Category Archives: Jewelry

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.”

Midwest Retailers Hold Their Own

Retailers in the Midwest recently told national jeweler they are optimistic that business will eventually pick up once the stock market regains its footing and the recession turns out to be more fiction than fact.

Until then, however, jewelers, especially in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, maintain that business has seen a steady downturn since the middle of 2000. Business that does happen doesn’t have the same gleam in the eye it had in the millennium days of 1999 and beginning of 2000. Caution is the watchword, both among jewelers and their customers, say heartland retailers.

Other jewelers in the area say that business may not be as slow it seems; rather, the cooling trend may just be an illusion in comparison to sales in 1999.

While some Midwest retailers say business is making a soft landing from the prosperous times, others have far more grave concerns, like downsizing in the auto industry in Detroit. Among those retailers most affected by economic downturn, less consumer demand even for staple goods like diamond stud earrings and tennis bracelets has left inventories stagnant.

One mainstay jewelers are glad to have in their stores is the diamond engagement ring. Regardless of a trend shift from the bigger-and-whiter to the ore price-conscious better cut delivering the best diamond bang for the buck people are still getting engaged in the Midwest. While fancy shapes and trendier looks aren’t as hot, the standard round-brilliant diamond engagement ring between 0.75 and 1 carat has helped most jeweler hold their own in recent months.

“Everything out of our staple goods is pretty slow. I just think it’s because the economy is slow. Everyone is feeling the same way,” says Robert Fixter of Sartor Haman Jewelers in Lincoln, Neb. “Rapaport just sent us a survey to fill out, so that’s n sign to me that they know the economy is slowing down and it’s having an effect on business. One thing we do like, though, is that diamond engagement rings sell all year.”

Out of all the engagement rings Fixter has in his stock, Hearts on Fire diamonds continue to be his strongest seller because of their uniqueness and ease-of-sale.

“We have 900 different engagement ring styles and demand is pretty varied. So, it’s kind of difficult to pinpoint which particular style is selling best. If there is one though, I would say the solitaire engagement ring. Platinum is okay; it’s not great. For our solitaires, we set them in 14-karat gold with an 18-karat head. White gold is still more popular.”

To target the engagement ring customer, Fixter relies on radio ads.

“Radio works,” says Fixter. “We use ads on one station and they usually talk about our store and things that make us different.”

Business at Godfrey Jewelers in Battle Creek, Mich., has slowed so much from last year that some of the best-selling items in stock are a selection of clocks. While high-end, trendy jewelry has waned in demand and begins to gather dust in display cases, tennis bracelets and bracelets with diamonds, rubies and emeralds have taken over as the prime movers.

“I only wish there was more selling,” says John Godfrey. “I would say we’ve been mainly selling diamond jewelry and loose diamonds. We sold a few loose diamonds between 0.75 carats and 1 carat, nothing larger, in what I call mid-quality G, H, I and Vs to Si.

Goods that continue to linger on Godfrey’s shelves since last year include colored stone jewelry and larger-sized, nicer-quality diamond jewelry set in platinum.

“I had a couple of people walk out recently on prices and they were shopping for nicer platinum jewelry,” says Godfrey. That’s not typical of last year. People are being much more cautious. We’ll see what happens. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have said the Fed lowering the interest rates may have a big effect on the economy.”

A little boost to Godfrey’s business so far this year has been a week-long St. Patrick’s Day promotion.

Customers were challenged to find hidden inside a balloon in a roomful of green balloons a piece of paper giving the winner a great deal on a diamond ring. In another contest during that week, a lucky customer won a loose emerald and Godfrey sold her a mounting for it.

“And this is not an Irish area,” says Godfrey. “Customers had a lot of fun.”

Godfrey says the plan for his business is to proceed with caution. He plans to buy more of the hot-selling diamond, ruby and emerald bracelets toward late summer and early fall but will be very cautious about what other types of goods he buys.

“We’re going to be very cautious. We didn’t have a great Christmas, so we’ll probably need to buy after the first half of the year. There still are a nice amount of goods in the store, so We’re going to be very picky about what we’re going to buy. I think things really must be slow with the economy,” says Godfrey. “I just received telephone calls from suppliers who we haven’t dealt ith in years. For them to make cold cal s out of the blue like that is a sign to me at they’re looking for business.”

So far this year, this main seller in Trein’s Jewelry in Dixon, Ill., has been diamond stud earrings Store co-owner Linda Brantley says that while higher-end merchandise has not been not as strong compared to the same time last year, studs have kept overall sales to about even to what they were in 2000.

