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The Big Survey 2018:
The Basics

See the numbers that make up the world of American jewelers.




The average jeweler in America is still a one-store downtown operation. The largest percentage are in small cities and country towns, but the markets with the highest percentage of thriving stores (relative to average or underperforming stores) are large cities, medium-sized cities and suburban areas.

3. How would you describe the market where your store is located?

These graphs indicate the distribution of thrivers, strugglers and average performers in each market type. As the blue columns show, thrivers tend to operate in bigger markets and have smaller representation in rural areas.


4. How many stores do you own?

1   89%
2   2%
3-5   13%
6 or more   1%


5. Is your (main) store located …

On a downtown street
In a strip mall
In its own free-standing building
In a lifestyle center
In a mall
In an office building/business park
On the Internet
Home studio

COMMENT: Given the many reports about the “retail apocalypse” decimating America’s malls, it wasn’t a surprise that struggling jewelers were over-represented in this category. 7.5% percent of the strugglers were in malls compared to 3% for the thrivers.


6. Check the paid services offered by your store

COMMENT: Onsite jewelry repairs was one of the main points of distinction between thrivers and strugglers: 85% of the stores who reported doing well in recent years offer such services compared to only 74% for those that said times were difficult. Clearly repairs are a lucrative way an independent jeweler can stand out in a competitive marketplace.


7. Which description of your business do you most closely identify with?

Most readers who took our survey identify as “full-service jewelers” (82 percent, up from 79 percent a year ago), followed by “custom-design stores” and “jewelry retailers.”

COMMENT: More of the strugglers identified as “pure retailers” (meaning they don’t offer repair or other services) as opposed to full-service jewelers. Interestingly, there was little difference in performance in those who identified themselves as custom design jewelers.


8. How long has your business been in operation?

1-5 years
6-10 years
11-20 years
21-30 years
31-40 years
41-50 years
51-100 years
100-150 years
More than 150 years

Comment: Many of the independent jewelers in our survey have been in business a long time: 40% first opened their doors more than 40 years ago and 61% at least three decades ago. On the surface, it would make sense that the longer a store had been in business, the less chance the last two years had been either the worst or best. Yet close to half the stores (or 44%) that said either 2016 or 2017 had been the worst in their history first opened for business at least four decades ago (think Carter-era inflation, 80s recession, 9/11) and several went back more than 100 years. The conclusion: Longevity is not always an advantage unless you learn to change with the times.


9. How big is your (main) store?

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Big Survey

Big Survey: How Many Women Make More Than $150,000 in Retail Jewelry?

For the most part, men are the higher earners.




FOUR IN 10 independent jewelry stores in America are now run by women according to the 2018 Big Survey. However, for the most part, it is the men who continue to be the highest earners, with 80 percent of the jewelers making $150,000 or more a year being male.

A part of this discrepancy can be explained by the fact that many of the women owners and managers are relatively new to the industry and their stores have yet to reach the scale that rewards their owners so handsomely. In 2009, the first time we specifically asked about gender, the split between male and female owners was 65/35.

It’s also undeniable that women face bigger hurdles in business, whether it’s accessing credit, being accepted in business networks or just operating in a still male-dominated field.

Having said that, the women jewelers in our survey are doing well. Forty-three percent of the jewelers who said they’d had their best year ever since 2016 were women, suggesting they are outperforming their male counterparts.

As the Store Owner, What Did You Earn (Salary + Share of Profit) Last Year?

What Is It Your Gender?

COMMENT: The number of women owners or managers has been steadily rising since we started doing these surveys more than a decade ago. The first time we specifically asked about gender, in 2009, the split was 65/35. For the record, 43% of the thriving jewelers were women, suggesting they are outperforming their male counterparts. That said, it should be noted that male-owned stores overall tend to be older and thus the owners are often comparing those last two years against a historical record that goes back decades.

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Big Survey

Manmade Diamond Legal Quiz: Can You Do Better Than the Jewelers in the 2018 Big Survey?

Test your knowledge.



ON JULY 24, the Federal Trade Commission’s jewelry guidelines were revised to include laboratory-grown diamonds in the commission’s definition of diamonds.

The FTC’s previous definition of a diamond was: “A natural mineral consisting essentially of pure carbon crystallized in the isometric system.”

The new listing does not include the word “natural.” “When the commission first used this definition in 1956, there was only one type of diamond product on the market — natural stones mined from the earth,” the FTC said. “Since then, technological advances have made it possible to create diamonds in a laboratory. These stones have essentially the same optical, physical and chemical properties as mined diamonds. Thus, they are diamonds.”

Which of the following terms are you allowed to use to describe laboratory-grown diamonds, according to the FTC. (The figures in parentheses reflect the answers of your fellow jewelers who took the Big Survey)



The descriptions in orange are fine, based on the FTC guidelines, while those in red are not. How did you do?

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Big Survey

Big Survey: How Many Hours Do Jewelers Work Per Week?

More time at work doesn’t always spell success.




CONVENTIONAL WISDOM SAYS there should be a direct correlation between hours worked and performance. But the 2018 Big Survey failed to find such a clear link. The takeaway? Working smart and other variables like being in an economically strong part of the economy matter more, because when you look at the numbers, just about all jewelers work hard.

To be sure, the strugglers in our survey (defined by those who said one of the last two years had been their worst in business) tended to be over-represented at the “fewer hours” end of the band, but they were also among the jewelers putting in the longest hours at the other end of the spectrum (16 percent of the strugglers were working more than 60 hours a week compared to 12 percent for the thrivers). Overall, just about everyone was working hard: 58 percent of the respondents to the 2018 Big Survey, which attracted the participation of more than 700 independent jewelers, reported working more than 45 hours a week.

Average / Thrivers / Strugglers

Less than 30 3% / 3% / 5%

30­-39 15% / 15% / 22%

40­-45 23% / 25% / 12%

46­-50 23% / 20% / 22%

51­-60 22% / 24% /22%

61­-70 9% / 8% /12%

More than 70 3% / 4% /4%

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