Summer 2008
Message in a Bauble By Sharon Naylor

Message Mania

Lynn Switanowski-Barrett points out that in times of recession or war, consumers have often looked for products that are positive and upbeat. Jewelry bearing messages of hope, inspiration and celebration fits the bill nicely.

What’s more, inscriptions (even if the messages are generic) allow for jewelry to be personalized to the recipient. “People feel the importance of their loved ones and want to convey that they love them, and inscribing a message on a piece of jewelry is the perfect way to do that,” says Leah Ingram, etiquette expert and author of “Gifts Anytime,” a book that coaches customers on the ideal gift for many occasions. Ingram says inscribed jewelry at one time usually meant wedding bands, but these days it is a trend that has crossed over to all kinds of jewelry.

Switanowski-Barrett is the founder of Creative Business Consulting Group, a Boston-based retail consulting firm. She adds that jewelry that can be customized by the buyer using charms or inscriptions also meets the current demand for “do-it-yourself” products.

Bestselling messages on the fronts and backs of bracelets and pendants range from inspirational to religious, and include famous quotes from poetry and prose.

The BB Becker collection offers pieces with more than 100 quotations and sayings. “The quotes must be positive, contain truth as I know it, and really touch me in some way,” says the Denver-based artist. Becker searches for “literary gems” in thrift shops and used bookstores.

Jewelry messages range from single-word phrases like “Faith,” “Hope,” “Love” “Courage,” “Wisdom” and “Believe,” to longer statements such as “You Are Loved” and “I Believe in You.” Bangles and pendants also feature longer phrases and quotes. One design to consider: coordinated pendants with a single word on each, which together compose a phrase. Beth Lang, owner of Alexa’s Angels, says one of the company’s top-selling statements is “Expect a Miracle.”

Telling a story through message jewelry is important to some customers, Lang says. “That’s much more popular now, since people can personalize the jewelry piece according to the occasion, and it promotes connections between people, adds a human element,” she says.

Lang started Alexa’s Angels when her father was sick with cancer, and she created little angel pins to give to his hospice workers after he passed away. The Windsor, CO-based company also has a line of jewelry with just initials (for people’s names), catering to what Lang calls a growing trend for single initials in jewelry.

Bangle bracelets are among the bestselling items from wholesaler Nomi Jewelry, based in Santa Fe, NM. Also popular are what are called “poetic pendants.” According to studio manager Ginger Delater, Nomi Jewelry’s top bangles feature classic quotes including: “Love is a river. Drink from it,” (by the Sufi poet Rumi) and “It is never too late to be what you might have been” (George Eliot).

The market is strong for products with religious messages, according to retailer Patti Harbin, of In Courage in San Antonio. She sells sterling silver bangles with Bible verses, and also sees a strong demand for bracelets bearing the words “Karma” and “Om.”

Wholesaler Beyond Words in San Diego, also sells such jewelry including many for cancer patients and survivors.

Also look for “texting” slang, such as OMG and LOL, to sell to tweens. Products with these messages are stocked by companies such as Natural Life, of Jacksonville, FL.

Ways to personalize

Simple messages like “Mom,” “Sister” or “Friend” work well for inscriptions, says Lang, of Alexa’s Angels. Customers also tend to buy such already-imprinted jewelry, rather than having to create and order a word or phrase to be imprinted on a piece of jewelry.

You can also offer your customers the freedom to personalize jewelry using alphabet charms. Charms allow customers to add even more personalization to their message necklaces or bracelets. Pandora Jewelry, for instance, offers a stiletto high-heel-shoe dangle bead for the fashionista or “Sex and the City” fan, and tweens are becoming more interested in fashion-based charms. Also hot right now, according to Peter Konidas, one of the designers for Halia Jewelry in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, are brightly colored daisies, ladybugs, queen bees and butterflies. “There’s a strong market for bright, colorful enamel beads,” says Konidas. “The trend for flowers started on the East Coast and has spread, so we do a lot of daisies with great textures. It’s all about having great color. That makes a bead more attractive to a buyer.”