For the past 20 years, Trein’ s has offered a trade-in program for diamond stud earrings, where customers can trade in studs they bought in the store and put the value toward a better st.

“We have a lot of diamond studs out there,” says Brantley. “This is a small town, and people say our studs are the nicest because we don’t sell anything lower than a G. We’re very fussy about cut. From across the room, these things sparkle.”

To stock up on some of the diamond earrings and loose stones that have been selling so well this year, Brantley is also preparing to take a trip o Antwerp.

“It’s a real tough job but someone’s got to do it,” jokes Brantley. “I have a dealer in Antwerp and if he doesn’t have what I’m looking for, he makes it possible to find it. The trip usually takes a week or two. I’ll go to Antwerp get my business done and spend the rest of the time in some place fun like Italy, or Holland in the spring to see the tulips.”

Brantley makes the trip as part of her involvement with the Independent Jeweler’ s Association (IJO), which offers members a chance to buy directly from Antwerp dealers. Most retailers in the IJO are from smaller, rural towns and must rely on their ability to advertise the fact they buy directly from Antwerp.

The biggest seller in Trein’s store is the Spirit of Flanders, which is cut and sold exclusively for IJO members.

“It’s a different niche. It’s something that we can have that no other store can,” says Brantley. “One thing about the Spirit of Flanders is that it looks bigger and the color is better than it really is. But the most important thing is that no one has it.”

Brantley’s son, Eric, 32, has also brought strong business to the store with his own designer jewelry lines.

“He makes everything-rings, pendants-and they’re all very popular. I would say half the stuff in the store we sell are his,” says Brantley. “People who come in often have a lot of diamonds and colored stones and he’ll build around it. He also lets them participate in the design.”

At Lang’s Jewelers in Muscatine, Iowa, business is about even with the same time last year, although store owner Martha Lang says she does notice a difference in consumer confidence.

“Right now, I think engagement rings, 0.5 carat, are more popular,” says Lang. “For some reason I think we’re bucking a national trend with fancy shapes. Marquise are more popular for us, while they’re slowing down most other places. We’re also selling a lot of watches in the $150 to $350 range. A lot of folks still look for platinum products, and they’ve remained pretty steady for us. Last year, we had our largest year ever in that type of product, but this year people are going a lot smaller. They’re pulling back into nicer qualities, but they’re just getting smaller stones.”

Engagement rings by Peter Sax and I.B. Goodman remain popular in Lang’s.

“We’ve been handling more of them in platinum and 18-karat white gold,” adds Lang.

Engagement and wedding sets are also popular in Ohio. Most retailers in the state report more 0.5-carat to 1-carat engagement ring sales so far this year, which has offset the drop in bigger, higher-end jewelry.

“So far, bridal has really picked up for us,” says James L. Thomas of Thomas Jewelers in Findlay, Ohio. “Mainly 0.5 carat to 1 carat and not necessarily the three-stone.”

Round-brilliants, followed closely by princess cuts, have been the most popular shapes in the store this year. Jewelry has been selling in the middle of the store’s usual $1,600 to $5,000 price range. Thomas’ customers are buying between J and Si2 to E and Vs, the qualities they bought last year at this time. Carat-weight diamond stud earrings have been some of the main sellers in the store.

So far this year, Thomas has maintained his usual amount of radio advertising. He spent 5% of last year’s sales on advertising.

“We’re very heavy in radio. We have a new message, not a new method. We don’t really push brands too much-we push us.”

Breaking The Color Barrier

Every year, Argyle Diamonds, proprietor of the world’s largest diamond mine, holds an invitation-only sale of the best pink stones to emerge from that year’s production. The silent auction, known as the Argyle Tender, takes place in Geneva, usually in October. But before bidding begins, the entire lot takes a jet-setting tour of the world’s high-powered gem-brokering locales-Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York and London-where specially sellected dealers are enticed into offering more than $100,000 per carat for what are believed to be the trade’s priciest stones.

“It works on a sealed-bid tender,” ex plains Alan Bronstein, a New York fancy-colored diamond dealer who has amassed the 260-stone-strong Aurora collection, an assortment of diamonds representing 12 different color varieties. “You write in a bid, and then you mail it to Geneva, and the highest bid wins. So the only person who knows what the stone’s worth is he person who paid for it. You don’t know if you’re paying double or triple or half what others might have bid.” Cheeky move, Argyle, but a perfect way to illustrate how in the rarefied world of fancycolored diamonds, absolutely anything goes. Argyle simply has to showcase its 40some-odd stones at the tender, then sit back and wait for colored diamond connoisseurs to wage an all-out war as they attempt to boost the stones’ value into a cost-benefit no-man’s land, familiar to only the Winstons, the Mouawads and the sultans of this world.

