Despite the darkening mood on the rest of the high street, retailers and jewellery firms in the Jewellery Quarter are offering a gleam of light in the run-up to Christmas.
Chris Green is probably one of the few people in the retail sector to be indulging in a bit of festive cheer this December.
The director of Jewellery Quarter-based manufacturing jeweller Crystalink has seen business levels hold up at similar levels to this time last year – not ideal in the grand scheme of things but quite impressive given the figures from the rest of the retail sector.
And through his conversations with other jewellery businesses he comes into contact with as part of his role of director at the Jewellery Quarter Marketing Initiative, it seems his experience is not unique.
“For the last few weeks it has not been too bad, I have to say.
“As far as the Jewellery Quarter goes it’s not as bad as everybody is making the rest of the retail sector out to be – we seem to be bucking the trend.”
He puts the resilience down to the fact that investors are increasingly fleeing to the security of gold and other precious metals as a safe place to keep their money.
“People have less confidence in property and banks as well as stocks and shares and seem to be happy putting their money into something more tangible like diamonds and gold.
“But as well as buying jewellery as an investment, it’s also something that they can wear and enjoy.”
But Mr Green’s upbeat assessment does not mean he is complacent about the future – “I’m just praying it continues,” he said.
Elsewhere in the industry the picture does not look too rosy.
Signet, owner of the H. Samuel and Ernest Jones brands, last month reported UK total sales down by 15 per cent in its third quarter.
Same-store sales were down by 2.4 per cent, with the last three weeks of the quarter down by some eight per cent.
Here in Birmingham, Michael Allchin, chief executive and assay master of the Birmingham Assay Office, said he was seeing a dip in the number of items sent for hallmarking – reflecting the downturn in the market.
“If you look at the hallmarking numbers – the units we are seeing coming through our doors – they are running at about 35 per cent lower than numbers for last year.
“Retailers are making their stock sweat – they are running on less stock and making the stock work harder and not replenishing it as fast.”
Elsewhere in the Jewellery Quarter Richard Sutton, director of manufacturer Charles Green & Son, said his company, which specialises in wedding rings, had been holding up reasonably well.
“People are still getting married and that’s our bread and butter,” said Mr Sutton.
But he added that although gold prices, which surged over the summer, had returned to roughly the same levels as a year ago, the weaker pound was starting to squeeze many firms. “Concerning metals – gold is back to what it was a year ago but the change has been in the exchange rate and the fact that sterling has collapsed. So gold costs a lot more as we buy it in dollars.”
He said platinum was also causing difficulties owing to price fluctuations.
“A year ago it was $1500 an ounce, now it is $822 an ounce – during the summer it was up to $2000 an ounce. There’s real volatility,” he said.
However there was one silver lining to the exchange rate problems.
“We have noticed imports ceasing to be the problem they were being, from countries like China and Thailand. They have to buy in dollars as well so they are suffering too.”