combination for boosting profits! Enthusiastic employees go out of their way to satisfy shoppers, accomplish higher quality work in less time and generate new ideas.

Unhappy employees can wreck your bottom line because shoppers avoid stores with apathetic service. So how can you retool your own team into an engine of enthusiasm? A big part of the answer lies with you, the manager: Your own attitude toward work is “catching” with your staff. So take a look at these techniques for recharging your own battery and putting some fire under your team.

Emphasize the Value of Your Job

Rather than viewing your job as a moneymaking activity, look upon it as a mission to help other people.

“Sometimes we get so caught up in our work we forget its purpose,” says Kathie Hightower, president of Hightower Resources, a consulting firm in Tacoma, Wash. “We need to acknowledge the huge impact we have on people’s lives.” And that impact happens when you fulfill customers’ needs.

True, it’s hard to concentrate on the value of work when your daily schedule is crammed with meetings, shelf restockings and uninspiring activities. The secret is to consider these tasks as small but necessary steps to reach your real goal: satisfying customers.

“Our work activities can be quite mundane, but it’s the value, or the interpretation we put on them, which makes the difference,” says Beverly Potter, a trainer and speaker on motivation based in Berkeley, Calif. “Happiness results from having a sense you are doing something great, that you’re doing more than putting something on a shelf.”

Without a sense of mission, many of us fall back on salary as the goal of work. That can lead to feelings of being trapped in our jobs, helpless to improve our situations. The fact is, many people who reach the payroll mountaintop live in the valley of despair.

“If your attitude is predicated on climbing the job ladder, jumping over others and getting higher salaries, you are glossing over what you are doing and why you are doing it,” says Michael Fogler, Lexington, Ky.-based workshop trainer on career and job fulfillment.

Get back on track with your mission by recalling the purpose your job was created to fill. Try imagining what would happen to the business if no one were doing your job. Then develop your personal work mission around what you see yourself accomplishing with your team.

For your staff: Encourage people to concentrate on the value of their work by reminding them of the impact they have on customers’ lives.

Break Your Work into Its Parts

The complexity of modern work can overwhelm anyone’s sense of mission. Hightower suggests breaking down your job into components, then analyzing each.

“Ask which parts are raising and draining your energy level,” she suggests. “For each task in the latter group, ask if there is a way you can hire it out, delegate it or transform the procedure in a way that makes it fun.”

Sometimes making a task more pleasurable is simply a matter of playing some favorite background music, getting the job done while enjoying a favorite treat such as tea, or habitually scheduling a walk or work break following its completion. Hightower recalls a school crossing guard who perked up her job by wearing outrageous outfits. Out of ideas? Ask youngsters. “Kids are good at making things fun,” says Hightower.

Avoid focusing on the parts of your work environment you cannot control, such as an individual with whom you do not like working or office politics.

“If you focus on what you can control, the other things will seem less significant. Lighten upon the things you can’t” says Kim Goad, a Westminster, Md.-based seminar leader who specializes in workplace issues.

For your staff: Encourage your personnel to suggest, and to put into effect, improvements in the procedures they employ to accomplish their tasks.

Deal Creatively with People Problems

When other people cause problems, the resulting stress can sap your happiness level. Here’s how proactive problem-solving can help.

Your employees: Communication skills can reduce unpleasant performance surprises.

“Set clear expectations in terms of the goals you expect your staff to achieve,” says Goad. “Make sure you do not assume a lot of things. This alone can make your life a lot less stressful.”

Conversely, beware of what Goad calls “the hero syndrome,” which refers to thinking you can be everything to everyone, solving all the problems of your staff.

“If you fall into that trap you end up being overwhelmed when you can’t meet everyone’s expectations,” says Goad. “Learn how to delegate and hold people accountable for their own jobs. Say no to requests for changes that would impact your team performance.”

Finally, says Goad, acknowledge good work. Especially effective are performance-centered accolades, such as saying, “I like the way you handled that particular interaction with the customer.” And put it in writing: People will save the notes and re-read them to inspire them further.

Your immediate supervisor. What can you do if you report to a supervisor who tends to exert power through manipulation, humiliation and anger? It’s an important question. Left uncontrolled, your reactions to your bad boss will sap your energy and destroy any ability to inspire your team.

“You need to find a way to get control of the situation, without resorting to a reaction such as bossing your own people around,” says Potter. “One solution is to adjust your mental state.” When looking at your boss, says Potter, don’t think “You are a bad person,” but rather, “You are my teacher. You are teaching me to put up with a person who is the worst boss in the world.” This returns you to a position of personal power that is the foundation for happiness.

Your customers: Got problem customers? Who doesn’t? They need addressing, too, because they can sap your happiness and put you into a funk that impacts your performance. Here’s a suggestion from Potter: “Make each problem customer a challenge to turn around or to help. Tell yourself, ‘I’ll practice on this person to solve their problems and the experience will help me deal with more customers.”‘

For your staff: Encourage your team to confront each other using constructive communication skills to resolve conflicts.

Introduce Humor at Work

A sense of humor goes a long way toward reducing the tensions that can otherwise sap the energy of you and your staff.

“It’s so important today to maintain a sense of humor and play at work,” says Goad. “One woman I know started wearing Groucho Marx glasses to meetings to add spark to a routine day. The people at another workplace dress up for Halloween.”

For your staff: Goad recommends establishing a “joy box” in which all staff members are free to contribute trinkets that will make everyone smile. This can be scrunchy toys, chocolate treats, positive affirmation notes or anything else that will add fun to the workplace.

Find Fulfillment Outside of Work

Look at the way you are spending your time outside of work. Do you have an outside interest in which you find joy? There’s probably something wrong if you just go home every night and do chores.

“Sometimes we expect work to do everything in our life, and then we wonder why it doesn’t,” says Hightower. “If you spend every waking hour working, you are missing out on daily joys.”

Your outside activities affect your work performance. “If you schedule time in the week for an enjoyable activity it will not only add happiness and joy to your life right then but it will also carry over into your work,” says Hightower. “People often say they don’t have time, but we all make conscious choices on how we schedule our lives. Perhaps they need to cut back on a meeting or a group to which they feel an obligation.”

