Year in Review: A Jewelry Journalist’s 10 Insights on Content & Provocative Wishes for 2023

By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief

As we enter 2023, and many weigh in with predictions, I thought this week would be a good opportunity to share reflections on my own 2022 content. What did I write about, why was it important, what does it mean, and what would I like to see happen in this brand spanking shiny new year? Here are the topics I thought were important enough to cover in 2022 as well as what’s on my wish list—not for the actual product you sell (that list is never ending)—but what I would like to see the industry do to continue to move forward.

7 Observations Based on My 2022 Coverage
  1. State of the Jewelry Industry

Overall, the industry is in good shape. Mastercard Spending Pulse data proves this, as does U.S. Census data. Demand has been strong—so strong it’s been hard for jewelers to satisfy it. The Covid years were good; sales soared, and jewelry had no competition from travel, which is always our category’s biggest competitor.

Prices are way up. Covid-19 issues shut down mines and Pearl farms and made travel difficult, and operations in many of these far-flung locations has still not fully recovered. To wit, U.S. dealers struggle to get goods. Gemstones and cultured Pearl prices have been super high for the past year, and there’s no end in sight. How much can the market bear? It’s a good question that no one can answer, but we all can’t wait to see how things shake out in the coming months.

Fourth-quarter 2022 sales were fine—not 2021 good, but still decent. This is because travel has returned, and Southwest flight disasters aside, people are ready to get out. Heck, I love staying home with dogs at my feet, but even I’m getting itchy to get back to Europe. GemGeneve 2023, here I come!

In chatting with dealers and designers after Christmas, many are eager to shop Tucson, price hikes and all. The fact that makers are eager to get to the desert and shop is a good sign for the new year. Nobody’s buying if clients aren’t, so high prices be damned—apparently, they’re not stopping jewelry collectors.

  1. Russian Diamonds

The Ukrainian war made us all reflect more on origin. No one had a choice. The government saw to that, rightly so, with restrictions on Diamond imports from Russia. Many of our international friends still buy from Russia, and because it is the world’s biggest diamond miner, breaking up with them is hard to do.

The U.S. is still importing Russian-bought goods from India and elsewhere, and the industry would come to a screeching halt if U.S. companies couldn’t! U.S. government regulations aimed to encourage jewelers to source elsewhere in case stricter regulations came down the road. We’re not there yet, but could we be? Pretty soon we mark a year since the Ukrainian invasion. Could restrictions get stricter, will colored stones be next? How many gem dealers are still sourcing colored stones from Russia? Is that a problem? Perhaps it’s something we should address.

  1. Lab-Grown Diamonds

These are huge in bridal now. Makers can get a consistent supply of desired quality, unlike mined Diamonds. And the stones grow in better qualities that are more affordable than mined Diamonds of the same size and quality. Prices are nuts, though, and will continue to drop—a fact that retailers should warn consumers about at the time of purchase. Resale value will not be the same as a mined Diamond. All this demand, however, is largely driven by consumers, so retailers can’t ignore them, no matter how much some want to.

  1. CAD/CAM & Design

CAD/CAM capabilities are amazing and have empowered people to debut businesses, but how original are these designs? If you are just using the standard presets, you’re likely not making anything groundbreaking. If you master the full range of Rhino capabilities, you can make design magic and efficiency your norm.

Important for newbie designers to remember: if you’re going to wholesale, you need to fully develop your own signature style to compete in a crowded marketplace. Do your homework. Everyone thinks their design is unique, but many designs just aren’t. Just because you haven’t seen something in the market before doesn’t mean it doesn’t already exist. There’s a lot of sameness, and that could be in part due to the rise of computer-assisted design and manufacturing.

  1. Bench Jewelers

If there’s one topic jewelers can agree on, it’s the difficulty of finding help. Pay is higher than it’s ever been, and so is the labor shortage. Good luck finding skilled bench help, and even sales associates. Recruiters have more jobs available than ever, and jewelry schools can’t turn out bench jewelers fast enough. Employers must continue to offer competitive pay and benefits to attract the best talent, and schools are trying their best to let potential applicants know that there is money to be made in this profession.

