MARKET COMMENTARY – Cost-of-living crisis squeezes UK jewellery market, but fall in inflation boosts outlook

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By David Brough

LONDON – The cost-of-living crisis is squeezing the UK jewellery market, but easing inflation offers a glimmer of hope for a pickup of demand.

A key focus now is whether or not inflation can be brought under control, after the year-on-year rise in UK consumer prices in June eased more than expected to 7.9 percent, from 8.7 percent in the year to May.

Inflation is now at its lowest for more than a year, after several months of being stuck around the same level.

Cost of living pressures built up in the UK and other countries after the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A prolonged period of rising interest rates, with further rate increases expected later this year despite the recent fall in inflation, has squeezed disposable incomes, making it less affordable for many middle-income consumers, facing stubbornly high mortgage, food and energy costs, to spend on luxury items including jewellery.

Footfall in UK jewellery shops has eroded due to the cost-of-living crisis, jewellers say, amid fears that wedding planning will take longer, as couples may delay ring purchases due to price pressures. 

Demand for silver and cultured pearl jewellery at the UK retail level is seen as resilient, with margins on mid-range watches sales tight due to competition from smartphones.

Demand for pre-owned high-end watches such as Rolexes remains firm in UK jewellery shops as new Rolexes remain out of reach.

The outlook for bespoke business, customisation and repairs for UK jewellery retail is buoyant, jewellers say, in line with a global trend for personalisation of luxury across income groups.

MARKET COMMENTARY – Cost-of-living crisis squeezes UK jewellery market, but fall in inflation boosts outlook

PureJewels

The recent strength of the pound sterling against the U.S. dollar, has meant that UK suppliers are now in a better position to source dollar-denominated precious materials such as gold and silver.

Gold has held below USD $2,000 per ounce lately, pressured by fears of more interest rate hikes in the United States. A further modest U.S. interest rate rise is expected later in July.

With the United States showing encouraging signs of getting control of inflation, prospects for a pause in U.S. interest rate hikes after July, are picking up.

The near-term outlook for gold prices is for a moderately increasing trend in dollar terms, analysts say, as confidence builds that the U.S. financial authorities are getting to grips with inflation.

Diamonds

In diamonds, the outlook is for increasing demand for lab-grown, with near-term demand for natural polished diamonds facing downwards pressure.

India is a leading supplier of lab-grown diamonds to the UK market.

Surveys predict rising spending on lab-grown diamond jewellery over the next few years, as consumers buy into the much cheaper prices of lab-grown diamonds versus natural.

But it makes no sense for retail shops to have large inventories of lab-grown diamond jewellery while lab-grown diamond prices are falling. 

Margins in lab-grown diamond jewellery production are also declining as Indian lab-grown diamond manufacturers pressure prices lower. 

Many consumers, rightly or wrongly, perceive lab-grown diamond jewellery as sustainable in comparison to mined diamonds. 

The global lab-grown diamond market was valued at US$22.45 billion in 2022, according to Business Wire, a Berkshire Hathaway company. The market value is forecasted to grow to US$37.32 billion by 2028.

Coloured gemstones 

Dealers at GemGenève in May, spoke of the difficulty in sourcing high-quality natural coloured precious gemstones, which are selling for very high prices.

The exceptionally high prices of Burmese rubies and Colombian emeralds are creating opportunities for stones from less traditional origins, such as Mozambique and Zambia, in markets around the world, including the UK.

A key trend to follow has been the emergence of international digital trading platforms in coloured gemstones, such as Gembridge, GemCloud – and now, in the UK, Nivoda, which is offering coloured gemstones as well as diamonds.

MARKET COMMENTARY – Cost-of-living crisis squeezes UK jewellery market, but fall in inflation boosts outlook

Nivoda

Pearls

Pearls have been cherished for their timeless beauty and elegance for centuries, and their popularity continues to grow in the UK. 

The market is expected to see a rise in the demand for cultured pearls, with natural pearls out of reach for most consumers due to their rarity and high prices.

Younger generations, including Millennials and Gen Z, are increasingly drawn to cultured pearls for their versatility. 

Moreover, the trend of breaking traditional fashion norms has led to an increased interest in pearls among both men and women. 

Prices of Japanese Akoya and South Sea pearls are soaring, driven by low oyster seeding during the pandemic and by robust Chinese demand. 

All Japanese Akoya pearls have seen stratospheric increases with smaller sizes particularly affected. Most items have doubled or tripled in price since the start of the year. Clean white South Sea goods have also seen similar price rises.

Market outlook

If UK financial authorities can bring inflation under control in the coming months, interest rates will eventually fall and disposable incomes rise, auguring for an improved outlook for the UK jewellery market.

At the high end of the market, the luxury goods sector has made repeated pleas for the government to urgently reinstate VAT-free shopping.

Pressure is mounting on the UK government to reintroduce the measure, which was axed in early 2021 making purchases in the UK 20 percent more costly for international visitors.

Disclaimer: any opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be considered as investment advice.

MARKET COMMENTARY – Cost-of-living crisis squeezes UK jewellery market, but fall in inflation boosts outlook

A well-established UK jewellery retailer: Laings Glasgow