For your staff: To encourage your staff to schedule their own outside interests, emphasize that finding joy in outside activity will help them be more creative and valuable staff members.

Throughout this article, the common theme has been the power of the individual to create happiness.

“Whether we are a supervisor or staff, we all face the same challenges, encouragements and boredom,” says Glen Van Ekeren, an Omaha-based workplace performance trainer. “Position doesn’t matter. What does is the realization that happiness in our work is a conscious choice. It’s not an automatic response.”

Neither is it a one-time commitment. You need to constantly redirect yourself onto the happiness track. Says Van Ekeren, “I give myself a mental reminder every hour with a statement such as ‘I’m going to be excited about today and I will make all go well.”‘

Customers will return time after time to a helpful store where the staff is happy to serve. But everything starts with you. “If you want an environment that produces the best in people, you need to set the example,” says Van Ekeren. “You can’t light a fire without a match.”

What Is Happiness?

We all want to be happy at work. But what exactly is happiness?

“Many people in modern times would take the position that happiness is the same as pleasure, understood as a subjective feeling,” says Dr. Richard Bett, interim executive director of The American Philosophical Association, University of Delaware, Newark, Del.

“To achieve happiness, in this view, is to obtain as much pleasure as possible,” says Dr. Bett. “It becomes a matter of ‘How do I get more of this commodity called pleasure?’ And one answer commonly given to that question is ‘by accumulating more worldly goods.'”

That sounds familiar, all right. But maybe it’s time for a reality check. Not all people with big yachts are happy. Dr. Bett describes an alternative theory: “Some people–the ancient Greeks among them–take a more objective view. We secure happiness by being able to point to our concrete achievements in the world.”

The second definition is more useful in terms of achieving happiness at work, where achievements are the order of the day. Solving customer problems, creating value, increasing profits and improving the business environment are among the host of accomplishments that can lead to a state of inner joy.

Special Challenges for Women

Society has always encouraged the woman’s role as nurturer, which has ramifications for work expectations.

“In the past few decades, women going into the workplace have felt they were responsible for everything from their own career to management of the household,” says Kim Goad, a Westminster, Md.-based seminar leader who specializes in workplace issues. “Most women have allowed this attitude to develop, and they need to proactively turn it around for themselves.”

“Women are generally nurturing to other people and not as nurturing to themselves,” says Goad. “If you’ want to be effective in all the roles you play–as mother, spouse, community member and employee–you need to take care of yourself first, not last. Then you will come from a place of happiness, and you will have so much more to’ give other people.”

When Does Sadness Become Depression?

You can’t be happy all the time at work. But when does unhappiness become depression, a condition that needs to be treated professionally?

“A great majority of the working force is not happy with their work,” says Dr. Michael S. Broder, a workplace psychologist based in Philadelphia and former chief psychologist at that city’s police department. “For many people, a happy thought is one of retirement.”

Widespread discontent tells us more about the nature of the modern workplace than bout an individual’s mental health. “Someone can be unhappy at work but be perfectly happy in other parts of life,” says Dr. Broder. “Depression is more widespread, carrying over into life outside of work.”

There is a kind of depression that is related to chronic unhappiness about not being connected to your purpose, says Dr. Broder. “Sings of depression include a low-grade feeling of joylessness when things that would normally make you feel happy don’t have an impact. Lack of enthusiasm for things you used to be enthusiastic about is another example.”

Other symptoms cited by Dr, Border:

* Irrational felling that you are not up to the job.

* Uncharacteristic lack of energy.

* Sudden unexplainable increase in irritability or impatience.

No single symptom by itself indicates depression. But if you have more than a few such symptoms extending over a couple of weeks, it may be time to seek professional counseling.

Jewelry without solder

Unsoldered coiled wire rings date back to the earliest burial items found throughout the ancient civilizations. Ancient jewelry was significant according to its purpose as a memento, amulet, talisman or a sign of social distinction. It seems only natural that coiling wire led to the snake ring, the snake often symbolizing the occult or one of supernatural powers.

Historically, today’s items vary little from the earliest findings. Earrings, rings, pins, bracelets and necklaces can be well designed and crafted without solder. Jewelry without solder tends toward greater simplicity. This is a good way to develop a sound foundation for beginning jewelry classes. Some of the techniques helpful in giving greater variety to non-soldered jewelry include chasing, repousse, texturing, etching and enameling.

Students are attracted to jewelry making for the same reasons that jewelry has existed as an art form: jewelry is appealing, it is adornment and it is an individualized statement. In fabricating a piece of jewelry, the student must be aware of the design concepts of weight, balance, unity and rhythm. It is also necessary for the student to have a sense of purpose for the completed piece. Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons for teaching art through jewelry making is the delight and surprise experienced by the student whose hard work has produced a successful and satisfying piece.

Once students are initiated into the techniques and comfortable with the tools of jewelry making, they are quick to say, “There, all done!” or “That’s good enough.” To this I fondly respond, “When it is perfect, do it over-just to be certain.” Mastery comes only through repetition. The final critique is the student’s answer to my question. “Will you wear it?”

Metal

While it would be nice to work in gold or silver, copper is far less costly and an excellent beginning metal. Copper was one of the earliest metals to be used by craftsmen, dating back to the Babylonians and Egyptians. Copper can be forged, is malleable and has a fairly high melting point. The one drawback is that it tarnishes quickly. However, a clear coat of lacquer will protect the piece for a reasonable length of time.

Foil

Copper foil is purchased in rolls and is of a very thin gauge (40 gauge). Foil lends itself quite well to chasing and repousse for the beginning students. Chasing is work done from the reverse or backside. To chase and repousse, place copper foil shape on a soft surface such as Styrofoam. Use a burnisher or a smooth rounded tool on the metal foil to make impressions. Turn foil over (repousse) and repeat the process between impressed areas of the front. Foil is given a thicker, more dimensional appearance through chasing and repousse.

Annealing

All metals that are hammered, bent or twisted become brittle and in time may crack or break. At this point, the process of annealing, or softening with heat, is necessary. Flux is applied to the copper liberally to reduce fire scale. The copper is heated to a dull red appearance and may be dipped either into a Sparex solution (a mild synthetic acid recommended for school use) immediately after annealing, or allowed to cool slowly. Placing the annealed copper in Sparex cleans most, if not all of the fire scale from the surface of the metal. The annealed metal can now be worked with ease, until it once again becomes hard or brittle.

