Fashion-conscious individuals looking to
sport the latest and greatest on the jewelry scene might be in
for a surprise. The jewelry industry, a mainstay for precious
metals, is seeing a push toward substitution amid soaring
prices for gold and platinum.
Precision Specialty Metals Inc., Los Angeles,
which processes stainless steel and other non-precious metals
for a variety of industries, is looking into selling its
products into the jewelry and watchmaking markets. "They make
things that seem to be what the jewelry world is looking for,"
said Cathy M. Lyttle, vice president of corporate
communications at parent company Worthington Industries Inc.,
Precision Specialty Metals produces the Type
316L stainless that is frequently used to make watchbands and a
variety of other jewelry items. The company is looking to boost
its volume of business in the market in anticipation that some
jewelry makers might begin working more with stainless,
titanium and other less-expensive materials as precious metal
costs continue to increase, Lyttle said.
"We've heard it's heading in that direction
and we recognize it's an opportunity," she said. "We're looking
to see if that possibility exists out there with our
customers." Lyttle declined to quantify how much market share
the company hopes to gain, but said a sale is a sale. "I'm not
saying it's a stampede, but it's becoming more popular," she
Likewise, Mark Danks, sales and market
manager at platinum and palladium producer Johnson Matthey NY,
said he's heard anecdotal evidence that stainless and titanium
will find more of a role in jewelry designs. "Certainly, that's
what we're hearing," he said. "Our customers that make jewelry
with those metals are saying that. Especially for a man's band
or something, it's really attractive."
But Johnson Matthey itself refines only
platinum and palladium and couldn't offer solid evidence of the
trend. Danks, however, said he has seen a difference lately in
the buying habits of his customers platinum sales remain strong
at the top end but are tight in the middle to low-end of the
"The high end continues to buy because people
can afford to buy the metal," he said. "But as with everything
else in the economy, the mid-range (jewelry) manufacturers are
having difficulty selling to retailers because they just aren't
selling. People are putting their money into other things, like
filling up their car with gas or buying an iPod."
The high-end business remains strong because
of long-standing tradition, Danks said. "When you buy an
engagement ring, people think of diamond and platinum
together," he said. "The bridal market is still strong."
Uyemura USA, an Ontario, Calif.-based
division of Uyemura International Corp. that manufactures
metallic finishes for jewelry and other industrial uses, is
seeing a similar trend.
"We don't see many people moving from gold at
this point," said Don Walsh, Uyemura USA's director of
operations. "Where we do see a change, because rhodium is so
expensive there is a movement out of that."
Rhodium is the whitest, brightest and hardest
material for traditional jewelry, so for that reason it
traditionally has been used as a setting for a diamond to
reflect the light back up through the stone. But rhodium, which
was around $1,000 an ounce in July 2004, is now hovering close
to the $10,000-an-ounce mark, according to AMM data
based on Johnson Matthey prices.
"Everybody is looking for what else is
bright-platinum and palladium," Walsh said. While he has no
sense as to whether demand for stainless, titanium and other
alternatives in jewelry applications will grow, he added that
even if they do it probably won't be for long.
"I've seen it for all the metals over the
years-when prices fluctuate, they switch back," he said.