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.”
For the first time, jewelers are enjoying a holiday season unburdened by competition from their No. 1 rival, travel. It’s one way to explain the category’s unexpected resilience during a year of crisis. But it’s not the only one.
“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?’”
If the crisis has spurred people with means to buy jewelry as an expression of love, it’s inspired those with even greater means to look at it through an age-old lens: as a tangible form of wealth.
Gary Schuler, worldwide chairman of Sotheby’s jewelry department, saw that at the house’s Magnificent Jewels sale in Geneva last month, where the 14.83-carat Spirit of the Rose, a fancy vivid purple-pink diamond, sold for $26.6 million, making it the most valuable jewel auctioned in 2020.
“People are looking for hard assets,” Mr. Schuler said. “We’re seeing it in these and other categories we sell at Sotheby’s: contemporary art, old master paintings.”
All of these factors help explain why sales of fine jewelry, pieces priced at less than $50,000, have performed better than most luxury categories, said Luca Solca, senior research analyst for global luxury goods at Bernstein.
“The only caveat is high jewelry, which has suffered from the lack of opportunities to present products to potential customers (normally,