Jewelry industry analysts agree that precious
metal prices have skyrocketed, but they're torn about whether
the use of gold and platinum in designs might crash and cause
escalation of substitute metals.
Mike Riess, principal with Greenwich,
Conn.-based metals consultancy Materials Management Co., said
surrogate materials are already hitting the market where gold
and platinum once reigned. "What you see is a lot of new alloys
coming onto the market," he said. "That will reduce the
platinum and gold content and emphasize less-expensive items
like palladium and silver."
Riess said he's seeing not only precious
metals substitution, but also an emphasis on alternate metals.
"Stainless steel is popular and tungsten carbide is popular
because it's heavy and has a nice color, more of a gray," he
said. "You can spruce up the appearance of some metals by
alloying them with other metals and they'll change color. I
think as long as prices stay where they are the jewelry
industry is going to be on the defensive. There will be
Lauren Thompson, public affairs coordinator
at the Jewelry Information Center in New York, said she's heard
less about metals substitution than she has about designer
ingenuity. "They are creating more lightweight pieces that are
airy and not as solid," she said. "Gold is still popular even
though the price is going up. Because it's in the news so much,
consumers are almost drawn to gold a little more because the
value keeps getting reinforced."
However, Thompson said that jewelry buying
events held in early summer featured pieces made with precious
metals when they were less expensive. Going forward, she said,
things could change. "Up until now they've been using what they
had in inventory," she said. "We definitely saw at the shows
this year the industry is trying to work with the rising
prices. They've even cut costs by sending fewer people to
Tina Wojtkielo Snyder, editor in chief of
MJSA Journal, a publication of Providence, R.I.-based
Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America, said that she
also is hearing about more airy designs since precious metal
prices are in the stratosphere. "We're seeing more
manufacturers moving to lighter-weight designs in precious
metals such as platinum and gold," she said. "These looks are
lighter designs that are hollow or with filigree or open
Stainless and titanium are already popular
options, especially in the men's jewelry market, Snyder said,
and they could become more prevalent. "We're seeing a lot of
men's bands in titanium and stainless. Men's jewelry is a niche
market that is growing, so we're seeing a lot of designers
catching on and using these metals in more contemporary looking
While stainless, titanium and other
non-traditional metals are gaining ground, so are non-metals.
"Designers are combining more non-traditional materials, such
as exotic woods, with gold or palladium," Snyder said. "People
are definitely innovating. On one hand, they're differentiating
themselves in the marketplace and offering something totally
different; on the other hand, they are looking for alternatives
in response to high precious metal prices."
Jeffrey M. Christian, managing director of
New York-based metals consultancy CPM Group, said he hasn't
seen many substitutions yet. "We did see that back in '80 and
'81," he said. "I remember going to a gallery and looking at
titanium jewelry for the first time then."
However, substitution away from gold and
platinum to silver and palladium is occurring, Christian said,
although he noted that in palladium's case it's not entirely
price-inspired. Palladium producers and a trade group recently
began a marketing campaign to promote that material.
"One of the things we've seen is that there's
been an increase in silver use in jewelry," he said. "It
happened in the '80s and we're seeing it again."