  1. Consignment & Memo

Retailers continue to ask for it, but many designers are learning to stand their ground. Some consignment is okay with purchases, but the days of filling out rows of cases gratis at independent stores are going away. That scenario isn’t sustainable for the designers, and many say it’s flat out shameful of merchants to ask. Anecdotal evidence shows that when jewelry designers can build their brands directly to consumers on social media, retailers notice and come calling. Consignment or pieces on memo should be reserved for when stores place minimum orders and want support at in-store events and personal appearances.

  1. Ethics & Sustainability

Clearly AGTA is a pioneer in this space. The organization was founded by dealers who wanted to surround themselves with likeminded ethical and transparent gem dealer operatives. And as the ethical space evolves, AGTA member efforts do, too. Other groups have also mushroomed as a result of this desire to do right, and all are working towards the common goal of treating those at mine and Pearl farm sources with respect and paying fair wages. Collectors want peace of mind that those in source countries are benefiting as much as others in the jewelry pipeline, and they’re willing to pay a little more for it.

3 Provocative Wishes for 2023
  1. Love Colored Gems and Pearls to Sell Them

In case you haven’t noticed, consumers love colored gems and Pearls when they see the range of options available! The more the industry talks about them, shows them, and promotes them, the more the category can grow. Pearls have been riding a massive wave of popularity for upwards of 10 years, and it’s not stopping so long as those of us in the trade keep waving a flag about all their spectacular attributes. Plus, if you like money, you collect more of it through margins on colored gemstones and Pearls—cultured or natural—given these gems can’t be price shopped the way Diamonds can. The only thing preventing the category from more explosive growth is the retailer: you and your staff must fall in love with the product to sell it. Wear it. Understand it. Know where gems come from. Share your knowledge with shoppers. Wear colored gems and Pearls. Did I say wear them? You and your staff are walking billboards for your brand; to sell jewelry, you must love it, understand it, know it, and wear it. Where are your layers? Show me in Tucson. #gemsandpearls

  1. Advertise Color & Cultured Pearls

How can colored gems and Pearls compete with Diamonds when the Diamond industry has had “A Diamond Is Forever” running on repeat since 1948? Millions of dollars spent on ads with that slogan made it a mantra. And Diamond people continue to spend a ton of money to retain that top-of-mind position in consumer minds. It’s only been in recent years that some colored stone producers (Gemfields, Muzo) have even tried to compete. And when they do make efforts, the results help the dealers.

In the cultured Pearl arena (I work part time for the Cultured Pearl Association of America), only the Tahitian government has truly invested in promoting its Pearls for French Polynesian farmers. The most recent efforts took place in 2018–2021 through Pearls As One education, social media, and a Tahitian Pearl capsule jewelry collection with Suzanne Kalandjian of Suzanne Kalan, among other initiatives. Sell-through of Kalan’s pearls was so impressive that she expanded Pearl offerings for the 2022 Couture show.

Bottom line: when funds are spent on colored stone and Pearl promotion, results follow. Which miners/Pearl farmers will step up to invest like the Diamond industry has done?

  1. Brands, Editors, and Influencers Should Adhere to FTC Guidelines for Content Disclosure

I know of brands, editors, and influencers who are buying and selling content and not disclosing it. That’s disappointing, and illegal, in this country, anyway. Not disclosing paid promotion arrangements suggest content is editorial, chosen for its merits at the discretion of the editor because the individual thinks readers will find it interesting.

Disclosure isn’t just for the Kim Kardashians of the world. It’s for the brand who paid for an advertorial article to be written about them that was not disclosed on the writer’s platform. FTC regulations are for the writer who doesn’t disclose that paid story about the brand. FTC regulations are for the influencer who posts images of brand jewels for a fee and doesn’t mark it as #paid, #ad, #sponsored, or the like.

Content disclosure protects the public in a similar way to disclosure of gemstone treatments; a beautiful stone is worth more and rarer when it’s untreated, and an endorsement is stronger when not propped up by a paycheck.

This article is proprietary content for AGTA and may not be reproduced.

Tahitian Pearls shot by Ted Morrison
Tahitian Pearls shot by Ted Morrison