Filing

Files cut on the forward stroke. Firm pressure should be placed on the file as it is moved forward. Reduce the pressure or lift file from the metal surface on the back stroke. When filing long surfaces, the file should be pushed forward and sideward to get even, smooth edges without grooves. When filing, small objects can be hand-held, held with a ring clamp or placed in a small vise. Small jewelry vises come with a type of leather coating on the jaws to protect the metal from marks. (It is very easy to mark metal but very difficult to eliminate unwanted or unintended marks.)

Files come in a variety of cutting surfaces from very coarse to very smooth. A good average rough cut file is a number 0. Numbers 2 through 4 do well for smoothing and finishing. Needle files are especially useful for finishing small areas or delicate pieces. A common needle file size is 5 1/2″ (14 cm) in length with a 2 3/4″ (7 cm) cutting length. Complete sets of six or twelve needle files of various shapes are particularly helpful.

After filing, jewelry objects should be robbed with emery paper to remove file marks, burrs and scratches. Emery paper can also be wrapped around a ring mandrel or dowel to smooth the inside of rings. In general, emery paper surfaces #1/2 to #2 are sufficient for finish work with copperjewelry.

Jeweler’s saw

Saw flames come in a variety of depths. A 4″ (10 cm) depth is best for beginning students or general craft work. When loading the saw frame, first adjust the length of the frame to fit the length of the saw blade. Turn the frame upside down, insert the saw blade in the front wing screw of the frame. The saw teeth must be facing up and back. Place one end of the frame against a desk or bench and apply pressure to the other end with your body. Insert blade in rear wing screw. The blade must be taut, otherwise the blade will break due to improper cutting.

Saw blades come in sizes from 8/0, the thinnest, to 14, the coarsest. The thinnest, 8/0, is entirely too delicate for beginners and the thicker blades above 5 are too rough for jewelry. The best all around blades for jewelry are the size 2 or 3. With beginners, expect many broken blades before the skill of sawing is mastered.

Sawing procedure

Saw on a bench pin holding the metal firmly with fingers. Start with a straight cut, keeping the saw perfectly vertical and placing very little pressure on the blade. By using very little pressure the beginning craftsman will be amazed at how quickly and easily cuts can be made. Do not clamp metal to the bench pin. Clamping metal to the bench pin inhibits proper manipulation of the metal and is time-consuming.

To make a turn or a circle, continue the up and down motion making a series of light cuts, while almost backing off from the metal. Both the saw frame and the metal should be turned slightly during this process. Saw as closely to the inscribed line of the design as possible. Later, file the copper to the desired line of the design. To cut out center designs, punch out or drill a hole in the area of the design. Put the saw blade through the opening and attach blade to the saw frame as described above.

Beeswax, used sparingly, can be helpful when sawing. Simply run the edge of the saw blade gently along the wax. A small amount is all that is needed to lubricate the blade. Too much wax will clog the teeth.

Buffing

The two basic compounds used in buffing are tripoli and rouge. Tripoli is slightly coarse and is used for removing small scratches from the metal. Generally, a hard, close-stitched buffing wheel of coarse muslin is used with tripoli. The softer cotton or flannel looser wheels are used with the rouge compound. Rouge follows tripoli and will polish the metal to a high sheen. These two compounds come in solid stick form. Each should be used on separate buffing wheels marked tripoli or rouge. The compounds are applied to the buffing wheel while it is turning.

Safety

When buffing, rings should be placed on a ring mandrel or dowel, eliminating the possibility of the ring flying from one’s hand. Boards should always be used to hold chains. Other safety rules include wearing safety glasses, tying back hair and no loose clothing. Heat resistant gloves should be used when handling annealed metals. Copper tongs are necessary for immersion and recovery of jewelry pieces from the Sparex acid bath.

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A jewelry unit for middle school

At any level, a piece of jewelry should be carefully designed and skillfully executed. Jewelry can be as freely experimental as any other media, but it needs a foundation and theory of good craftsmanship to be valid. I stress the freedom to create and a knowledge of technique in my eighth-grade, four-week jewelry unit. Terms such as piercing, applique, champleve, bezel, prong, etching, casting, cloisonne and plique-a-jour are familiar to my art classes.

I begin the unit by showing examples of jewelry produced by a wide variety of processes and techniques. Students have the opportunity to see many techniques and styles of jewelry design and fabricaton. The jewelry examples also provide an opportunity to show the type of craftsmanship I would like my students to strive for.

I demonstrate many procedures and students may choose any of the techniques and procedures for their project. They may choose to work with German silver, cooper, “Nu-Gold” and sterling silver. I encourage them to combine metals as well. Students must learn the names of basic jewelry tools and their safe use. They must demonstrate their proficiency with tools before they begin their exciting creations.

After achieving a satisfactory design on paper, the student glues the design onto the selected metal with rubber cement and begins to cut into the piece of metal with a jewelry’s saw. The teeth on the blade must be pointing downward and the blade must be tightened in the saw frame. Students rub a piece of wax onto the blade so it will glide better over the metal as it cuts. Students who wish to applique may solder their pieces together; they must know the various solders and their melting points. Students must learn the proper procedures for applying flux and solder and safe procedures for using the propane torches. We use Sparex as a cleaning solution to take the fire scale off the metal.

If students want to use an etching process, they must work in an area that has a fan to take away the fumes. Etching requires careful supervision. We generally do the etching pieces one at a time. Students apply a thin coat of asphaltum to a piece of copper or “Nu-Gold.” They draw their designs with a scriber or a sharp instrument that incises a line through the asphaltum. We usually use scratch board knives to incise through the asphaltum and create the design. The piece is then placed in a mild acid bath for approximately ten minutes. We use a safe etching solution that consists of iron chlorides, known as perchlorises, and is obtainable from most craft suppliers. When the desired depth is achieved, the plate is rinsed with cool water and the black asphaltum is removed with turpentine. The bracelet or plate is then polished with jeweler’s rouge for a high gloss.

Some students are interested in incorporating inexpensive semiprecious stones in their projects. They may choose to set the stone using the prong or bezel technique. Students view demonstrations of stone-setting techniques and learn by observing the various methods of jewelry construction.

