What's New in the Personlized Jewelry Market

Copyright © 2009 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in September 2009, Volume 35, No. 3 of The Engravers Journal

Classic Medallics, Mt. Vernon, NY, offers a wide range of engravable religious jewelry items.


     Nothing says I love you, Happy Birthday or You’re Special like jewelry, but jewelry items that have been personalized with a name, date, message or photo of a loved one can make these gifts even more special to the recipient. From a locket or pendant for Mother’s Day to cufflinks for the groom, jewelry can serve as a welcomed gift for virtually any
occasion—a fact that engraving shops need to share with their customers.
     While jewelry can offer a boost in your year-round sales figures, there is no better time to start offering these items or, if you already offer jewelry, to create a more eye-catching display in your showroom, than the holiday season. This is the time of year that retailers see jewelry items practically fly off the shelves, so why not take advantage of this buying frenzy?
     The holidays represent a healthy chunk of annual sales for most retailers, some up to 40 percent of their yearly sales. It would seem wise then that if you’re going to expand your product line to capture some of these sales you should add the kinds of items that consumers are looking for, and jewelry is something that everyone can appreciate.
     Personalized jewelry is certainly nothing new to the industry. While it’s hard to say for certain when people began personalizing jewelry, men and women have adorned themselves with various items since the beginning of civilization. And the fact that jewelry is cherished by its recipients dates back to biblical times when it was considered either as a payment due to its value or as a token of love and promise.
     It’s clear that people have been giving engraved jewelry to loved ones for hundreds of years or more. These items were typically made with precious metals like gold and silver and often were very valuable, heirloom-quality pieces. While these traditional jewelry items like gold rings and silver lockets are still considered a mainstay within the industry, there has been an ongoing explosion of new products and new technology in the last decade that has opened up the personalized jewelry market to a much wider audience.
     Just as in the apparel and fashion industries, popular styles and trends change within the jewelry market over time as well. In this article, we will take a look at some of the hottest new trends in the glittering world of personalized jewelry.
What’s Hot
     According to many industry suppliers, dog tags seem to be the current rage. The people most likely to buy them or have them gifted to them tend to be in high school, college or just a bit older or younger. If you’re not already doing so, you should really think about adding these items to your inventory and marketing them to the group of people known as Generation Y, those people who are roughly between the ages of 9-30, which is a group so large it rivals the Baby Boomers.
     One of the nice things about these jewelry items is that they come in a wide range of price points to fit nearly anyone’s budget, from aluminum to rhodium plated aluminum, sterling silver and gold. They can also be personalized with a wide variety of marking methods, including sublimation, rotary engraving, laser engraving and even screen printing for large quantities.
     “Dog tags are the hottest thing in (personalized) jewelry today,” says David Gross, President of Condé Systems, Inc., Mobile, AL. Condé offers sublimatable versions of these items that come with a chain. One model is made with white aluminum that Gross says younger kids love. They also carry a larger, more grown-up version which is rhodium plated in a line he called “bling bling jewelry.”
     LaserBits, Phoenix, AZ, has a ColorCoat dog tag with camouflage on both sides that’s suitable for laser engraving. These camo tags are also available in round or star-shaped versions.
     Your Supply Depot, Des Plaines, IL, offers a military-style engravable dog tag that it sells to the U.S. military. Their CerMark tags have a black coating that is cut through by engravers using either a laser engraver or rotary cutter. One suggestion is to market these items to couples with each half saying something different such as “I love you Sarah” on his and “I love you Mike” on hers.



