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Fashion: Going for Gold

Fashion-Going for Gold
BySamantha Critchell
AP Fashion Writer
NEW YORK (AP) ó The buzz around record-setting gold prices is reminding jewelry shoppers that gold is indeed a precious metal.
Yellow gold has never completely fallen out of favor with the fashion crowd, but over the past decade the public took more of a shine to sterling silver and platinum. However, gold’s fortunes had already started to turn when it hit $1,000 an ounce in March.
Even as gold prices come back down, jewelers expect it will remain an attractive accessory for those who want something not everyone can have. Demand for gold jewelry was up 22 percent in 2007 over the previous year, according to the World Gold Council.
“We like to think women buy jewelry because they love it, and design is our driving force and we think it’s what women respond to,” says Jon King, senior vice president at Tiffany & Co. “But there is a certain aspect of attraction that comes as a result of an increased awareness of the value of the material.”
Adding to gold’s luster is more creativity in design and technical processes that allow it to be shaped and shaded in new ways. Designer Paloma Picasso pairs gold with complementary stones such as green peridot and citrine, while Tiffany’s Frank Gehry collection features a smoky black gold in addition to yellow, white and rose golds, all of which are shaded by the alloys in the metal.
Mixing metals, either different golds or gold with silver or platinum, was at first popular at the turn of the 20th century, King explains, but is again en vogue for jewelry on the heels of a similar boom in the tabletop market.
“A renaissance in gold is happening,” Duvall O’Steen, spokeswoman for the gold council, who notes that gold has been embraced in home decor, beauty products, vodka and even cigars wrapped in gold leaf. “Americans tend to like things as they become more expensive.”
For now, the cost of gold jewelry hasn’t kept pace with rising commodity prices. O’Steen says it will take three to six months for retailers to feel pressure to increase their prices, since jewelry is typically ordered several months ahead of time.
However, some consumers are concerned about buying “dirty gold.” Several major U.S. retailers have signed on to a No Dirty Gold campaign by Oxfam America and the advocacy group Earthworks to reform mining practices that are bad for workers and the environment. Tiffany, for example, says it traces its gold from the source and throughout the jewelry-making process.
Vintage or recycled gold is one option recommended by the campaign ó but it might look different from modern options. Over the last two years the trend has moved away from 14- and 18-karat gold toward 20 or 22 karats, O’Steen says. The result are pieces with a richer color and the potential for high shine.
“When you’re dealing with luxury goods, you want the rich color that looks regal and important,” she says.
There’s also a keen interest in texture, which is often accomplished with laser etching, and the more affordable mix of gold and ceramics, such as an open link bracelet with every third link made of a ceramic material.
If the economy continues to sour, O’Steen predicts shoppers will turn to the classics, including cuff bracelets or necklaces with heart or cross motifs. They were also big in the 1970s ó the last time gold was at a premium in both cost and popularity.
During the ’70s gold boom, people tended to sell off their jewelry for scrap, so any piece that did survive became that much more valuable. “There is always a market for gold, especially old Victorian pieces,” reports Robbin Mullin, owner of Antiques Anonymous in Washington.
Gold also ruled when it came to engagement and wedding jewelry, says Jennifer Hicks, publisher of Elegant Bride and Modern Bride magazines. Over time, though, platinum became the standard ó and it still is.
Gold is making a slow comeback, but Hicks says that’s because of ever-evolving tastes, not price. Gold was considered flashy 10 years ago; now it’s become more sophisticated.
At luxury jeweler Cartier, some of the most popular gold designs can withstand “trends,” says Frederic de Narp, president and CEO of Cartier North America. The gold Trinity ring, created from three interlocking rings, has been sold for more than 80 years.
“Today, the design is just as relevant as it was in 1924 and is one of the most recognizable designs in the world,” de Narp says.
Still, Mullin, who wears a gold watch chain and fob almost every day, isn’t happy to see prices go so high, fearing they will scare off some shoppers. O’Steen expects the mid-market ó those $75 gold hoop earrings ó to take the hardest hit, probably during the holiday shopping season.
The bright spot for jewelers is that the public perception of the intrinsic value of gold seems to be high.
“If you’re going to spend a weak dollar, you want to spend it on a product that will last,” O’Steen says.

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