The category is experiencing a resurgence that hasn't been seen since the Eighties. On the runway and at retail, brands such as Balenciaga and Lanvin are taking major steps into the category, and along with smaller brands are establishing oversize statement pieces as a seasonal trend. In addition, firms like Banana Republic, Coach and J. Crew are buffing up their fashion jewelry offerings to add the next level of "lifestyle" to their branding efforts.
In today's shaky economy and with the cost of gold and silver skyrocketing, it's clear why consumers are gravitating toward jewelry that is on-trend yet lacks a hefty price tag. Costume jewelry has become the entry-level price point for many of Europe's luxury houses, and in troubling times allows consumers a guilt-free way to tune-up their wardrobe.
"The economy makes things much sweeter for fashion jewelry," said Michael Coan, associate professor and chair of the jewelry design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology. "People who would look to buy something fine between $3,000 and $5,000 can find a similar and even more avant-garde piece in fashion for $100 to $200. In times of trouble, people want to splurge, but not on a fine piece of jewelry. Paychecks don't reflect it, but if you have an extra $50 you might buy a funky ring."
Gabrielle Fialkoff, chief operating officer of Miriam Haskell, said, "We've always said that in an economic environment that is difficult, women love to purchase jewelry. She may not buy a new outfit, but certainly will buy a piece of jewelry to express the fashions of the season."
As ready-to-wear designers help drive the category forward, fine jewelers are experimenting with lower-priced lines. Kara Ross, known for her oversize precious baubles, recently launched a fashion collection for fall.
"Nowadays, with the economy the way it is and the cost of gold so exorbitant, when my pieces translate to retail, it's very expensive," Ross said. "Coupled with the fact that you can have a fresh look that's in fashion for $200, it's easier to swallow."
Economy aside, some say the fashion jewelry trend is simply another turn in the accessories cycle. According to Clare Sauro, assistant curator of accessories at the Museum at FIT, consumers "have been so focused on accessories in the last decade that to focus on big pieces of fashion jewelry is a natural outgrowth of the handbag and shoe fixation we've had."