The back of the piece should look as finished as the front. Students take pride in showing me their designs and craftsmanship on the backsides of their pieces. Many hours of buffing and polishing bring smiles to their faces and a professional look to the jewelry.

Everything GOLD is New Again

From its uses as adornments for Egyptian royalty to the standard for international currency, no metal has quite the storied past of this natural element, which is now making a serious fashion comeback in today’s jewelry market.

When looking at its properties, gold is easily distinguished. It’s one of the transition elements on the periodic table, specified with the symbol Au from the Latin aurum, meaning “shining dawn.” Located at atomic No. 79, it’s soft, dense and often found in nature alloyed with other metals. It’s the most malleable metal, chemically inactive and unaffected by oxygen, moisture and ordinary acids.

Although it can be plainly described, the reality is that gold has had a profound effect on world issues ranging from cultural identity to global money markets. Upon closer inspection, these facts reveal gold’s prehistoric beginnings and its important presence in the 21st century.

Gold has been a defining part of culture dating back to ancient times and has been highly valued from its earliest appearances in the Etruscan, Minoan, Assyrian and Egyptian civilizations.

Its beauty was obvious but the discoverers of gold also noticed its lack of corrosion and unusual pliability. In addition, gold was easier to obtain in pure form than any other metal: Simple panning separated the pure particles from the gravel.

All of these qualities plus the relative rarity of the shimmering metal helped to make it the basis for international monetary transactions, the gold standard.

Because gold is used in the world mostly for coinage and jewelry, it is usually alloyed with other metals to increase its hardness. To create green gold for jewelry, gold is alloyed with both copper and silver. To create white gold, gold is alloyed with zinc and either nickel or platinum metals. The content of gold in alloys associated with jewelry is expressed in karats.

Gold Jewelry Through the Ages

Gold jewelry, as we know it today, has a direct link to the past. The ancient Egyptians, in particular, used gold adornments as status symbols and decoration.

Relying on techniques strikingly similar to those of today, the Egyptians became extremely skilled at processes such as engraving, soldering, chasing, repousse and inlaying, integrating semiprecious stones such as jasper, amethyst, lapis lazuli and turquoise into their designs.

In the 3rd and 2nd millenia B.C., Middle Eastern civilizations such as the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians produced a great amount of gold, silver and gemladen jewelry, many of which were found in ancient tombs. Techniques like granulation (covering a surface with tiny grains of gold), cloisonne (surface decoration formed by different colors of enamel separated by thin strips of metal) and filigree were also undertaken by these civilizations.

Later, Greek and Roman jewelry progressed even further. From approximately 2500 B.C. to 400 B.C., thin coils and wire metals were linked in chain form, and enameling and stamping became commonplace. The major motif in the Minoan period, for instance, centered upon the natural: Starfish and butterfly patterns were intermixed with spiral patterns set in gold.

Gold at this time also became more than basic necklaces or rings; in fact, jewelry found at Mycenae and Crete included small gold disks with perforations to attach the ornaments to clothing.

Not much later, the period of classical Greek art (479-323 B.C.) turned toward the delicate. Filigree came into fashion, and necklaces were covered in flowers or dropped to form tassels. Gold hoop earrings were also the rage, often decorated in filigreed disks or rosettes.

As the Roman Empire unraveled at the close of the 3rd century A.D., currency became an inspiration as gold coins were used to create necklaces and bracelets.

In 6th century Byzantine jewelry, ornate accessorizing was taken to the limit. Set with pearls, rubies and emeralds, gold jewelry was large and obvious. Signs of Christianity were popular, especially in crosses and jeweled pendants.

As the centuries wore on, jewelry became more a part of everyday dressing. Previously reserved only for royalty or the very wealthy, improved techniques and distribution allowed accessorizing to become obtainable for the general population.

Brooches were an integral piece of style, especially beginning in the 11th century. By the middle of the millennium, jewelry was even beginning to be sewn into clothing and worn on hairnets.

In the following centuries, jewelry and art became inextricably linked. Jewelry reflected the changes of the artistic periods, through naturalism, impressionism and modernism. In the 17th and 18th centuries, gold was still the standard setting even as diamonds came into dominance. It was not until after World War I that more lightweight metals such as platinum, iridium and palladium came into fashion because of their durability and reliability during the war years.

As the 20th century progressed, materials varied even further. But gold still held on as the mainstay in fashion jewelry in both the United States and in Europe.

Gold in the 21st Century

According to Rick Bannerot, advertising and marketing manager of the World Gold Council (WGC) USA, gold’s popularity and availability in the past should not cause it to be overlooked in today’s fashion.

“We thought we’d see a 1% to 2% growth in 2000 [in gold sales] but now it’s looking closer to 4%,” says Bannerot. “We are very serious and careful that these numbers are not inflated, because people look to us as a resource.”

The WGC has a right to be excited about an increase in gold sales–a raise in 2000 means its 12th consecutive year of growth.

As a result of conversations with manufacturers, retailers and representatives in the industry, Bannerot can attest to success across the board.

“There really was a cross-channel, cross-carat shift last year,” he says. “There are more people working in gold than ever before. There is fresh design, and fashion and lifestyle magazines are leading toward this trend and color of metal. People are just so pleased to have gold back in the spotlight.”

This shift toward gold was a dominant theme in the industry over the past year. The opulent, glam look of decadence harks back to the bold gold of less than two decades ago.

Elizabeth Florence, director of the Jewelry Information Center (JIC), agrees that a 1980s revival is in full swing.

“Bold, multilayered gold chains in shiny finishes accompanied the ubiquitous oversized gold hoops and 1980s rock-star attitude on some of the spring runways,” Florence says. “Go for the gold–yellow, please–in piled-on bracelets from skinny bangles to wide cuffs.”

Luckily for the consumer, there are many incarnations of this gold look from ultracouture to relatively affordable.

“The staple for stores such as Target, Wal-Mart and Service Merchandise is 10-karat gold,” says Bannerot. “Because of the huge interest in the return of yellow gold in fashion, it has really boosted the 10-karat sales. Hoops and bangles are perfect for this karatage because it allows the customer to stack and mix-and-match to create that over-the-top look without spending a fortune.”

