Wow, it’s that time of the year again…..
Before you head off for some holiday shopping, I thought I’d pass on some observations about your options. Not that I am encouraging anyone to overspend on an overly-commercialized holiday, but knowing your options can save you money. My thoughts are related to fine jewelry (high quality silver, gold & fine gemstones) & not costume jewelry. I am not knocking costume jewelry or discount stores–both a Rolls Royce & a Toyota will get you where you want to go–it’s a matter of taste & budget. I drive a Toyota. When it comes to jewelry quality & design, you tend to get what your pay for.
I like to divide jewelry purchasing options into basic categories:
Traditional Brick & Mortar stores (high-end, average & inexpensive)
Mail Order Catalogs
Direct from Artisans (art or craft shows)
Now, many B&M stores have internet presence, as do many mail order retailers, TV networks & artisans, so there is considerable overlap.
B&M stores include chains found in every mall across America, as well as local “Mom & Pop” (though I don’t know how many are family operations anymore, so should probably call them “independent”) stores. Typically, these stores mark up their retail prices about 500% from what they paid at wholesale, i.e. a piece that they paid $100 for will retail for $500. So even if they have a “50% off” sale (in this case, the sale price would be $250), they are still making a profit on what they are selling. Or are they? Overhead includes rent, utilities, tax, salaries, inventory & advertising. Location, decor & amenities can greatly increase overhead, necessitating a higher markup.
At the top of the food chain are the high end are places like Tiffany, Bulgari, Harry Winston, H. Stern, Cartier, Gucci, etc. as well as the fine jewelry departments at places like Saks Fifth Ave & Neiman Marcus. Their stores/boutiques are usually in high rent areas like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, 5th Ave in NYC, Union Square in San Francisco & certain malls in Las Vegas. These fancy stores are usually plush, large, have lots of staff & will cater to customers (as long as they believe that you can afford their stuff) with refreshments. You pay a huge premium for their name & to cover these costs. So a really nice gold bracelet that costs maybe $3000-$4000 in raw materials & labor to make, will be on sale for upwards of $35,000 (not the $20,000 you would expect at a typical 500% markup). If a brand name & luxurious shopping experience are important to you (& you can afford it), this is your world. They will usually have bigger, more impressive pieces that will not be found at lower-end retailers. Some pieces will be one of a kind or limited editions. All the fabrication work will be absolutely meticulous & the stones of very high quality. Having little personal experience actually buying in such stores, I can’t say for sure, but I would certainly try to bargain a bit on the price if I found something I wanted & could afford. Most salespeople are on at least a partial commission & a sale is always better than a walk out.
Average price jewelry stores include chains like Zales or Kay’s, as well as stand-alone independent local stores & fine jewelry departments at some larger (mid-range like Nordstrom) department stores. Again, they will typically mark up 500% & may offer frequent discounts. They will not carry the higher end inventory that you can find at high end stores. They tend to specialize in wedding/engagement sets and what I call the “SLP” (sweet little pendant) type items, not things that are highly fashion forward. Most of their items are mass produced, often in China to keep the cost down. The workmanship will be lower than at the high end stores. Because chains can buy in bulk, their costs to purchase at wholesale are usually lower than the high end stores and their rent is much less as well. While I might not try to negotiate at Zales, I certainly would at independent stores offering higher end goods. Here in La Jolla, we have quite a few higher end stores (not quite Tiffany, but with big buck items). A decade ago I was looking at a diamond necklace for my birthday (Red was in the doghouse….) & in the course of a 10 minute conversation, the price went from $25,000 to $7,500. I didn’t buy it because it seemed crazy that the price was so flexible–I really had no idea what it was really worth, so I ended up with a fabulous diamond tennis bracelet from an internet site for a lot less.
Inexpensive options include discount stores, “Big Box” stores like Target, Costco, & Sears. They may have good values at the lower end of the price range, but don’t expect to see fabulousness. While the big name stores will have relatively lower quality diamonds (like I1-I2, which still look nice), look closely at the quality of gemstones offered at discount stores–you can get diamonds for $100/ct that look like rock salt and glass-filled rubies for a song. Some retailers are going to 10 or 12Kt gold to save money over the usual 14 or 18Kt. You will find a lot of sterling silver and CZs. Again, it will all be mass produced, probably bought in bulk & of much less refined workmanship.
Internet retailers run the complete gamut & I won’t even begin to try to sort that lot out. Buy only if you trust the seller & be sure to check the return policy–you are probably better off with recognizable names. That said, I have spent some big bucks on internet purchases from obscure sites that turned out well, but exercise caution.
Mail Order/catalogs usually have websites as well, but may get most of their sales from home-delivered catalogs. The best one I have found is Ross-Simons, who offer reasonable deals on a wide variety of jewelry that can be quite fashion forward.
Television networks will be reviewed in another post as I have some considerable experience and insights into them.
Buying directly from an artisan, either at a show or from their website can afford the opportunity to own unique pieces and support the arts. Most artisans do not mark up their work as much as they should, so the value is there as well as the uniqueness that you will never find at a mall.
Next week: Shopping in your PJ’s–the world of television jewelry.