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Sophisticated Silver
From youth-oriented to upscale designs, sterling silver jewelry is winning over retailers, and customers.

When retailers talk about sterling silver jewelry and what they like about it, five big selling points quickly emerge:

  1. It's great "starter jewelry" whose price points appeal to young consumers.
  2. Sterling is an inexpensive way for consumers to enjoy the current mania for white metal jewelry without paying a premium for platinum or white gold.
  3. It's a guilt-free purchase for many women, who find they can indulge themselves by buying great-looking pieces that don't break the bank.
  4. Rhodium plating has considerably eased both consumer and retailer concerns about silver tarnishing.
  5. Beautifully designed sterling silver jewelry allows some stores to enter markets they've never before pursued.

"For early teens and up, sterling silver jewelry is a good way to get them started, especially when they purchase it for themselves," says Autumn Ellison, manager of East Tennessee Diamond Company in Morristown, Tennessee. For Ellison, that first purchase is a "teachable moment" that can launch a young buyer into a lifetime relationship with jewelry purchases—and her store. "Also, sterling silver is easy for adults to buy for teens and children. Another thing that makes it comfortable for teens is that trends can change so quickly it's hard for them to keep up by buying gold jewelry. With sterling, it's easy to buy trendy pieces."

In Framingham, Massachusetts, Nancy Pope, floor manager at Barmakian Jewelers, a three-store chain, agrees with Ellison that sterling silver can create a good niche with a younger market. "They like silver-gold designs and lower price points are important to them. We sell many pieces for 16th birthdays and bat mitzvahs, or as gifts from boyfriends. Sterling's a good way to get them into the jewelry buying habit and learn how to care for silver. Also, with white gold and platinum very much in fashion, it offers an important way for teens to be able to keep up with the trend."

That last point certainly resonates with Kelli Poulin, vice president at Greetings Jewelers in Berlin, New Hampshire. "With the price of gold skyrocketing, many customers are turning their attention to sterling silver. We see its appeal to a younger demographic, young adults from 18 to 25 or 30, who like the white look and the fact that silver keeps them in a price point they like."

"People are surprised by sterling's price compared to white gold and platinum," agrees Ellison.

That doesn't mean that consumers with greater financial means can't be attracted to sterling silver. Anne Traynor, store manager at Old Town Galleria in Scottsdale, Arizona, one of a family-owned three-store chain in the area, says that 95 percent of her customers are tourists drawn by the store's full-page ads in hotel guides. "We skew to a more mature demographic of people who want very nicely designed pieces and appreciate the price point."

Ellison agrees with Traynor's observations about sterling's appeal to more upscale customers. "Buying sterling silver jewelry is an easy way for women to treat themselves without busting the household budget or feeling guilty for a small bit of self-indulgence," she says. For Pope, the fact that designers are delivering sterling in combination with colored gemstones, diamonds, and gold has created a remarkably broad market.

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