In addition, customers are starting to head more toward high-end, going the way of their European counterparts.

“Eighteen-karat held its own very nicely,” says Bannerot. “You’re never wrong giving 18-karat, and there’s a lot of good-looking, fresh designs that caused it to become a natural go-to in fine jewelry.”

The WGC Mounts Support

As a member of the gold industry’s support and information system, the WGC has recently found a place in fashion’s good graces due to financial backing and diligent marketing and advertising efforts.

“We’ve really been helping the trade wrap its brain around [the trend],” Bannerot says. “It would be extremely presumptuous to say that we started the trend, but we do hope that we have helped to create the avalanche effect.”

One major factor in this revival may have been the successful “Gold Fashion Girls” ad campaign promoted by the WGC. Marrying the image of Darcy Bussell, principal dancer at the London Royal Ballet, with designers such as Robert Lee Morris, Chimento, Roberto Coin and Tissot, the WGC succeeded in reintroducing gold jewelry as both high-end and fashion-forward.

Now, the WGC will roll out a brand new campaign for the third and fourth quarters of 2001. Relating to people’s emotional connection with the metal, the new ads will acknowledge the different responses that people have toward gold that makes it special.

“Not only does gold have a holy significance with religious iconography and statuary, but there is the other end of the extreme–a store of wealth-that relates to a bar of gold or currency,” says Bannerot.

He points out that gold is neither one nor the other, rather, it embodies an idea somewhere in between an adornment and monetary value of its worth.

Although the ads are not fully developed at this time, Bannerot explains that a long, arduous branding study will reflect the findings of how people feel about gold, which will then be worked into the campaign.

“The key words we’ve found so far have been an embodiment of desire, sensuality, intriguing, a source of delight–that gold is a reflection of the person and vice-versa,” he says.

These ads, partnered with co-ops, will be joined with vigorous PR support, enabling the designers to bring the emotional elements of the campaign right down to the store counter.

Designs of the New Millennium

Although it may seem that there aren’t many new design challenges in gold to conquer, Bannerot makes a claim for the creative.

The individual expression is key–gold is so versatile,” he says. “Now there are so many changes in finish, and designers are having so much fun doing interesting things in gold.”

This statement rang true at the Basel Show in March, when designers took gold to the limit using techniques and looks ranging from embossed to mesh.

“It’s clear that the younger designers are thinking in 3-D,” reports Bannerot, “and that they are taking advantage of the new manufacturing processes available to them. They can create big and bold pieces that are still comfortable and have a lot of utility. Plus, there is that attention to detail that focuses on design elements like toggles and clasps.”

Conquering a World Market

But all is not total serenity on the gold front. Gold stocks in March were trading near their 20-year low due to an over whelming supply for the demand.

In response to the bottomed-out stock, the WGC persuaded members to raise their membership fee from $1 to $2 an ounce, allowing the marketing budget for 2001 to more than double, from $14 million to $32 million.

“If this funding can show good results, we can create a good five-year plan to fund the Council’s efforts for raising gold’s awareness among consumers,” Bannerot says. “If we can reduce overhang by increasing consumption, the prices will move back into better profit margins for miners.”

Bannerot insists the WGC’s strategy is long-term and not just based on the fickle fashion fads of the past year.

“This is not just a quarterly game, it is really a year-long selling season,” he states. “The primary function is to use more ounces of gold, while making the point that people can buy ‘better’ as well. We want people to be smart consumers, thereby helping them. have a good experience with their gold. By insisting on quality, we will keep the consumers coming back for more.”

Is a Buying Group Right for You?

Buying competitively can mean the difference between so-so and sensational profits. But as an independent jeweler, you’re often at the mercy of huge corporate vendors who have the final say on how much you pay for their merchandise, even if the terms they impose don’t jibe with your business.

To avoid this frustration, hundreds of jewelers in a similar position have joined one of the industry’s three largest buying groups, the Independent Jewelers Organization (IJO), the Retail Jewelers Organization (RJO) and the Continental Buying Group. Their goal? To wield enough buying power to secure better prices and more flexible sales terms and to eventually gain parity with the chain stores, whose competitive edge lies in their ability to get hefty discounts in exchange for ordering the right volume.

IJO, RJO and Continental were all founded on the principle that there is strength in numbers. The concept is familiar to anyone who has ever contemplated the appeal of a gang or the dynamics of a well-organized army–unity begets power.

But in the case of jewelry buying, it also begets big savings.

“I pay about $295 a year for my RJO membership, and it pays for itself with our vendor discounts,” says Mike McFarlin of McFarlin’s Jewelry in Amarillo, Texas.

Other member jewelers invoke the same reasoning when describing their decision to join a buying group: Savings are the primary draw. On its Web site, RJO, a 33-year-old organization based in Newton, Idaho, boasts that its manufacturers’ discounts average between 5% and 7%. Norwalk, Conn.-based IJO, whose 860 members make it the largest independent jewelers organization in the world, makes the same claim.

“We form a triangle between the manufacturers, our members and us,” says IJO owner Richard Swetz. “Members can make $1,000 in cash just belonging to the group.”

As a card-carrying member, jewelers agree to make the majority of their purchases through the group, sometimes with a minimum order stipulation. But the groups are quick to point out that many of the vendors on their roster are ones jewelers probably already use. RJO has over 200 on its list, including Aurafin, Citizen, EGL of Los Angeles, Fossil, Frederick Goldman, Seiko and Stuller. IJO has many of the same names under its umbrella.

“Half to three-quarters of my suppliers are the same. I just changed my billing with them,” says Doug Heisey, whose late father joined RIO about six years ago to negotiate better buying deals for his Manheim, Pa., business, Heisey’s Jewelry Store.

In a typical RJO buying scenario, a jeweler will order from his supplier directly but, during the process, will specify that he is a buying group member and therefore entitled to the group discount. The supplier will bill the organization, who will in turn bill the member, whittling the retailer’s purchasing and billing process down to just one monthly invoice.

“It makes billing a little easier. You don’t have to write out umpteen checks to all your different suppliers, and you do get a discount,” says Heisey.

