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Articles from STERLING SILVER JEWELLERY (853 Articles)

Image courtesy: Pastiche
Image courtesy: Pastiche

Why silver jewellery continues to shine

Silver continues its journey towards legitimacy in luxury jewellery. EMILY MOBBS looks at the factors helping to ensure the metal shines on.

Silver jewellery has gone through several iterations over the years – from rising as a popular metal in Mexico in the 1920s to spearheading trends during the Woodstock-era 1960s and 1970s and, more recently, the branded phenomenon that saw silver heralded as a saviour during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

These movements will always play a role in the silver narrative but there’s another evolution brewing in which the metal is gaining a newfound status and working its way up the ranks of the jewellery chain.

In 2013, Jeweller’s silver jewellery report indicated that the white metal had long surpassed its ‘poor-man’s gold’ reputation and was fast developing one of luxury among retailers and consumers. Three years on and the perception of silver continues to strengthen.

“Yes, we agree silver jewellery has continued to gain a luxury jewellery status,” Pastiche director Amy Bradley states. “We believe this is due to a peak in silver prices in 2011 – while silver prices were quite high, the price of silver jewellery was forced to increase accordingly.”

Bradley says a rise in costs saw many consumers opt for alternative options in fashion jewellery and more affordable metals such as brass and base metals.

“Over the last few years the price of silver has steadily decreased, making silver jewellery much more affordable to the consumer while retaining its luxury status,” she explains.

Phil Edwards, managing director of Thomas Sabo distributor Duraflex Group Australia, agrees that silver has increased its aspirational value within the industry.

“The brand positioning of Thomas Sabo’s sterling silver collection is ‘affordable luxury’,” he says, adding, “With so many mass-produced, trend-driven costume jewellery products on the market, consumers do have a greater appreciation for quality, handcrafted, sterling silver jewellery.”

High-profile jewellery companies like Georg Jensen and Tiffany & Co have also helped to position silver as a luxurious product. As Aztec Gold and Silver director Sue Campbell states, “Tiffany & Co and Georg Jensen have educated the public to yearn for something special in silver and branded [product] too.”

Sherwin Design Studio
Sherwin Design Studio

Jo Tory, founder and managing director of silver jewellery brand Najo, offers another view. She doesn’t believe these high-profile jewellers have helped to elevate the white metal’s reputation.

“There has always been a luxury status to beautifully-crafted and fine silver jewellery,” she says. “Tiffany and Georg Jensen have always had a luxury status to their silver jewellery because of their designs, branding, reputation and finesse, and they have been producing silver designs since the 1800s.”

Tory believes that a luxury status exists among certain brands, such as UK designer Monica Vinader, whose pieces incorporate silver set with diamonds and gemstones; however, she suggests the more pertinent change lies in a broadening of demand.

“Generally speaking, silver has certainly become more fashionable and there is a greater acceptance of it,” she says.

In contrast, according to Nordic Jewellery managing partner Peter Jakobsen, the luxury positioning of silver jewellery is not just continuing but accelerating. Nordic Jewellery recently secured the local distribution rights for the Waterford

Crystal sterling silver jewellery line, the brand’s official entry into the jewellery market.

Jakobsen believes there are two main reasons for the acceleration: “Firstly, retailers and consumers recognise and appreciate that silver is a precious metal, which instantly adds value to the piece. Secondly, due to the sheer volume of new brands launching, design levels have to naturally raise in order for the brand to compete.”

As Jakobsen states, there’s no shortage of silver jewellery brands on the market and one of the advantages of silver compared with metals like gold is the design freedom that it offers.

Trends abound

What’s trending in the design stakes right now? While there isn’t any real consensus on one style, a notable movement is the use of diamonds.

In July, Thomas Sabo released the Glam & Soul Diamonds range, consisting of filigree rings, necklaces, bracelets and ear studs that were given a diamond ‘upgrade’.

Waterford Crystal
Waterford Crystal

At the time of the announcement, Edwards said the collection sat at a higher price-point than the brand’s traditional offering but was still within the “affordable luxury segment”. When questioned about the decision to combine diamonds with silver – a practice not widely embraced by silver jewellery manufacturers – Edwards says, “Why not? Consumers want ‘affordable luxury’ products; silver is an incredibly strong metal and diamonds are the ultimate symbol of luxury – it’s really the perfect combination.”

Tory explains that Najo has also experimented with diamonds in the past: “Najo did have a small diamond collection a few years ago but I think it was too soon. I think it could be time to bring more precious gemstones into our silver collection now.”

A more common practice is combining sterling silver with gemstones and cubic zirconia. While Tory notes most of her brand’s jewellery comprises high-polished silver without gemstones, she says Najo’s themed collections do feature some gemstone adornments.

“In this [new season] collection we have set lapis lazuli, moonstone, chalcedony and apatite into silver,” Tory explains.

