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Stuller’s new division signals contemporary metals are hanging tough

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Recognizing contemporary metals are more than a trend in the industry, Stuller Inc. is rolling out a new division offering a complete line of tungsten, titanium, ceramic and stainless steel jewelry products.

“Two to three years ago, there was a major shift that started in wedding bands, primarily with tungsten,” says Harold Dupuy, Stuller’s chief merchandising officer. “The younger males particularly were really going after some of what the industry calls ‘alternative metals.’ We refuse to call it alternative, because we believe it’s not a trend; it’s here to stay.

Stuller-tungsten-August

Tungsten men’s bands from Stuller’s new contemporary metals line.

 

Stuller-Ceramic-August

Light weight, comfortable and virtually scratch-proof, ceramic rings are another offering of Stuller’s new contemporary metals line.

 

Stuller-earrings-August

Stuller’s Amalfi earrings are made of 316L surgical stainless steel.

“With our business model – a just-in-time model – we build it, then we offer it for sale because we have it on the shelf for overnight delivery. So we were very, very cautious and watched the market develop.

“Like a lot of people, we didn’t know whether it was a fad, a trend or here to stay. Once we were convinced it was here to stay, we needed to go into it in a big way.

“Primarily, we believe it’s a long-term trend for a lot of socio-economic reasons. There’s an affinity for it. It’s been historically a male-dominated product sector, but we’re even seeing that shift.”

Stuller, headquartered in Lafayette, La., with nine operations on three continents, provides a wide range of goods and services for jewelry professionals. Its core products include diamonds, gemstones, finished jewelry, mountings, findings, bridal jewelry, tools and supplies.

Stuller introduced its inaugural line of contemporary metals at the 2010 JCK Las Vegas Show and plans to have the line available for next-day delivery in October.

Pedal to the Metal

Dupuy says that when Stuller committed to contemporary metals, it was full-steam ahead. The company hired renowned expert Glenn Miller as merchandising vice president for the new product division. Prior to Stuller, Miller served as CEO of GMA, Inc., a manufacturer and importer of contemporary metals jewelry servicing major retailers and wholesalers.

“With Glenn’s extensive experience, we are excited to have him join our team,” says Dupuy. “We are confident that adding his knowledge in this product sector, along with the tungsten patent that is pending, will serve jewelers well.”

Miller says he’s “at fault, or at credit,” for introducing the word “alternative” to the metals back in 2001. “It had nothing to do with the gold market increase at that time,” he says. “It had to do with the consumers of Generation X.

“They did not have any attachment to the intrinsic value of gold. They were watching alternative kinds of shows. I named it ‘alternative’ because it was the type of customer, with their clothing, what they were watching, in the year 2001,” says Miller. “It had nothing to do with price; it had to do with style for the person who was 20 years of age to 35 years of age.

“Now, couple that with the fact that gold has gone through the roof beyond belief and may continue, and it solidifies the category, in my opinion. Add all of these things together, the economic conditions of the commodity price of gold, plus the younger generation, and you have a brand new category in the jewelry business. All big companies have infrastructures now. They have a gold buyer, a diamond buyer and a contemporary metals buyer.

In the beginning, Miller says, “It was very difficult trying to present this to the major store, such as a Macy’s, let alone an independent jeweler, because they said, ‘Who buys it? We don’t know anything about it.’ They didn’t have infrastructure in the jewelry industry for it.

“When I first went to present it, they didn’t know if the gold buyers would buy it, the silver buyers would buy it; they didn’t even have a buyer.

“It looks good now, but we didn’t know then that this was going to happen – I only dreamed that a category of goods would be created to stay for all time.”

A Vehicle to Carry Precious Metals

As far as the jewelry business future in contemporary metals, Miller again has a vision.

“I’m a 35-year veteran of the fine jewelry business, and let’s not get around it, it’s fine jewelry business, and we like to sell diamonds and gold.

“What I see for the future is that these contemporary metals will be the vehicle to carry the precious metal and diamonds to the jeweler in the future. We, as inventors and manufacturers, need to do something for the jewelers to keep their identity as fine, and we are. We’re going to make the vehicle, contemporary metal, to carry the fine materials.”

Chief merchandising officer Dupuy says that with the challenges brought on by high precious-metal prices, many retail jewelers are enjoying success in the contemporary metal category “because it offers profitable products at a wide range of price points. This launch is our direct response to their requests to include this category in our just-in-time delivery system.”

Dupuy says Stuller recently did a bridal focus group with 10 couples between the ages of 21 and 31. “The mission was about bridal jewelry, not contemporary metals. We were focusing on the engagement rings, the shopping experience; we were working on some innovation ideas for retail – that was our mission. But as a side observation, nine out of 10 men in that age bracket had a contemporary metal wedding band.”

For their engagement rings, the women preferred gold and platinum.

“I believe that in the industry, tungsten is the single-largest selling unit of men’s wedding bands,” Miller adds. “For the same reason men took a passion to contemporary metals, I believe the women will.

“I believe you will see an explosion in contemporary metal with the women in the material known as ceramic. I believe there will be a real explosion in that in the next two years.

“The higher-end stores carry it, but what we’ve been doing together here – and what I’ve been doing for the last three years – is preparing for the explosion of women into the non-gold, non-silver category. I believe the big impact is going to come when they see ceramic bands, ceramic bracelets and ceramic watches.”

Aerospace Origins

Each of the metals Stuller is rolling out has distinct advantages, says Miller, noting that all four come from the aircraft industry.

Tungsten and ceramic are nearly scratch proof; only a diamond will scratch them.

“When you buy it, you’re going to keep it the rest of your life,” Miller says. “I named the tungsten ring the ‘forever-polished ring,’ and it’s the same with the ceramic ring for the women’s market. It’s the forever-polished ring. That’s a big advantage from the consumer standpoint. And the women’s ceramic ring is very lightweight and comfortable. The men’s ring has weight and size.

“In the case of titanium, it’s nearly indestructible. It scratches, but it can be polished.

“Titanium is lightweight and strong. You’re not going to destruct stainless steel, either. It’s surgical steel, 316L surgical steel, not the stainless steel like in your pots and pans.

“When we make our big earring line launch, every bit of that earring is surgical steel; it goes in and around a person’s ear. We think this is a big benefit, because even when you buy silver or gold earrings, you’re hoping you have a surgical steel post.”

It’s that kind of practicality and durability that attracted buyers to “alternatives” in the first place.

“Generation X liked it because of what it was,” Miller says. “I mean, forget about price. It was solid, it was scratch proof, it was forever. They didn’t care about the value of gold.

“Now, with the price of gold heading toward the $1,250 to $1,300 range, you have people in their 40s and 50s buying tungsten rings. It’s because they last forever.”

For more information about Stuller, Inc., you can call 337-262-7700 or visit their website, www.stuller.com.

 
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