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Layered Look Remains Popular in Becalmed US Jewellery Sector

Sluggish trade made for a subdued mood among exhibitors at Chicago's JF&A jewellery show. There were some bright spots, though, with many buyers favouring simple pieces worn several at a time, creating a distinct layered effect.

Photo: While the jewellery sector is up overall, individual sellers are suffering in an over-crowded market place.
While the jewellery sector is up overall, individual sellers are suffering in an over-crowded maket place.
Photo: While the jewellery sector is up overall, individual sellers are suffering in an over-crowded market place.
While the jewellery sector is up overall, individual sellers are suffering in an over-crowded maket place.

The general mood was somewhat downbeat at the recent Jewellery, Fashion and Accessories (JF&A) show in Chicago. In particular, many exhibitors were disappointed that the majority of buyers were unwilling to order in anything like the quantities they once did.

Despite the overall slump in trade, a few items did enjoy a degree of success. Most notably, the trend for layering remained very much in vogue, with many consumers opting to wear several simple necklaces of varying lengths at the same time.

Slow Business

Overall, though, the most common gripe among exhibitors was that potential customers were just unwilling to part with their money. Seemingly speaking for many, Marvin M Catarata, Owner of Nature Bead Crafts, a New York-based importer and wholesaler, said: "I've been coming to this show for 15 years and if I could define the change in one word, it would be 'quantity'.

"There was a time when people would come in and buy whatever they wanted, huge amounts of it. They would pay for it and walk out of here with two big, full bags. Now, although the same people are coming, they have just one bag and it's a little one."

Similarly disappointed was Zina Tabakian, Lead Designer and Owner of the California-based Zina Couture line. Clearly nostalgic for better times, she said: "I thought Chicago would be much better than this. I remember how my customers used to be and now it's far slower."

Ayten Kara, Owner of Ohio-based Artemis Jewellery, had a similar view and an even blunter way of expressing it: "This show has been not so good. Business is slow."

Despite such showfloor pessimism, the wider economic data seems to paint a somewhat rosier picture. According to Euromonitor, while the US jewellery sector is showing clear signs of recovery, there is no sign of an imminent boom.

Putting this into perspective, the company's most recent report on the US jewellery market said: "In 2016, the value of jewellery sales recovered, growing by 3% to US$61.8 billion. The category, however, continued to be impacted by lower sales to foreign tourists due to the strong US dollar and China's economic downturn. Local consumption, however, continued to stay strong, largely thanks to rising employment and increasing per-capita disposable income."

Similar findings were reported by IBIS World in its own 2016 analysis of the US jewellery market. Tellingly, its report concluded: "As the unemployment and poverty rates have flattened out, consumer confidence has returned to a healthy level and demand for industry products has grown, helping jewellery stores to regain their lustre.

"Recent contractions in the world price of gold, however, have suppressed jewellery prices and reduced industry revenue. As the economy has improved, growing disposable income has spurred more consumers to purchase discretionary jewellery pieces."

Fierce Competition

The disconnect between exhibitors' negative outlook and the big-picture statistics may be due, in part, to the fierce competition in the US market. While the industry as a whole has grown, individual businesses have struggled to win market share.

Conceding that the overly crowded market may well be the root cause of the subdued business experienced by many exhibitors, Catarata said: "Consumers aren't buying as much and the competition has become fiercer. There is stuff coming in from the Philippines, from China, from everywhere. It saturates the market and dilutes the consumer base."

Such a view is largely in line with Euromonitor's own 2016 findings. Addressing the glut of suppliers in the sector, the company said: "The US jewellery category remains very fragmented and competitive. It is characterised by a broad range of domestic and international players – from small to large manufacturers – all of which sell their products through a variety of retail channels at wholly different retail price points."

Layering Trend

While business was generally slow, certain items seemed to be bucking the trend. Most notably, the trend for layering continued to be popular, a style that sees multiple simple necklaces or bangles worn together.

Commenting on the lasting appeal of this particular look, Tabakian said: "People love layers. It's about being refined, while still casually chic. For our customers, they want to appear upscale, but not stuffy – they still want that sense of street."

Photo: Layered looks from Zina Couture.
Layered looks from Zina Couture.
Photo: Layered looks from Zina Couture.
Layered looks from Zina Couture.
Photo: Unlimited’s range of classic earrings.
Unlimited's range of classic earrings.
Photo: Unlimited’s range of classic earrings.
Unlimited's range of classic earrings.

A number of noted jewellery fashion commentators have also highlighted this trend, including Amy Lee, a writer for The Zoe Report, an influential daily online fashion newsletter. Writing in her regular column, Lee said: "We've been seeing a shift towards a daintier iteration – layers of lightweight gold chains in varying lengths for a glimmering, cascading look that reads feminine and refined with a hint of sexy."

Broadly agreeing, Jennifer Heebner, a writer for JCK, a US fashion trade magazine, said: "The fall in the price of gold is luring some artists back from silver. There are some looks – delicate charm bracelets and dainty pendant necklaces – that just translate better in gold. Now prices are more reasonable, who wouldn't prefer to make their layered statement in the richer metal?"

Other items that were popular at the event included simple earrings, with Washington-based Unlimited Inc doing a brisk trade in these relatively straightforward adornments. Identifying exactly what was selling well, Alma Domazet, a Senior Manager with the company, said: "Right now, I would say the more basic designs are going well. Our pearl and stud earrings are more on trend as people like the more classic look, but with a little added pizzazz. Dangling earrings are also proving popular, while hoops seem to be out."

For Randy Khurram, a Sales Representative with Mikal Design, a New York-based jewellery manufacturer, simple was also the key to success. He said: "It's mostly pendants that are selling well at the moment – pendants and the more basic earrings."

Despite the vagaries of the industry, some jewellery sectors seem to be immune to fashion's more fickle ways. Nature Bead Crafts, for instance, specialises in beachwear jewellery and accessories, a sector that seems pretty much a hardy perennial.

Explaining the peculiarities of this particular niche, Catarata said: "It's nowhere like as trend-driven as you might think – beachwear is never going to go out of style. People – whether from Hawaii or the Caribbean – have been buying pretty much the same thing for years. As a result, we don't have to revise our stock too often."

Unlike the clothing sector, which has notable differences in tastes from region to region across the US, the jewellery business seems less subject to local variations. Acknowledging this, Khurram, said: "There are no differences. The same things sell all over the US."

Natural Handbags

While jewellery exhibitors dominated the event, a numbers of stands were reserved for other fashion accessories, most notably handbags. This year, the majority of bags on display tended to be in neutral, organic tones – particularly tan, brown and beige. While there were still some fringed and tasselled items on show, these were few and far between. Far more common was embellishment bling in the form of metal or jewel-effect studs.

Satwant Gohal, a Sales Representative with Tej Rasila, a New York-based leather-handbag manufacturer and wholesaler, said: "At this show people are mainly buying our new 'camel' colours. They simply seem to prefer light colours. Overall, though, business is slow. It's just not like what it was before."

Photo: Camel-coloured handbags courtesy of New York’s Tej Resila.
Camel-coloured handbags courtesy of New York's Tej Resila.
Photo: Camel-coloured handbags courtesy of New York’s Tej Resila.
Camel-coloured handbags courtesy of New York's Tej Resila.

The Jewellery, Fashion and Accessories Show 2016 was held at Chicago's Donald E Stephens Convention Center from 20-23 October. The event attracted 120 exhibitors from across the US.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, Chicago

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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