IJO, on the other hand, doesn’t offer central billing. Instead, the organization has its members deal directly with the suppliers, who issue a discount at the time of purchase. Members are also entitled to rebates at the end of the year, based on their IJO purchases. According to members, cost-cutting measures like these are the reason why their businesses have prospered.

“I’m in a different place than I ever thought I could be,” says Anthony Fratto of Anthony Jewelers in Palmyra, N.J. “Ten years ago, we were doing about $400,000 a year. Now we’re doing $1.2 million.”

The groups heavily promote their semiannual buying shows, where members are invited to make their big purchases, hobnob with fellow jewelers and attend educational seminars sponsored by the group. At IJO’s show in Savannah, Ga., last summer, course titles included “Making the Tax Laws Work for Your Jewelry Store,” “From Fee to Shining Fee: Pricing Repairs” and “Customer Loyalty: Dead or Alive?”

But membership perks go way beyond discounts and seminars. Both IJO and RJO offer low credit card charges, travel discounts and rebates, diamond buying trips to Antwerp, TV advertising, consumer newsletters, free Web site services, store critiques, merchandise reviews and GIA title course offerings.

“The buying group is only a small part of what we do,” says Swetz of IJO, where membership costs $495 a year. “We have 800 members. You have a problem, you want to move, you want to expand. We’ve done these things. You bring us your P-and-Ls and your business plan and we can help you. We’ve been there before.”

So, presumably, has RJO. The two organizations are remarkably similar, mirroring each other right down to their membership criteria. Geographic location is the first barrier. To join, you have to be located in a city or town where there are no current members. You also have to be a No. 1 or No. 2 rated store listed with the Jewelers Board of Trade.

Meet those requirements and you, too, can join the club, gaining the collective know-how of hundreds of your fellow jewelers and the bargaining power of a corporate giant.

“If we ever have a vendor dispute, I can get them to back me,” says McFarlin, who’s been an RJO member for three years. “I recently had a problem with a vendor on their service, and RJO pretty well took care of it. You’ve got a group of jewelers backing you. You’re not just one small-time guy.”

Northeast Retailers Right on Target

“Don’t believe everything you see on TV.” For jewelry retailers in the Northeast, this popular phrase certainly has meaning as high-end retail stores from West Virginia to Maine don’t seem to be cracking under the pressure of a media-hyped recession.

While customers may be shopping a little more cautiously, it’s not stopping them from making purchases.

“[The recession] was definitely hitting us for a while,” says Laurel Wert of Nicholson & Ryan in Augusta, Maine, “but we pulled back ahead this quarter. We have seen a difference in the way people are shopping, though. There’s a little less traffic, but shoppers are not necessarily looking for lower price points.”

In fact, many retailers say business was hit the hardest in the fourth quarter of 2000, but that spirits seem to be rising again as 2001 progresses.

“The last quarter [of 2000] just kind of died for us,” says Gretchen Braunschweiger of Braunschweiger Jewelers in New Providence, N.J. “Now people are feeling a little better. Maybe it has stopped its slide. Things are much more stable now.”

Depending on the location of the store, some retailers didn’t feel the pinch at all.

“We live in an area where there are a lot of rank-and-file people who aren’t concerned about the stock market,” says Andrea Kosko of Fellin’s in Hazleton, Pa. “It’s still sort of an old-fashioned economy around here. We make sure that we offer a large variety of price points and styles so that we can cater to all types of people in all types of economic situations.”

One thing that northeastern retailers all agree on is that diamond sales have become increasingly more competitive over the past few years, due mainly to the plethora of diamond-related Web sites.

“The diamond business as become very competitive,” says Tim Ryan of Frank Adams Jewelers in Alban ,N.Y. “There’s a lot more price shopping d comparisons to Internet prices.”

Although comparison hopping on the Internet is high, most of the jewelers agree that purchasing diamonds is still done in the bricks-and-mortar stores. Customers are shopping on the Inter et to get the best prices and then leave it up to the retailers to match or beat those quotes. Usually, jewelers say, they are forced to exceed the competition or lose a potential customer.

The round brilliant cut comprises the majority of diamond purchases. Princess cuts are almost as popular, while others, such as the marquise and oval cuts, trail in a distant pack.

The fluctuating economy hasn’t necessarily affected purchase based on carat weight. Many retailers say the average carat weight for a diamond in an engagement ring today is one carat.

As far as other diamond issues are concerned, answers vary from store to store.

“We do a big business loose diamonds and blank mountings,” say Ryan. “Another big seller for us has been fancy-colored diamonds, such as fancy intense yellow. Also, the Pink Diamond collection from Suna Bros. has done immensely well.”

Ryan notes that his store does a special diamond promotion once year with spectacular results.

“It’s a one-day sale. We highlight colored diamonds and loose stones, and customers can even get jewels set one premises that day. We promote it direct-mail postcards and in-store [displays].”

This year, Suna Bros. d Craig Drake will both be on-site to get customers excited about diamonds.

Pearl sales also vary from store to store. While most say pearls are holding their own, there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming trend toward pearl purchases.

Reports indicate pearl stud earrings and pendants are mainstays, especially in white cultured pearls. Strands, a trend now being promoted heavily by Mikimoto and seen on fashion runways, are hot in some regions and a no-sell in others.

“Pearls are starting to pick up for us,” says Wert. “It’s more of the smaller pieces and not strands that are going.”

Ryan disagrees. “There are a lot of customers asking for strand right now,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s because of the recent advertising or not, but Japanese akoyas in the 6 1/2mm to 7mm range are moving a lot quicker this year than they were last year. We’re also doing really well with our large collection of South Seas and Tahitians.”

Braunschweiger has a completely different outlook than both Ryan and Wert, noting that the more inexpensive pearl pieces are all that seem to be selling.

“It’s been very quiet in pearls, although it picked up slightly over the holidays,” she says. “We still sell a lot of the ‘Tin Cup’ style necklaces and the lower price point items. Customers are buying the most in saltwater cultured and some in freshwater.”

Kosko suggests augmenting inventory with add-a-pearl necklaces. They are one of her great sellers.

“Add-a-pearl necklaces are tremendous for us,” she says. “They are great gifts, and they keep the customers coming back for more pearls as the years go on.”