“They’re trying to create a fever so that people put up spontaneous, emotional bids,” says Bronstein, who has attended the majority of Argyle’s 16 tenders.

One reason why they can, and people do, is that the highly saturated pinks that come from Argyle’ s Western Australian kimberlite pipes redefine the meaning of rare, even in gemological circles. An estimated one-tenth of 1% (0.1%) of the company’s diamond production, which totaled 26.5 million carats of rough in 2000, falls into the prized pink category. Year after year, that output continues to slip. So as sophisticated consumers and well-heeled collectors tire of the more abundant fancy yellows, they may soon have to jack their bids up to $200,000 per carat to keep themselves in the pink.

Flights of Fancy

Welcome to the weird, wild universe of fancy-colored diamonds, where anonymous private collectors pay $926,315 per carat for 0.95 purplish reds (as happened at a Christie’s sale in 1987) and an inauspicious 45.52carat blue stone called the Hope draws more visitors to the Smithsonian than any other object in the world.

Anything goes indeed.

The furor over colored diamonds-a steadily increasing feature of the high-end jewelry landscape-begins and ends with their inscrutability. First and foremost, how are they formed?

Gemologists think stray atoms can stain a diamond’s colorless structure, giving it a distinct pigment that varies depending on the element trapped in the primeval carbon mix. Nitrogen turns diamonds yellow. Boron brings on blue. Other colors are of dubious origin. Some speculate that red/pink and green diamonds derive their hues from structural defects or the irradiating effects of the earth’s uranium ore, respectively. Yet no one knows for sure.

Nor can anyone conclusively define a fancy’s true color. Why not? Because color is in the eye of the beholder, never mind what it says on the cert.

“The nature of fancy-colored diamonds is very subjective,” says Bronstein, whose Aurora collection is the basis for Collecting and classifying Coloured Diamonds, a 742-page opus by gemologist Stephen Hofer detailing the splendor and the science of colored diamonds. “The cert is vital for giving the authenticity of the stone, but it’s not vital for deciding its beauty, rarity, value or what the exact visual color is.”

True Colors

Even the best labs in the world disagree on their color call-outs. In just one example, a stone from a recent Argyle Tender earned a “fancy red I1” grading from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the industry’s standard for nomenclature, while the Diamond High Council (HRD), the official body of the Belgian diamond trade, gave it a “fancy intense purplish red S12” grading. The Argyle catalog listed both cert numbers, leaving prospective buyers to make up their own minds.

The same thing happens at jewelry stores, auction houses and collector’s tete-a-tetes all over the world when salespeople and clients perform their own subjective color analyses. Someone seeking a fancy vivid yellow diamond is shown two stones, same carat weight, same cut. But because one person’s lemon yellow is another person’s orange yellow, confusion ensues.

“Even if a customer asks for a pink, I’ll bring out a purplish pink,” says Lily Vongwattanakit, a gem buyer for Van Cleef & Arpels, one of the few retail outlets for diamonds in this price stratosphere. “People have different interpretations of color.”

All the ambiguity lends itself well to these enigmatic stones, whose cachet is unparalleled in the high-stakes world of gemstone collecting. Not surprising, a survey of famous diamonds reveals that many, if not most, are colored: the Dresden Green, the canary-yellow Tiffany, the bluish-green Great Mogul and the faint pink Great Table, to name a few.

Perhaps this illustrious peer group-and their remarkable provenance-is why fancies are consistent bestsellers at auction, setting price records in the same way a rare Picasso might at the modem art sale in the adjoining salon. According to the December millennium edition of Auction Market Resource for Gems and Jewelry, from October 1994 to October 2000, 24 out of the top 25 price-percarat sales were fancycolored diamonds.

“The trend in popular jewelry was fueled by success of unusual and very highly priced fancy-colored diamonds at auction,” emails Gail Brett Levine, G.G., publisher of Auction Market Resource. “Such pieces receive millions of dollars in free publicity in national and local news.”

Colored diamonds are so adept at hyping themselves that De Beers doesn’t even bother with promotions. The Diamond Information Center and the Diamond Promotion Service, both based in New York, are overflowing with literature, marketing materials and promo cards extolling the virtues of white or colorless diamonds, but nowhere does a single fancy get billing.

In Short Supply

In truth, the supply situation is such that fancies don’t need it. Apart from fashionable and plentiful colors such as brown (champagne, cognac, chocolate), black and, to a much lesser extent, yellow, fancycolored diamonds are the gem world’s equivalent of organs awaiting transplant. Waiting lists run out the door.

