A major force for change is the world's leading diamond seller, Diamond Trading Co. (formerly De Beers), which in recent years has been urging dealers to promote their own diamond brands instead of treating the gems as commodities.
Upscale women are responding to the greater array of branded choices and are starting to purchase luxury jewelry more as fashion accessories than as rare, special-occasion purchases.
"Women who have greater financial means are responding to the wider array of choices in luxury jewelry, and they're starting to buy their own jewelry to express themselves," says Jennifer Behre, associate publisher of Fairchild Publications' W and W Jewelry, a controlled-circulation quarterly.
After a slight downturn in 2001, jewelry sales have increased steadily to reach an estimated $45 billion today. Sales of mass-marketed jewelry are booming; Wal-Mart Stores is the nation's largest seller of diamonds and gold.
But sales at the high end-where the typical jewelry store purchase averages $2,500-are growing, propelled by new influences including the increased emphasis on brands.
"The movement of diamond marketers and jewelry designers creating their own distinct, national brands is still in its infancy," says Dan Kisch, publisher of Instore, a monthly trade magazine launched in 2001 targeting high-end jewelry brand marketers and retailers. "We believe this sector of the jewelry industry is poised for major growth over the next decade."
Jewelry represents the fastest-growing ad category for many luxury magazines including Conde Nast Publications' Vogue and Hearst Magazines' Town & Country.
At Town & Country, jewelry now accounts for 38% of all advertising, says VP-Publisher Jim Taylor. "Diamond marketers are working to educate consumers, setting their stones apart from others by the look, the cut, the color and the designs," he says.
Many industry observers say one of the biggest influences in the new high-end jewelry branding movement is David Yurman, a designer that in five years has become one of the most significant luxury jewelry advertisers in the U.S.
"For many years, the focus in jewelry advertising was on the piece itself," says Tom Florio, VP-publisher of Vogue. "Then David Yurman came along, and he had huge success putting jewelry advertising within the context of fashion in a very dramatic and distinct way. Now, others want to follow him."
The David Yurman look is "an attitude of authenticity and relaxed luxury ... the idea that any woman can make [the designer's] look her own," says David Lipman, chairman of the Manhattan agency that bears his name, which has handled the 25-year-old Yurman brand since it began its big ad push in 1999.
Sold through retailers nationwide, as well as through its own stores, David Yurman is a heavy print advertiser in newspapers and fashion magazines, supported by outdoor, direct mail and retailer co-op print ads.
In the last two years, many diamond brands that never advertised directly to consumers have dramatically increased their ad spending, industry observers say.
Kwiat, a 100-year-old diamond marketer, launched its first-ever consumer-targeted campaign five years ago, and now spends an estimated $8 million annually in national and local print and radio advertising. This fall, Kwiat kicks off its first-ever "Red Carpet Tour" of 20 cities, showing off diamonds worn by celebrities on the red carpet in Hollywood.
"Maintaining exclusive distribution through certain retailers, and promoting our brand through local outlets including radio, our sales have increased by double digits," says Bill Gould, Kwiat's VP-marketing. Toth Brand Imaging, Concord, Mass., created Kwiat's campaign, themed "Simply brilliant." Kerwin Communications, Caldwell, N.J., handles media buying.
Diamond brands that have always maintained moderate ad programs are feeling the pressure of heightened diamond advertising, say industry insiders, and are increasing their advertising in response.
Lazare Kaplan International, a well-established diamond marketer, this year stepped up its education programs for jewelry store personnel and boosted print advertising, says Marcee Feinberg, VP-marketing. The brand's long-running theme, "My Lazare diamond," is handled by AgencySacks, New York.
pearls make comeback
Pearls, which are making a comeback this year, are also driving a fresh wave of branding efforts.
Tiffany next month opens the first outlet of a new retail division, called Iridesse, devoted exclusively to pearls. Plans call for a total of 20 outlets within the next five years. David Yurman is also offering a new line of pearl jewelry this year.
Mikimoto & Co., the longtime leader in luxury pearls, this year has responded to the competition by reviving a previous print ad theme line, "The originator of cultured pearls since 1893," says Robert Artelt, senior VP-marketing and retail for the Tokyo-based company.
AgencySacks handles Mikimoto. Kerwin Communications handles media buying for Mikimoto as well as Kwiat.
Suddenly, jewelry designers, who toiled in relative obscurity, are turning up in fashion magazine columns, and are being touted as minor celebrities in jewelers' promotional material, ads and Web sites.
"For the longest time, jewelry wasn't represented on our covers," says Vogue's Mr. Florio, "but starting this year, it has been a very important element."