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Back to basics

Traditional jewelry, service keeping customers happy

by Molly Cinquemani



How do you keep business booming in the jewelry market during these difficult economic times? By going back to basics. Area jewelers are showing that high quality, solid customer service and competitive prices are trends that never go out of style.


“People will ask, ‘How are you doing in this economy?’ I’m doing fine,” says Wren Hendrickson, co-owner of Goldworks in Chapel Hill.


“When people are hesitant to spend money, they choose to buy something that’s personal and unique.”


One of Goldworks’ most recent best-selling items is a Pandora bracelet, which allows buyers to customize a band with their own selection of beads. The bracelets can be changed frequently as well, making them an economical jewelry purchase. Because customers choose their own bands, though, prices can range from $100 to $1,000 and up.


“People like personalizing their bracelets,” Hendrickson notes. “It’s unique to them.”


The modern and free-form styles of Hamilton Hill Jewelry’s designs also are unique, allowing customers to express themselves with distinct pieces. But unique doesn’t have to mean expensive.


“Aluminum jewelry by Step by Step is big and light,” says Sarah Hill, owner of the Durham jeweler.


“That’s a big trend now — lower-priced, light metals that make a big splash without having to spend a lot of money.”


Rose Edwards, owner of J.M. Edwards Jewelry in Cary, agrees.


“At a (recent) Las Vegas show, silver seemed to be at the front of retailers’ minds to stock in their stores for the fall,” she says.


“The precious-metal market has made the price of jewelry go up, so silver is more affordable,” Edwards adds. “Some designers are doing sterling silver with gold overlay, which is something I haven’t seen in 20 years.”


Donna Hankin, co-owner of Joint Venture Estate Jewelers in Cary, also has noticed sterling silver’s rise in popularity. She’s also seen a lot of other trends re-emerge.


“If you look at what’s hot, often what’s new is old and what’s old is new again,” she says.


“One of the best examples of this is seen in wide-cuff bracelets and bangles, which are definitely popular today and were from Victorian and Civil War times.”


All that glitters

According to Edwards and Hankin, another trend that’s reappearing is yellow gold. Once dominating the jewelry market, in recent years gold has taken a back seat to silver-colored metals. Although it hasn’t quite made the transition back into the bridal segment, gold is showing up on runways and on the pages of fashion magazines. For weddings, platinum and diamonds remain the most in demand.


“Couples are still getting married; they aren’t going to wait out the economy,” says Barak Henis, vice president of Direct Diamonds Crabtree in Raleigh.


He adds that many engaged couples are looking for ways to get more bang for their buck. White gold bands and nonbranded diamonds are another way to save money.


“Smart customers don’t buy branded diamonds,” Henis says. “They know that they’re the same diamonds, so they save their money for the mounting.”


Henis also recommends reconsidering the cut of a diamond. Round diamonds traditionally have been the most popular cut — making up 65 percent of the market — and therefore are the most expensive. Additionally, much of the diamond is lost during the cutting process, making it more valuable.


“Now, cushion-cut is as popular as round,” he says. “You get more diamond for your dollar.”


Marquis and pear-shaped diamonds also are making a comeback. According to Henis, these cuts haven’t been popular since the 1970s and 1980s. Nontraditional looks also are popular for bridal sets.


“Customers are mixing white and yellow gold or white and pink. We’re making pieces with platinum, pink diamonds and pink gold,” Edwards says of J.M. Edwards’ popular Rosewood line.


Hankin sees a lot of engaged couples choosing vintage rings both for practical and environmental reasons.


“There’s no worries about blood diamonds or any issues that go along with that; plus, they’re going green,” she says.


“There’s also a craftsmanship and history that goes along with these pieces,” Hankin adds, noting that vintage rings also can be worn as righthand rings for married couples seeking something unusual.


A refreshing look

Avant-garde and artistic designs are in demand at Hamilton Hill. Its line of black rubber jewelry with inlayed diamonds, for instance, has become popular among customers.


“It’s so cool and clean with sleek lines,” Hill says.


From clean and sleek to flowing and feminine, Goldworks has seen a demand for delicate, nature-oriented jewelry with gemstones or pearls. The shop’s original designs boast creativity and variety.


“It’s more organic,” Hendrickson says.


“People want delicate designs and individualized jewelry.”


In this market, successful retailers work to meet the demands of their customers.


“One thing we’re proud of is that we’re able to help people make smart choices and help them pick something that will stand the test of time,” Hill says.


“People are looking for nice, traditional pieces of jewelry that they feel will retain their value,” Edwards notes. “Customers are thinking about their investment more than they have in previous years.”


“People come into our store for the price, but they buy because of our service,” Henis adds of Diamonds Direct Crabtree.


Even with the variety of jewelry stores in the Triangle, all have at least one thing in common: customers who want high-quality, unique jewelry that reflects their style. The biggest trend in jewelry doesn’t seem to be a trend after all. 


Molly Cinquemani is a freelance writer based in Raleigh.



 A diamond’s journey

by Barak Henis


When considering diamonds, most Americans think of certain icons — the blue Tiffany box, DeBeers silhouettes donning diamond jewelry or the famous “A Diamond Is Forever” slogan. However, these icons don’t tell the story behind the incredible journey a diamond takes before landing on your finger. From the diamond mine to the careful science behind cutting and manufacturing diamonds, the industry is much more than clever marketing campaigns.


Most jewelers acquire diamonds from third-party wholesalers. For Diamonds Direct, the story begins in Russia, where crews work to extract rough diamonds near Siberia. Active diamond mines also can be found throughout Africa, Australia, Brazil, Canada and India.


Diamond trade is closely monitored by the Kimberly Process, which identifies the origin of each diamond and requires the industry to ship rough and polished diamonds in officially sealed packages. This regulation ensures ethical mining and selling practices.


Worldwide, it is estimated that 130 million carats of diamonds are mined annually around the world, though only about one-quarter of those diamonds are jewelry quality; the rest are used for a variety of manufacturing and industrial purposes.


The practice of cutting jewelry-quality diamonds is a 100-year tradition. Diamond cutting and manufacturing facilities can be found in Amsterdam, Antwerp, India, London, New York City and Tel Aviv, Israel, where Diamonds Direct’s site is located. At these facilities, master cutters create precise angles and facets to disperse the most light and luster from each diamond.


Modern technology and traditional methods are used to analyze the natural components of each stone, which can affect the color, clarity, cut, and carat weight of the finished product. A polished diamond can weigh as little as 50 percent of the weight of a rough diamond.


Once the stones have been polished, they’re either sent to the European Gemological Laboratory (EGL) or the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), independent diamond laboratories that certify the quality of each loose stone. Once certified, reports are issued to identify specific characteristics of each diamond. These key characteristics help determine fair market value and identify each diamond.


Graded stones then are sent back to the cutting facility, where they’re carefully selected for inventory. At Diamonds Direct, each diamond is carefully inspected and shipped to retail stores in Raleigh, Charlotte, and Birmingham, Ala.


The next time you crave a sparkling stone, you’ll know that each diamond is unique and that its history is more than simply a pretty piece of jewelry.


Barak Henis is vice president of Diamonds Direct Crabtree in Raleigh. To learn more, call (919) 571-2881 or visit