     As an upsell or an add-on to the dog tag purchase, Your Supply Depot’s Tom Stewart suggests that retailers offer rubber covers that wrap around the edges of the dog tags. These are especially popular in the colors of local schools. He’s also found that corporate buyers are interested in dog tags for sales meetings. For example, Stewart says each piece can be personalized with an employee’s name along with the date and name of the meeting.
     Stewart cautions not to limit personalization options to just names and dates. These items make great medical ID tags for those who may need to carry emergency information on their person. And if you have customers who are dog lovers, suggest a dog tag for Fido to wear.
     Stuller, Lafayette, LA, offers fine engravable jewelry choices from stainless steel and sterling silver to 14kt and 18kt gold and platinum. They also offer engraving services so they’re able to see nationwide trends in the industry.
     Michael Clarke, Vice President of Finished Jewelry for Stuller, says he is noticing that monograms are back in style with a not-too-flowery script being more popular than block. Messages are also changing with the times, he says, adding things like “BFF” (Best Friends Forever) and other E-mail, instant messaging and text messaging lingo might be engraved on jewelry and gift items.
     Clarke says they too have seen a growing interest in dog tags, which is why Stuller offers a new version in sterling silver and 14kt white and yellow gold with a peace symbol punched out on it. He suggests adding a private message on the back of the dog tag or other piece of jewelry, which is only known by the wearer. Not only does this add a more personal touch to the gift, but it also offers retailers an opportunity to add to a sale.

Coco Bead necklaces and bracelets from LaserBits, Phoenix, AZ, are great for laser engraving text, photos or clip art.    

Something Different
     A fairly new and different trend in the personalized jewelry market involves leather. While leather items have always been available, they have become more popular in recent years. This is likely due to the fact that leather is an affordably priced material for laser engraving and comes in many shapes and sizes.
     Gravograph, Duluth, GA, offers leather dog tags in colors such as dusty rose/natural, aquamarine/natural and natural/natural. Similar to laminated plastic engraving stock, the first layer is cut through to expose the second. They also have what Richard Altonaga, Gravograph’s New England Territory Manager, calls a “specially formulated leather product” in other pendants and bracelets. Color combinations for the bracelets include tan/blue, brickbrown/blue, pink/aqua and black/red.
     LaserSketch, Lemont, IL, a supplier of laser engravable products and supplies, carries a line of leather products as well. “We found that all leather is not the same and does not engrave equally well,” says Judy McCreary, President and CEO of LaserSketch. “We have our leather products made for us with a special tanning process.” Jewelry items include wrist bands in four shades of leather as well as a slimline money clip.

Black Onyx laser engravable pendant from LaserSketch.     Red Onyx laser engravable jewelry from LaserSketch.

Popular Pieces
     Money clips, cuff links and tie tacks or bars are items that seemed destined to go the way of the dinosaur in years past, but many suppliers say they have made a comeback in recent years. Cuff links are a surprisingly good seller and are sometimes worn in a French cuffed shirt without a tie or jacket.
     John E. Lepper, Attleboro, MA, has popular models of cuff links that are rhodium or gold plated. LaserBits has added a new line of coated, anodized jewelry and accessory items for laser engraving, many of which are suitable for groomsmen’s gifts. They offer money clips in blue, black, red and gold. The company’s website even has “Tech Tips” that offer helpful information for engravers when it comes to personalizing these and many other items.
     Classic Medallics, Mt. Vernon, NY, is doing well with personalized saints medals, crosses and crucifixes in sterling silver. The steady popularity of these items has led to a new line of stainless steel crosses that will debut this month (Sept. 09). According to Jerry Singer, President of Classic Medallics, stainless steel can be diamond engraved like pewter items, leaving a beautiful cut with a nice, bright cut in contrast.
Get Creative
     It’s no secret that many of today’s consumers like to stand out from the crowd. They want something uniquely different from what everyone else is wearing or carrying. That’s one of the main reasons why there has been such a huge growth in the personalized products market. Whether they achieve individuality from carrying a cell phone, iPod or laptop with a one-of-a-kind tech tatt (a laser engraved design, photo or text) or from wearing a T-shirt with their name spelled out on the front with glittering rhinestones, people like to see their name on things or their own designs or pictures of loved ones. It is no different when it comes to the jewelry they wear.
     That’s why retailers should be creative when it comes to the items they offer as well as how to personalize those items. When it comes to jewelry and gift ideas, consider something as simple as engraving a blank circle, oval or square and hanging it on a string or chain. This may seem very plain, but once engraved with a special message or photo of a loved one, it can be transformed into a beautiful piece of jewelry your customer will treasure for years to come.
     LaserSketch offers various sizes, shapes and colors of laser engravable onyx, including some simple rectangles, some mounted in sterling silver and some two-sided pieces with different color combinations like light blue and mother of pearl. At this year’s awards show in Las Vegas, LaserSketch introduced black onyx lapel pins and pocket charms in five new shapes, which have become new, hot selling items for them.
     While the lapel pins come packaged with lapel pin backs, LaserSketch’s McCreary said she is finding that customers are also using them as pocket charms. For example, for a new father, she said “Dad” can be lasered on one side and the baby’s picture on the other side, giving the new dad an easy and convenient way to show everyone he meets the new addition to his family.