Another offshoot to the charms market is dog tags. Lang, of Alexa’s Angels, says including multiple dog tags on one chain allows for a larger “writing tablet” where longer sentiments or poems may be imprinted. Tweens especially love this style, and dog tags open the market to buying for boys and men.

Precious metals; precious prices?

The soaring costs of silver and gold present a challenge to artisans and retailers. With the economy not so hot, are there any solutions in sight?

Switanowski-Barrett says it helps if retailers have a good understanding of what their customers are willing and able to pay for in an uncertain economy. She says some high-end retailers are working off lower margins in order to maintain stable pricing. “Other stores know their customers are more price-conscious, and if they can provide the look and feel of full gold at a better price, they can live with it for the sake of their customers,” she says.

Many artists are still using precious metals, but some are finding ways to adjust to the market. “We’re doing a lot more base metals, such as lead-free rhodium with silver plating,” says Beth Lang, of Alexa’s Angels. Rhodium is quickly becoming popular for its more affordable price, and has become a choice for designers like Lang.

Other options are being explored. Gold is being paired with less expensive silver and bronze and is being used as accents in jewelry pieces. Konidas says his company uses gold as a highlight, not necessarily as the underlying material for the bracelet.

Other trends

Konidas adds that stipple and hammer texturing—in which metals are pounded into bumpy patterns or dented, rather than presented as a smooth, shiny band or sleek-shaped pendant—are hot.

There is also a trend toward using other natural materials in jewelry. At Heartstrings, a wholesaler based in Auburn, AL, new lines of message jewelry use marble, mother of pearl and shells. Jewelry crafted with wooden pieces is sold by many wholesalers, including Natural Life. Heartstrings sells teardrop-shaped oversized engraved wooden pendants on colorful bead cords. You’ll also see natural materials such as leather and cotton used in cording. Alexa’s Angels and Dogeared Jewelry are just a couple of the many wholesalers that carry these styles. Then there’s designer Nomi Green, of Nomi Jewelry, who uses recycled silver to produce lines made with second-life metals.

Display smarts

To maximize your store’s display of jewelry, consider a glass case that allows shoppers to get a good look at the pieces from all angles.

Roxie Wilson, owner of The Zoo Gallery, with three locations on the Gulf Coast of Florida, designed her own display case. Wilson says the store groups each artist’s work together in attractive arrangements inside the case. Wilson also tells a story about the jewelry—by displaying informational cards about the pieces.

Other display options include hanging a painted set of shutters on the wall and using the individual slats to hold jewelry on tiny hooks. The display can be eye-catching, especially if the shutters are painted a bright color, or a complementary earth tone such as sage green or butter yellow.

Some shop owners are hanging lengths of tulle on the wall to display jewelry. Consider using velvet, which shows off the shine of silver or bronze jewelry. A plain silver tray or platter would be an ideal way to display brightly colored enamel charms.

Many jewelry companies, such as Pandora, send their own display cases or holders to perfectly showcase their pieces. Countertop racks for initials or design charms can also be used effectively. Overall, shop owners recommend placing charm racks by the register so that you can keep an eye on your merchandise. Tiny items can be stolen too easily. Provide good signage on top of the rack or carousel case; include pricing and discount information, and photos of completed charm bracelets.

Billie Vrtiask, owner of the Imagine gift shops in Santa Barbara and Montecito, CA, says the reliable method of customer-staff interaction always works. Vrtiask encourages staff to educate customers a bit about the artist and the line, and help them compose their personalized messages or letter charm creations.

Switanowski-Barrett says, “With the customer experience being so critical, I do see more stores focused on having some of their merchandise available to see, feel and touch.”

By stocking these special lines of jewelry, you too can cater to the desire for small tokens of inspiration.

Sharon Naylor

Naylor is the author of 30 wedding books, including Your Special Wedding Vows and Your Special Wedding

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