High-end luxury watches remain strong for the Northeast, with Rolex leading the pack. But that is certainly not the end of the story. More and more, retailers are selling a signature brand of watches that feature their name on the dial, which holds a certain amount of recognition for their loyal customers.

“Our signature brand does really well for us,” says Kosko. “Bel Air Watch Co. in New Jersey makes them for us and then they have our name on the face. They’ve incorporated a lot of fashion styles into their collection, which is great. Our biggest sellers are jewelry-style watches, such as white metal, bracelet or cuff styles.”

At Frank Adams Jewelers, Ryan says the combination of high-end, well-known brands and their own signature style, also made by Bel Air, has served them well.

“We sell four lines: Rolex, Maurice Lacroix, Raymond Weil and our own line. The all-yellow look is hot, especially in Rolex. We sold more yellow gold Rolex watches from November through March than we ever sold before.”

As far as what sells in metals, the Northeast again varies by location. Gold has seen a lot of strength in the designer lines, while yellow gold seems to be the color of choice.

“We’re very surprised by the success of our designer collections.” says Ryan. “We just started selling Orlando Orlandini. We sold through every piece that we ordered at Couture last year and then had to reorder at Christmas. People weren’t really coming in looking for the yellow gold look, but we directed them toward it. Customers really responded to it, especially men who wanted to buy it for their wives and girlfriends.”

The bulk of fashion gold jewelry sales are in 14-karat, while higher price point sales are often in 18-karat.

Platinum is still the big winner in bridal, according to retailers. They say the customer is becoming increasingly educated about the white metal’s virtues and understands that quality comes with a higher price tag.

“In bridal, platinum is becoming a lot more than it was,” says Braunschweiger. “It’s almost the No. 1 choice whether the woman wears yellow gold jewelry or not.”

Ryan agrees: “Our platinum bridal business is close to 50% now. Customers are coming in and demanding platinum, maybe due to all the advertising going on out there.”

Although platinum is hot in bridal, it doesn’t necessarily generate profits in fashion jewelry. Retailers claim the higher price point for platinum is a major deterrent for customers choosing between white gold and platinum. While the white look is still a trend, customers are often choosing gold in the end.

Color was in fashion’s forecast for the past year, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to the world of fine jewelry. Some stores still rely on the Big Three–emeralds, rabies and sapphires–while others gravitate toward the less conventional tanzanites, iolites and peridots.

“Color isn’t as strong as a year ago,” says Ryan. “We are selling more ruby and sapphire, but we don’t see the same demand for tanzanite as were.”

Braunschweiger’s spectrum differs strongly. “Tanzanite, iolite and peridot are still pretty good, unlike 10 years ago when they didn’t sell at all. Pinks haven’t panned out as much as we thought, except for pink sapphires. We thought that pink tourmalines would be better. Men tend to shy away from color as gifts except for the Big Three stones.”

Wert, like many others, points to the demand for sapphires. From the traditional blue to the variety of popular pastels, sapphires have been a strong seller in recent months.

In-store promotions are a significant part of many of the retailers’ year-long plans. From parties to trunk shows, these events are a way to get customers involved with the store in an intimate and friendly way.

Kosko explains that Fellin’s does heavy holiday promotions during the year. From the more traditional gift-giving Valentine’s Day to St. Patrick’s Day, Kosko feels there is a piece of jewelry for every sentiment.

“We’ve really been trying to sell Easter as a jewelry-giving holiday,” she says. “We sell a variety of religious items, and we also do a display room with different Easter eggs [made out of materials] such as enamel, marble and Waterford crystal. Customers come back year after year to add to their collections. It’s good to find a jewelry and gift angle for special days of the year. We give people a reason to come into the store, and they can find anything from a $25 item to a $1,500 item.”

In addition to Easter, Kosko’s promotes claddaugh jewelry for St. Patrick’s Day and pocket watches for Father’s Day. The holiday themes are promoted with creative advertising materials sent out locally.

Both Braunschweiger Jewelers and Nicholson & Ryan have an annual estate sale, something that has proved successful for both the store and its customers.

All in all, response in the Northeast was optimistic. While the end of 2000 signaled a lapse in jewelry buying, 2001 50 far has not lived up to the hype of a hopeless economy.

What’s Selling in The Southeast?

April is, indeed, the cruelest month, say jewelry retailers in the Southeast. But that’s hardly news. What is news is that reports of the demise of jewelry sales in this region have been greatly exaggerated. While business isn’t exactly going gangbusters in Virginia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, the regional favorites are still selling.

national jeweler spoke to a handful of retailers in the Southeast to find out what’s selling and what’s not in their area. Surprise, surprise: diamonds, David Yurman and Rolex are these jewelers’ best friends.

The cornerstone of most businesses in the Southeast is diamond jewelry, primarily in the engagement ring category. Preferences run overwhelmingly toward the round brilliant cut, with the princess cut coming in a distant second. Fancy cuts, such as pear and heart shapes, sell very occasionally. And, according to more than a few jewelers, the marquise cut is well on its way out. But that’s where the agreements end.

Jewelers are all over the place on qualities and price points, with sales ranging from clarity-enhanced stones in the thousand dollar tier all the way up to six figures for colorless, faintly flawed rocks sold in the region’s big-money bastions, such as Palm Beach. Yet it is clear that De Beers’ marketing efforts have paid off everywhere.

“Diamond is my main business,” says Todd Condon of Condon Jewelers in Jensen Beach, Fla. “I concentrate on the basics. If that’s not the No. 1 reason people come to my store, I don’t know what is.”

Diamond earrings and diamond pendants are also strong regional sellers, with the round-brilliant cut again taking the lead. As for the sizes that sell, weights start at a half-carat and go up from there, typically reaching a ceiling of about 1 1/2 carets, although several jewelers said, in mildly surprised tones, that they recently scored some big diamond sales up to four carats in total weight.

“In engagement ring price points, our niche is $5,000 to $10,000. But right now, I’m working on a 4-carat piece that’s $70,000 and one that’s $20,000,” says Bonn Simon of Facets Jewelers in Virginia Beach, Va. “Now that’s unusual.”

