Even in a Pandemic, Fine Jewelry Is Selling

CORONA DEL MAR, CALIF. — Conventional wisdom suggests that a pandemic would not bode well for jewelry sales. But for Mark Patterson, a fine jewelry designer with a retail store in this coastal Southern California enclave, 2020 has defied expectations at every turn. (And he’s not alone.)

“Wholesale is down — we haven’t done any trunk shows — but our retail store has doubled sales from last year,” Mr. Patterson said in late October. “It’s crazy. We don’t know how to explain it.”

Actually, he did. “Big diamonds,” he said.

Mr. Patterson described a recent sale to a local couple: “They had plans to travel for their 20th anniversary — Europe or maybe Australia — and their trip was canceled due to Covid, so they decided to upgrade her diamond engagement ring from one carat to four carats,” Mr. Patterson said. “They spent close to $55,000.”

“People are realizing, ‘Wow, life is short, why don’t we get married?’” said Edahn Golan, a diamond and jewelry industry analyst based in Israel. “It’s all about love, emotions, the fragility of life.”

Mr. Golan said that, in the United States, retail jewelry sales in March and April fell by $3.8 billion compared with the same period in 2019 — retail stores there were closed in these early days of the pandemic.

Once lockdowns eased in June, July and August, however, sales for that period grew by $1 billion year over year. Engagement ring sales led the charge, he said.

Couples who tied the knot this year cut down on “guests, food, flowers, party favors,” Mr. Golan said. “The one area where there’s the least tendency to compromise is on the bride’s jewelry because it’s long-lasting, and ‘I gave up on everything else, why should I give up on this?’”

“I am optimistic as we have seen consumption return rapidly in China and Asian countries, where our clients currently can’t travel to Europe but keep investing in jewelry locally,” Ms. Poulit-Duquesne wrote in an email. She added that Boucheron, which is owned by Kering, would soon introduce an e-commerce website.

“Distance selling and e-commerce were already in the pipeline and are now more than ever a priority,” Ms. Poulit-Duquesne wrote. “This crisis reconfirmed the fact that clients are easily buying jewelry online.”

The considerable amount of time many people are now spending on screens has had another drastic effect on jewelry sales, which the industry has been calling “the Zoom phenomenon.”

“We saw a rapid decline in ring sales during lockdown (presumably from relentless hand washing) and takeup in necklaces and earrings (that can be seen on Zoom),” Cecily Motley, co-founder of the affordable jewelry brand Motley London, wrote in an email.

While it may be too soon to tell how the pandemic has influenced jewelry design — other than prioritizing styles worn from the shoulders up — it’s clear that during this year of lockdowns, both real and potential, jewelry buyers are gravitating to simpler, more contemporary designs that can be worn at home.

“Imagine daytime couture meets loungewear — that’s the vibe,” the Hong Kong-based private jeweler Nicholas Lieou wrote in an email.

As the industry revs up for the final few weeks of the year, independent jewelry retailers said they are in a better position to capitalize on steady demand for fine jewels than their bigger, more corporate competitors.

Katherine Jetter, a jewelry designer who in late October opened a private atelier in Boston called the Vault Boston, described a recent shopping event she organized for a small group of clients in a friend’s garden, where she invited them to try on jewelry, take pieces home and bring them back if they decided not to buy.

“It was all outside with their masks on, and people were excited to have something to do,” Ms. Jetter said.

She said she would spend the next few weeks staging intimate events such as cognac and wine tastings for friends and couples looking to splurge on jewelry.

“We had two women come over to my atelier on Sunday, and we did Champagne and caviar,” Ms. Jetter said in mid-November. “They got to have fun and be relaxed, and I kept my mask on.”

“It’s a labor-intensive way to operate,” she said, “but in this environment, I don’t see any other way to do it.”

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