Global demand for silver jewellery has taken a hit but EMILY MOBBS discovers that the metal continues to soldier on in Australia and New Zealand.
Is there a dark cloud on the horizon for silver jewellery? Recently-published data on supply and demand for the white metal begs the question.
According to the Interim Silver Market Review, which provides a provisional forecast and is conducted by the Thomson Reuters GFMS team on behalf of The Silver Institute, demand for silver jewellery and silverware fell 10.9 per cent to 257.6 million ounces last year. Jewellery fabrication alone was said to have dropped 8 per cent to 208.5 million ounces in 2016.
The results contributed to a 9 per cent decline in overall physical demand for the metal; however, it’s important to note that jewellery and silverware demand was 12.4 per cent higher and overall physical demand remained 6.1 per cent above figures from five years ago.
There also doesn’t appear to be any doom and gloom for this category in Australia and New Zealand.
“The popularity of silver continues,” states Najo managing director Jo Tory.
Tory, who founded Najo in 1986, believes the white metal plays an integral role in most jewellery retail businesses for several reasons. In addition to appealing to consumers who “simply prefer” silver, Tory suggests that the metal sits in a sweet spot between gold jewellery and base metal fashion jewellery.
“While the gold price continues at current levels, silver is not only significantly cheaper, but with plating can provide a product attractive to consumers who would otherwise buy yellow or rose gold,” she says, adding, “Silver is also attractive to consumers who perceive it to be better quality than base metal fashion jewellery and in many cases is not a lot more expensive than base metal brands.”
When compared to other categories, silver looks to have a firm footing within a jeweller’s business. Colin Pocklington, managing director of Australia and New Zealand’s largest buying group Nationwide Jewellers, says silver jewellery makes up approximately 20 per cent of sales by value for his member stores. By comparison, he explains that gold represents about 5 per cent of sales.
Silver product, excluding Pandora and Thomas Sabo, represents about 15 per cent of business for Showcase Jewellers members, according to the buying group’s general manager Carson Webb. Webb says this figure increases to about 35 per cent with the inclusion of the two previously mentioned brands.
Meanwhile, Retail Edge sales manager Michael Dyer says his analysis of more than 300 stores across Australia and New Zealand in the past year has shown that total pooled sales for the silver category is in the 33 per cent to 36 per cent range. Sales for diamond jewellery represent about 23 per cent to 26 per cent and gold jewellery – excluding stone set – makes up about 6 per cent to 8 per cent of sales.
It’s game on
There’s no denying that competition in this sector is rife. Although some may view this in a negative light, many suppliers are seeing the advantages.
Pastiche director Amy Bradley has noticed increasing competition but says this only points to the metal’s healthy position in the industry as well as the need for suppliers to step it up in the design stakes in order to hold market share.
“We know that the popularity of silver jewellery will continue with consumers, as shown by the fact it is an increasingly competitive market,” Bradley states. “The effect of growing competition is that it motivates us to deliver the best quality products with the most creative designs we can to give our retailers every tool tobe successful in sales.”
Helen Thompson-Carter, director of Fabuleux Vous, also highlights rising competition in the category, which she says results from factors such as an influx of UK and Europe-based brands seeking to tap into other markets as well as suppliers shifting to silver from stainless steel.
When asked what the future looks like for silver jewellery, Thompson-Carter comments: “Fantastic for design-led brands and more competitive for those big brands that bulk buy. We are seeing silver jewellery designs more in line with fashion trends than ever before.”
Aztec Gold and Silver director Sue Campbell, who has been supplying silver jewellery since 1973, stresses the importance of having a finger on the fashion pulse as well.
“The future of sterling silver is solid if you are selling well-made, 925 sterling silver and keeping up with the fashion,” she states. “Silver jewellery is a stalwart part of the jewellery industry – obviously it offers a cheaper option to gold and is, and can be, more flamboyant in its designs. It seems simply amazing that there is a lot of the ‘same’ jewellery designs in the shops when there is so much more if you look around.”
Campbell says she is focusing on a combination of solid sterling silver classic styles this year with handmade innovative creations from Mexico and some beautiful European designs.
Europe is also a focus for Thompson-Carter, who explains that the supplier’s design team is in-tune with trends in the European market.
“The key for us is to have a story and a reason behind the product,” she says. “This year we are focusing strongly on the emotional connection – the statement piece that tells an individual story. Much is about family in 2017, with one collection featuring motifs representing parents, unconditional love and offspring, and we are going fine to mid-range versus chunky and significant size.”
Tory explains her team has just finished putting together the supplier’s spring/summer 2017 collection, which will be released in July.
“It features beautiful summery gemstone colours from amazonite, turquoise and apatite to soft, pink kunzite and creamy pearl,” she says, adding, “These gemstones are set into clean, high polish, classic silver settings, creating bold pieces that stand out in display.”
New two-tone designs in rose gold plating combined with silver and yellow gold plating combined with silver will also feature, as will an extended range of fine, delicate pieces to meet increased demand.
“Of course there are lots of beautiful new silver designs in the next collection as well,” Tory states. “In particular, we love our sleek ‘ribbon’ story, comprising bands of high-polish silver in various widths as bangles, rings, hoops and chokers.”
Gemstones and fine, delicate pieces are also a focus for Pastiche.
“Lately we have been drawn towards using more natural gemstones,” Bradley explains. “We love using howlite in white, blue and black, rose quartz, labradorite, onyx and freshwater pearls, as well as finding the balance in producing the fine and delicate pieces that are on trend while creating eye-catching statement jewellery.”
Branded, fashion-based jewellery ranges have undoubtedly fuelled the silver category. While these offerings provide many advantages, such as encouraging repeat business, jewellers are warned to ensure stock management is in check.
“As a result of the growth in branded ranges, retailers now have a much larger percentage of stock in their stores of a fashion nature,” Pocklington says. “We encourage members to regularly review the performance of their branded ranges as stock can quite quickly go out of fashion and need to be replaced by another brand that is performing better.”
Pocklington adds that the buying group will conduct a workshop for members at the Sydney International Jewellery Fair in August that aims to show the performance of particular brands this year versus last year as well as explain how to evaluate brand performance.
Webb also mentions the potential stock-management issues that fashion-based silver jewellery ranges present. He points out that sales in silver, excluding Pandora, have fallen about 10 per cent from two years ago but stock holding has increased as much as 30 per cent for his members.
“There’s always a new collection coming so one needs to be very careful that you’re not drinking from a fire hose; you can only take in so much,” Webb explains, adding, “If you work on the 80/20 rule, there is also a swelling of aged stock. Retailers need strong exit strategies to move the excess through.”
Taking stock of the current market is also a top consideration for suppliers.
“As more and more brands come into the market from overseas and locally, sales are either spread more thinly between us or some brands disappear,” Tory says. “While we have to be prepared to change the way we do things, take risks and look to the future, our priority remains our product. The silver jewellery businesses that last the distance will be those that can offer a great product and run an efficient, agile business at the same time.”
These words seem just as relevant for jewellers too, and pertinent considering the demand for silver jewellery remains strong amongst local consumers.
As Bradley explains, “We feel that silver jewellery had a revival of sorts a couple of years back and remains a very popular material. It has the status of a precious metal but at a very affordable price, and we believe these attributes have cemented its standing in the jewellery industry for a long time to come.”