Colored-stone sales, on the other hand, have been in a slump for the past several years, say Southeast jewelers almost unanimously. When prospective customers walk into a store, they’re not seeking color and, if they are, it’s more often than not going to be blue sapphire. The vast array of offbeat color on today’s market-from flame-colore citrine to violet-infused tanzanite–rarely penetrates this more conservative arena, where diamond sales eclipse almost every other jewelry category.

“Our colored stone sales have been weak for a few years,” says Simon. “We have a big inventory of color, both loose and mounted. But I guess it’s question of priorities. I think color is a harder sale for most salespeople. It’s easier to follow the typical diamond, gold, two-tone route.”

Pearls have also seen better days, with many people reporting “so-so” sales since before Christmastime. Among the jewelers who carry Chinese freshwaters, they report that the market seems to have swallowed up the akoya pearl, leaving the saltwater action to the bigger and pricier South Sea and Tahitian pearls.

“I think the freshwaters have jumpstarted the [pearl] market,” says Condon. “Now, I am selling three freshwaters to every one saltwater. I have increased my pearl business 25% to 30% since getting into freshwaters.”

Reports indicate the South Sea and Tahitian gems are selling in earrings or pendants, but rarely as necklaces, largely due to price. “A 12 mm South Sea pearl necklace doesn’t sell like a 7 1/2 mm akoya necklace did,” says Simon.

On the metals front, the leader in sales–by dollar value and often by unit–is platinum, which has helped stave off the yellow gold revival, at least for the time being.

“In bridal, right now, it’s platinum solitaires and three-stone rings,” says Tim Haney of Haney Jewelry Co. in Calhoun, Ga.

The platinum craze has made white-metal lovers out of women in the non-bridal category, too, showing strong gains in earrings and pendants. Many jewelers say this is typical of this sector of the country, where the fashion world’s trends take a good year or two to sink in.

“We do well with pendants and earrings in platinum and have been doing well for the last four years,” says Brenda Philemon of Garibaldi & Bruns in Charlotte, N.C. “We have not seen yellow gold make its comeback.”

But what has become firmly entrenched in the Southeast jewelry scene is designer jewelry with a name. David Yurman and Lagos are two designer collections that have found their niche in this part of the country. According to many jewelers, their designs boast the right amount of name recognition to draw customers into the store, not to mention that the pieces bear the signature qualities that define a successful brand.

“We do well with Yurman’s complete line,” says Philemon. “I’ve been in the business 25 years and he’s the most recognized name in the jewelry industry that I’ve ever seen.”

Of course, there are so regional favorites to contend with even within the Southeast, with Florida buying tastes running to bigger and flashier pieces, for example. These region within-a-region preferences play out in each individual store, forcing jewelers to constantly fine-tune their merchandise mix so that it appeals to their customers’ sense of fashion.

“We’re on the East Coast and are very influenced by the Northeast, New Jersey, New Yorkers,” says Condon, whose Jensen Beach location is firmly planted on U.S. 1, the panhandle’s main thoroughfare. “It’s a lot more show — pretty but big. It’s got to be big. They called my original selection ‘baby jewelry.’ I had to clearance out all of that stuff.”

Another stronghold in Florida is marine-inspired jewelry, continues Condon. Whale pendants, sand dollar earnings and turtle bracelets, among dozens of other sea-life designs created in 14-karat gold, are finding favor in Florida’s coastal communities at the moment.

Condon says his two strongest up-and-coming lines are the Wyland Gold collection (an offshoot venture Wyland, the ubiquitous marine-life artist whose paintings and sculptures are found in galleries, museums and gift shop from Hawaii to the Florida Keys) and Guy Harvey Gold, a collection put together by a local artist who recently expanded his thriving sea-life T-shirt business into gold jewelry. Harvey now produces pieces like golden manatees with emerald eyes, shell bracelets, game-fish pendants and assorted charms that retail from $800 to $900.

“The sea-life category has been great for us,” says Condon. “About two years ago, we really started to concentrate on it. We can’t keep it in the store. And it’s gold, so there’s a good markup.”

In the watch category, Southeast retailers report varying degrees of success, describing sales as brisk, sluggish and everything in between. For some retailers, watches are a pillar of the business, as with Facets Jewelers, where Rolex is king. For other retailers, watches are a drain on resources, presenting far more headaches than profits. But there doesn’t seem to be any real pattern to suggest who falls into which classification.

“We have three watch lines and they’ve been down for the last year,” says Haney. “All the Swiss, they’re reluctant to get on the ball and do design work. They’ve dropped the cookie on that.”

Most of the stores that national jeweler spoke with sold just a handful of watch lines: Gucci, Movado and Rolex had several mentions. Garibaldi & Bruns, however, was the exception with 11 watch lines, all of them Swiss except for Seiko.

Merchandising in the Southeast means different things to different jewelers. Some retailers sponsor high-end trunk shows, such as Facets’ upcoming presentation on diamond cutting by the store’s cutter. Others focus more on external advertising, offering promotions designed to increase store traffic and drum up sales, while still others devote their energy to in-store displays, changing their showcases more often than they change their flower arrangements.

Despite these efforts, jewelers in the region like their counterparts across the country by and large have seen a slight cooling at the cash register in the first half of 2001. Customers are more careful about their purchases these days. They are approaching the goods in the windows and beneath the counters like students, giving careful consideration to each and every piece of jewelry, rather than impulsively snatching up the biggest and brightest centerpieces after a cursory once-over. They are educating themselves more than ever before, waltzing into stores demanding lab reports and grading certificates, sometimes to their jeweler’s chagrin.

“A lot of people want a certified diamond,” says Condon. “They don’t even know what it is, but they want it.”

The upshot of all of this is that many jewelers have pulled the reigns in on their buying. They are reluctant to stockpile because that’s what got so many of them into trouble during the holiday season. Caution, it seems, is the prevailing attitude on both sides of the jewelry counter.

But, somewhat unexpectedly, this standoffishness has not translated into mass pessimism. Most jewelers say they are prepared to ride out the economic turbulence, focusing on offering their customers top-quality jewelry at fair price points, an approach that is generally described as recession-proof.

“Last Christmas was our best Christmas in 56 years,” says Haney, striking a different chord than most of his fellow retailers. “The message that came through was better quality. Platinum over gold, better quality diamonds, Ceylon sapphires, South Sea pearls. We watched our buying and listened to our customers more than ever.”