Because dog tags are so popular, Stuller, Inc., Lafayette, LA, recently introduced this new engravable dog tag to its line.    

     A black or red onyx cross can make a nice gift for Christmas or Easter, especially when a special message is added to it. These items can be laser engraved and turned into a pendant, key chain or even a purse charm, another new and popular trend that has developed among women in the last couple of years. John E. Lepper also carries round and rectangular pewter disks that retailers can engrave with initials, names or other information to create a custom piece of jewelry.
     Customization and sublimation go hand in hand to create beautiful jewelry. For those who want colorful, personalized items, especially when it comes to the use of photographs, sublimated jewelry items is the only way to go. Sublimation has come a long way in the last decade and with today’s technology, retailers can provide excellent photo reproduction through sublimation.
     In March 2009, Laser Reproductions, Inc. (LRI), Skokie, IL, introduced a line of crystal and mother of pearl pendants and earrings that have become good sellers. “Unlike many crystal pieces, LRI’s jewelry items are frosted instead of white backed so the image shows beautifully,” says Co-owner Carol Gibson. The drop earrings are being used as smaller pendants, making them great for a child’s gift, or several together can be worn by an adult.
     Gibson has also found that this inexpensive line of jewelry is helping to sell some of their boxes, making the sale even bigger for her customers. In addition to the crystal, LRI also carries a line of shell jewelry and the pearlescent shimmer of the shell shows through the image. As for personalizing these items, her tips begin with the old adage, “measure twice, cut once.”
     “The shell has a bit of an irregular surface. It’s not straight and flat like aluminum,” says Gibson. “You have to make sure you have the right press pads and read through the directions before you start so you’re not wasting product as you learn.”
     One of the latest personalized jewelry items at Condé is its sublimatable wristbands. Like the dog tag necklaces, these items are great for kids though they come in both small and large sizes. Made of a neoprene-like material similar to that used in wet suits, Gross says it sublimates beautifully.

John E. Lepper, Attleboro, MA, offers a wide variety of traditional jewelry for engraving such as lockets, cuff bracelets, money clips and much more.   This pendant from Gravograph is diamond engraved with an interlocking monogram, a perennial favorite.

     Italian charms continue to be a popular sublimation item for Condé. While the area available for personalization is quite small, Gross assures people that these items are not difficult to work with. His tip for sublimating these items: “Remove the background and the photograph comes alive!” He suggests using Photoshop or Corel PhotoPaint to create your layout first.
     “People are very excited about digital images these days,” says Gross. “Sublimation is an awesome way to offer people a very unique way to use their digital images.” But he says in order to make the sales, retailers have to show people what they can do. “That means having a good display so people know what’s available to them.”
Making It Yours
     Mindy Sommers, owner of Color Bakery, Poultney, VT, is one such retailer who takes the message of creativity to heart. Sommers uses LRI jewelry products to create colorful art through the use of a computer. “I used to paint items with brushes but I didn’t have anywhere near the freedom,” she says. Today, Sommers designs custom sublimated items from scratch, whether it be her own design ideas or working with customers to turn their ideas into reality.
     If a customer wants a tile to match bed sheets, she can put the image into the computer and digitally alter it. Being open to meeting the customer’s needs can open the door to many more jobs. “I had a male customer recently who wanted me to take Michelangelo’s Creation of Man, the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and turn the angels into cats,” says Sommers. The cat lover is purring now because Sommers was able to complete the job as asked.

