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Taking on Tarnish
Now that manufacturers offer tarnish-resistant pieces, jewelers are taking more of a shine to silver.

“How did you know that going to America to teach was the right thing to do?” a student asked a Japanese Zen master who had spent years struggling for an audience. “Imagine if you were an engineer and you thought of a way to make automobiles run on air,” he answered. “You’d call that a million-dollar idea, wouldn’t you? Well, my million-dollar idea was to spread Buddhism in America. Whatever one’s million-dollar idea, they have a way of becoming one’s mission in life.”

That’s exactly how the idea of producing silver jewelry using a break-through anti-tarnish alloy enriched with platinum struck Roberto Martinez when he first heard it in 2003. Four years later, the San Clemente, California, manufacturer has spent nearly $1 million on his “million dollar idea” and is poised for a major mass-market introduction of his designs using the alloy he trademarked as “Platifina.” Martinez, who says he is bound by a confidentiality agreement, won’t reveal the name of the company that now believes as much in Platifina as he does. All he’ll say is that the alloy’s future is big—and it’s now.

Supporters are not surprised to hear that Platifina is on the verge of success. Alloys that bid adieu to tarnish or, at least make it unwelcome for long periods, are starting to appear in encouraging numbers.

“There’s a wide array of alternatives to conventional quick-tarnishing sterling, and I think the industry is finally getting into an exploratory mood about them,” says Chuck Bennett, director of manufacturing at ABI Precious Metals, Carson, California. Bennett ought to know. His company developed the alloy Martinez branded as Platifina—plus many others.

Suddenly, designers and jewelers have open minds and pocketbooks about tarnish-resistant silvers—even though they cost a little, and sometimes a lot, more than standard .925 alloys. That new diversity of tarnish-resistant silver alloys is quickly creating a sizeable new segment of silver bugs among jewelers. Some, like Mark and Monika Clodius, are even using extended-shine silver as part of a repositioning of their stores. Since opening their store Clodius & Company, Rockford, Illinois, in 2000, the Clodiuses have expanded it twice—first from 860 to 3,000 square feet in 2003 and are currently expanding to 6,700 square feet. In seven years time, their store has mushroomed from boutique to behemoth.

What are the Clodiuses going to do with more than twice the space they had before? First and foremost, the pair will make room for more silver—10 to 12 tower cases of it beckoning to the younger shoppers they draw to their store.

Of course, the couple has other high priorities, like a much enlarged bridal department. But silver tops the list as far as their greatly expanded inventory capacity. Why? Silver is the perfect precious metal for a store like his, designed to serve the middle market that furnishes most of the big spenders in his trade area. “Rockford still has plenty of blue collar plus some white collar,” says Mark Clodius. “So while we, like most independents, find it prudent to cater to the high end, we have to face the fact that the bulk of our sales are under $500 and that most of our customers are price point driven.” Monika adds, “Silver allows us to offer high-fashion fine jewelry in a wide range of affordable options starting from straight sterling to combinations of sterling and 18k gold.”

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