“When customers look for a blue or pink diamond, they are usually very specific on the size and shape they are looking for, so sometimes it is not as easy to show them many of the same thing,” says Anjanette Spreen, marketing director of Vivid Collection, a manufacturer of high-end colored diamond jewelry that markets its pieces to consumers and the trade. “But we do offer our customers options.”

Unlike white diamonds, which can be assembled for a lineup in a matter of hours, maybe days, finding similarly colored diamonds to give clients a comparison can take months, if it’s even possible.

“I’m a consultant When I have a private client or a retail customer, I go out and source the market the best I can,” says Bronstein from his office, a sunny nook in one of Fifth Avenue’s most heavily secured buildings. ‘Then I will present to my customers all the stones that I can. This is fancy, this is intense, this is vivid. I can do that with yellow but not with pink or blue because there just aren’t enough specimens to make such a wide comparison.”

Unofficial estimates put the number of fancies at just 2% of the total diamond population. But when cut, that number shrinks even further because to optimize the color of a fancy, a cutter has to discard a lot more rough than for a specimen of colorless diamond of the same size.

Essentially, the way a fancy is cut is tantamount to good color, which differs markedly between a face-up and a body perspective. Bronstein brings this point home when he flashes two yellow diamond rings in a white tray, face-up. One is cushion-cut, the other radiant.

“Which one faces up a stronger yellow?” he asks. I point to the radiant cut.

He then flips both rings in the tray, so the body color becomes evident. The cushion cut is a much more saturated color than the radiant. I can hardly believe it’s the same ring I was looking at a moment earlier.

“The physical production of face-up color in a polished diamond involves the distance light rays travel inside the stone and the direction in which they exit the crown relative to the observer,” writes Stephen Hofer in Forever Brilliant, another book on the Aurora collection produced in collaboration with Bronstein. “In general, these light rays travel relatively long or short distances (i.e., more or less absorption of light) and then exit the crown in a direction away from the observer’s line of sight. This basic behavior of light determines the colors we see in the face-up and how those colors are distributed.”

But even this fine physical explanation filters down to the same practical scenario: At the end of the day, perception of color is still subjective.

“The hardest thing about selling a colored diamond is, although people are educated, they have a hard time understanding the difference between an intense yellow diamond vs. a vivid yellow diamond,” says Spreen of Vivid Collection. “These two are so rare to find, and the price per carat changes a great deal when you go up the scale!”

It goes without saying that most of the uber-fancy shades–the reds, the pinks, the oranges, the blues–are astronomically priced. Argyle sells its bounty of 50 to 60 carats of pink for an estimated $5-$7 million. Van Cleef and Vivid pink and blue stones fall in the quarter-to-half-a-million-dollar range, while most yellows are considerably more affordable, with many going from $5,000 to $25,000.

In Fashion

But where does that leave the average jeweler or designer? On the darker end of the spectrum, with the brown and black diamonds, the only fancies in the fashion world’s sphere.

“We’ve done very well with brown brioletters,” says Craiger Drake, whose father, designer Craig Drake, uses fancy-colored diamonds in necklaces and high-end single-stone rings. “There are other precious stones with the same hues but they don’t have the brilliancy of a diamond. They don’t have the same allure or mystique.”

More and more, many designers are turning to diamonds for their color needs, partly because of name recognition and partly because of sparkle. Even opaque black diamonds, which caught on a couple of years ago, are still going strong, reflecting a mainstream desire for fancies that should keep the carbonados, as opaque diamonds are known, at the fashion-fore.

“The black-and-white craze will continue,” predicts Michelle Oman of the Jewelry Information Center in New York, forecasting a continuation of spring’s black-and-white binge well into 2002. “There’s a certain clean elegance in the black-and-white contrast that people are attracted to. And maybe they’re more attracted to that in a messy economy.”

Even watch companies–already gaga for diamond-studded timepieces–are experimenting with fancies. Concord’s La Scala Steel watches with black and white diamonds will soon come out in a chocolate diamond version.

Meanwhile, back in Bronstein’s office, he takes out another small, white tray with the funkiest colored diamonds I’ve ever seen. Milky champagne, steel gray, a juicy orange and the stunner of the bunch, a teal-green emerald-cut stone that Bronstein calls “the diamond that has no peer.”

“Colored diamonds have no absolute value, unlike their colorless sisters–they’re not worth X or Y,” he says. “Ultimately, it’s the look of the stone, the rarity of the color, the beauty.” And let’s not forget, the depth of the pocketbook.