Jewelry Stores Shine Despite Covid-19

Jewelry Stores Shine Despite Covid-19
“There’s definitely been a lot of engagements

Although Covid-19 has left many L.A. businesses reeling, jewelers said they have been relatively unaffected as online activity kicked up to compensate for lagging in-person sales. 

The flurry of digital sales — which, for some jewelers, has already compensated for losses incurred by pandemic lockdowns — is also highlighting a number of trends that are emerging within the jewelry industry. 

Not only have local jewelers reported rising interest in engagement rings, but many stores have adapted to the pandemic by shifting merchandise to online stores, a trend those in the industry said they think is here to stay. 

At downtown-based Roxbury Jewelry, which saw heavy losses at the start of the pandemic, customer interest has slowly picked up in the past few months. Sales at the store have roughly doubled from mid-March to mid-July, Roxbury Partner Jeremy Auslander said in a phone interview.

“We really couldn’t do much business,” Auslander said of the period that followed safer-at-home orders.

Although the store experienced some interest from private clients, Auslander was forced to send many of his products to third-party, online retailers when the pandemic struck. 

He estim
ates that Roxbury lost around 50% of its business in March and April but recovered during June and July. 

“I don’t necessarily know if it increased, but it was a very sharp bounce back to pre-Covid sales,” Auslander said. “Everyone feels like it’s such an increase because it went from zero back to normal very fast. It was very shocking. We’re very pleasantly surprised with the amount of activity.” 

West Hollywood-based vintage jewelry and watch store Wanna Buy a Watch reported similar levels of growth. “The bulk of our business has been online,” said founder and owner Ken Jacobs. “I would say (sales are) almost twice what it was (compared to March and April).”

Excalibur Jewelry, a Westside-based antique engagement ring store, reported an increase in sales, despite closing their brick-and-mortar location to the general public.
According to owner Kurt Rothner, the store now sells 50% of its merchandise online and on television. 

“The online stores have been killing it,” he said. “The (online selection) has picked up so much (sales are) probably up by 40% for the year. And we’re probably even or up by 5% in terms of profit for the rest of the year. We’re very lucky. I count myself very lucky.”

Strong rebound

Jewelers have been puzzled by the sharp return to normal, particularly considering the large number of Angelenos who are grappling with financial concerns during the pandemic. 

Although Los Angeles County reported an unemployment rate of 17.5% in July — a slight dip from June — that’s still a wide gap from 4.4% unemployment in July 2019.
Auslander, who has more than 13 years of experience in the jewelry sales business, said he believes that while the pandemic has led to reduced spending on things like vacations, many consumers have “repurposed” that cash to buy luxury items like jewelry. 

Jacobs agreed. “(Jewelry) is a precious commodity,” he said. “It’s definitely not essential. People who are out of work may not be buying right now, but there’s enough people with gains and desire to generate a lot of online business.”
Many jewelers have expressed interest in keeping their online businesses alive even after the pandemic. 

Jacobs called Covid-19 a “game changer” for the jewelry industry. “My personal familiarity in the field of technology has increased by requirement,” he said. 

Excalibur’s Rothner concurred that the pandemic has shifted the paradigm of how jewelry will be sold in the future. “What we’ve done is accelerated the ability for (the older demographic) to buy online or buy on TV. People have never even thought about that. It just accelerated their comfort level and their knowledge level. It will go back to the store, but it will never be like it was.” 

Store owners have noted that engagement rings have fared particularly well in the past few months despite the fact that some jewelry store locations remain closed.

That may be due to a “lag” in engagements caused by the pandemic, Auslander said, because couples who were planning to get engaged decided to hold off on announcements during the first few months of quarantine.

“(Couples) made a bigger decision: ‘Okay, this is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with,’” Auslander said. “‘Let’s move forward — even with the wedding venues and the social gatherings being canceled.’”

Engaging times

Excalibur’s Rothner has seen a similar uptick in sales for engagement rings. “The question is, well, are you seeing pent-up demand for regular jewelry sales?” he asked. 

“I’ll tell you, not nearly as much as the demand for the engagement rings.”

He said he believes that the nature of the pandemic and social distancing orders may be pushing couples closer together. 

“People are at home more, they’re with their loved ones more, they think about the future a lot more,” he said, adding that engagement pieces tend to become more popular in times of turmoil. “People tend to be getting engaged when that happens. 

They might be getting divorced soon, though.”

Kim Heidenreich, co-founder of vintage engagement ring retailer Trumpet & Horn, which sells engagement rings on behalf of Wanna Buy a Watch, said the company’s sales haven’t increased, but “they haven’t gone in a total slump.”

“I think when you’re at home together, you just talk about your lives and your future together,” Heidenreich said. “There’s definitely been a lot of engagements and people planning (for weddings).”

While industry experts remain cautious because of the pandemic-induced recession, Heidenreich said she isn’t surprised that interest in engagement rings appears to be insulated from the financial crisis. 

“People have lost their jobs, people being forced to work at home … I think that could affect fine jewelry purchases that aren’t related to engagement. I don’t think it will affect engagement rings,” she said. 

Heidenreich, who has worked in the jewelry business for more than 12 years, added that she typically sees an uptick in engagement ring sales during December. “I think engagement rings will continue to sell,” she said. “They always do, no matter what the market looks like.”

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