Stainless steel mirror compact with a sublimated image. Photo courtesy of Conde Systems, Mobile, AL.   Dog tag necklaces are one of the hottest trends in personalized jewelry today. Photo courtesy of Your Supply Depot, Des Plaines, IL.

     While Sommers’ story is not necessarily related to a jewelry item, retailers can still learn from that experience by not limiting themselves to the basic products available. Use your imagination and your creativity to add value to those items. As another example, Sommers turns a crystal pendant purchased from LRI into a higher-end piece of jewelry by selecting beads that match the artwork and stringing a necklace for it. Keeping all customers in mind, though, she also uses cord on some pieces to keep the price down for those who want a lower price point.
     Excelebrations is the 10-year-old awards business offshoot from Gray’s Jewelers, Archdale, NC, a business started by the owner’s family in 1948. The two businesses have done well together because they compliment each other—when awards are slower during the holidays, they sell more jewelry. One of the company’s marketing techniques is to place signs next to engravable jewelry items, such as charms and I.D. bracelets, in the display cases that say “Engraving Available” to let customers know that’s an option for the sterling silver and 14kt gold products they sell. Cheri Gray takes the engraving one step further and says they will engrave almost anything their customers bring them.
     Cheri’s brother, John Gray, handles the sublimation side of the business by offering a variety of items from Condé. Displays are created with actual sublimated items as opposed to only pictures of products. “This gives our customer’s a chance to see the item up close rather than as a picture. They can see it, feel it and hold it,” says John Gray. “You can show a picture of the same thing, but until they can flip it over and feel it, they can’t really appreciate what you do.”
     Gray said he can also alter photos to meet a customer’s needs. For example, if a customer wants a picture of a certain loved one sublimated onto an item, he can use CorelDRAW to remove that particular person from the rest of the background, then repair the photo or add arms or a missing piece of a dress or whatever it takes to meet the customer’s request.

  Personalized cuff links make an excellent gift for the groom or wedding party. Photo courtesy of Tower Trading, Sioux Falls, SD.    

     One particular customer wanted to have her three children on one pendant using separate photos of each of the children. He said he was able to remove the backgrounds from two of the photos, then use the background from the third photo to make it look like all three were in one image. The customer enjoyed her preview so much that he included a free 8 x 10 print of the image when she picked up her order. “Our philosophy is basically that there’s nothing we can’t do for our customers,” he says.
     Another simple marketing technique to use with customers who are purchasing personalized jewelry as gifts is to suggest that shoppers buy something special for themselves. For example, a pregnant woman buying a gift for someone else should be made aware of your engravable jewelry for babies or sublimitable pendants that can hold a baby’s photo. A man shopping for groomsmen’s gifts might also like cufflinks with his initials on them. If his fiancé is with him and you’re able to contact her after they’ve left, suggest a special message from her on the underside of the cufflinks he will wear on their big day.
     As you can see, there’s a wide variety of groups you can market jewelry to these days and it’s something that can keep your cash register ringing all year long, from spring graduations, summer weddings and fall birthdays to winter holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. And nothing makes these popular gift items more special than adding a personal touch such as engraving the recipient’s name, date of the special occasion or a personal message. Or, as newer technology now allows, laser engraving or sublimating the photo of a loved one onto a charm bracelet, pendant, key chain or a mirrored compact. So whether your shop offers rotary engraving, laser engraving, sublimation or a combination of these marking methods, jewelry continues to play a significant role in our industry.