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Designers are undeterred and see a new breed of bling


Jewelry designers say they aren't compromising their work as a result of higher precious metal costs.

Rolex Watch USA Inc., New York, sells a large number of all-gold, all-stainless and gold-stainless combination watches. Despite the high cost of raw materials, a Rolex spokeswoman said the company's designers are maintaining what they've always done. "I don't think we'll see any change in the line," she said. "We don't compromise on the quality of the product. Customers know they'll have a high-quality piece that they can trust."

Chris Ploof, a jewelry designer that runs Chris Ploof Studio in Rutland, Mass., and serves as a technical consultant for the Palladium Alliance International, said the potential for substitute materials in the jewelry business exists now that gold and platinum are so expensive.

"I think for sure that there may be some people who are getting more into it," Ploof said. "But stainless steel and titanium jewelry always seems to me like a race to the bottom—how cheaply can we make the exact same band." He won't be one of those entering that race. "I like high-karat gold," Ploof said.

While acknowledging that he already uses a variety of stainless products—Types 304, 316, 410, 718 and Monel—to make his pieces, he doesn't intend to use more stainless just because gold is more expensive.

The higher cost of precious metals is forcing designers to be good at design and customer service, Ploof said. "You just have to deal with it. You have to combat against rising costs of material with excellence in design, which we hope we're doing. You have to re-examine what you're making and try to change designs and incorporate non-precious with precious metals. You have to offer a complete package for the customer rather than just cookie-cutter designs."

Even with prices going up, he said his company is still selling precious metals-based products—and growing at a tremendous rate. "If somebody shies away from working in precious metals, I think it's more related to bad design or bad sales practices," Ploof said.

Likewise, RGM Watch Co., Mount Joy, Pa., makes its timepieces out of stainless, gold and occasionally platinum, according to founder Roland G. Murphy. "It hasn't affected us so much," he said. "In our market, the higher end, people who want gold want gold."

The small specialty watchmaker creates custom designs and one-off watches. "Because of the mechanisms we make and the mechanics we use, they are quite expensive," Murphy said. "People are not shying away because of the price."

However, he said that stainless has increased as a style trend, not as a price development. "People appreciate our mechanics and mechanisms and complexity and they've also appreciated in the last 10 years having that quality in a steel case so it's something they can wear every day that resists scratching and denting compared to gold," Murphy said.

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