Pastiche is another supplier to have incorporated gemstones into collections for spring/summer.

“The tribal-inspired Inca Collection includes white howlite and blue howlite,” Bradley says. “Inspired by nature, the Evoke Collection features rose quartz, freshwater pearls and cubic zirconia with touches of labradorite, black onyx and clear quartz.

“The polished finish of sterling silver offers a bright and fresh finish to perfectly complement these natural stones, while oxidised sterling silver creates contrast through detailed patterning,” she adds.

Campbell is of the opinion that diamonds are better suited to gold jewellery, explaining that cubic zirconia provides “much more sparkle for your buck” when it comes to silver jewellery.

While on the topic of value, she adds, “There is a dilemma to the retailers as to the price of heavy silver pieces compared to the price of lighter gold pieces, so as a jeweller you have to be discerning.”

With the increasing trend for coloured-gemstone adornments and pieces plated in yellow gold and rose gold, is it possible that plain silver is losing its mojo?

Aztec Gold and Silver
Aztec Gold and Silver
Thomas Sabo
Thomas Sabo
John Miller Design
John Miller Design

“The fad of mixing rose and yellow gold plating with silver is offering something new to our customers but it is not to the expense of plain silver pieces,” Campbell says. “Nothing takes the place of a beautifully-handcrafted, solid silver bangle.”

Tory is of a similar opinion, explaining that she finds two opposing customer demographics: “There is a consumer for contemporary, high-polish plain silver and another for plated and gemstone-set silver jewellery.”

There is no shortage of silver jewellery options available to jewellers and Campbell believes the current challenge for retailers stocking silver jewellery is sourcing quality pieces that show a design difference, as well as being aware of consumer requirements.

Prospects for jewellers

Naturally, there are also opportunities for manufacturing jewellers to take advantage of silver jewellery demand. Silversmith and jeweller Chris Sherwin, of Sherwin Design Studio in Geelong, Victoria, says he has noticed a distinct trend towards silver jewellery since the GFC and rising gold price.

“Most of my jewellery creations are in gold and platinum but I have noticed a rise in the sales of silver pieces that I have made over recent years,” he explains, adding that silver “is perhaps only 25 per cent of my customer output”.

Sherwin warns a rise in silver could negatively impact small-sized manufacturers. “The unfortunate potential consequence of increased awareness and sales of silver jewellery to a small manufacturer of traditional gold jewellery is the very real risk that profits from ‘value-adding’ may fall,” he explains. “It is difficult to charge a reasonable, hourly rate manufacturing silver jewellery and difficult to add gemstones to value-add to your work and justify the additional cost to the client.”

Nevertheless, Sherwin says he appreciates that silver jewellery has a worthy market segment and niche.

John Miller of John Miller Design in Western Australia, is one jeweller who has created his own niche. Miller began making silver jewellery in 1973, a period when “demand way outstripped supply and most things I made were sold before completion for, in real terms, much more than I can charge today”.

Contributing to Miller’s longevity is arguably the fact the business offers a “distinctly recognisable range”.

“I have always taken great interest in ethnic and tribal jewellery as well as the amazing work of the ancient Egyptians,” he says of some of the inspiration behind his jewellery.

“The great art movements of Art Nouveau and Art Deco are always another source of inspiration but the idea of people squatting in mud huts making truly beautiful, timeless work also fascinates me.

“To this end, I began practicing old world techniques such as hand-engraving, hammer-forging, pattern and punch-making. That gave me a point of difference. Hot fused pieces also have a different look to cast wax, so I do
a lot of that too.”

Miller adds that almost everything he makes is a one-off piece of hand-wrought metal.

An obvious lesson in all of this is that silver can’t be pigeonholed into one particular segment, style or demographic, which can only mean good news for jewellers. Be silver a Woodstock staple, a GFC-branded jewellery saviour or a luxury indulgence, there’s no shortage of opportunities for retailers to cash in on silver jewellery sales.


Silver insights

Jeweller checks in with ABC Bullion chief economist Jordan Eliseo to discuss the silver market and the impact on jewellers.

How would you describe the silver market in the past year?
“Silver prices have risen noticeably in 2016, up the better part of 30 per cent with the precious metal currently trading at AU$25 per ounce. Demand has particularly picked up amongst the investment community with metals like gold and silver very much back in favour. Jewellery demand has been solid but not a major contributor to the price rise we’ve seen this year.”

Has there been a great variance over the past few years?
“Jewellery demand has been very solid over the last 10 years, rising by some 30 per cent since 2006. The real rise in silver demand and driver of higher prices over this period has come from investors, with nearly six times as much metal being bought for investment purposes in 2015 compared to the amount being bought in 2006.”


Emily Mobbs • Former Editor

Emily Mobbs is editor of Jeweller. She has more than 8 years' experience in trade publishing and reports on various aspects of the jewellery industry.

Ellendale Diamonds Australia

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