The high-end jewelry industry is not impervious to economic ruin, as we thought almost a year ago. Really rich people might still flaunt their wealth in carats, but a lot of that shiny stuff is on sale now. Like clothing chains fending off discount fever, nonconformist jewelry companies are hurting. Yesterday Tiffany announced that earnings fell 75.6 percent in the fourth quarter. Like Versace and Abercrombie & Fitch, the jeweler refuses lower prices — as competitors unveil rollback after rollback — to preserve the integrity of the brand. Sales in the Americas were down 33 percent, with sales down 34 percent in the New York flagship alone. But European sales only shrank 2 percent, which sounds almost promising! Still, Tiffany convinced 600 employees to accept early-retirement packages and closed its sixteen-store Iridesse pearl-jewelry chain, which was probably smart because who buys pearls, anyway? From Tiffany of all places?
Tiffany said that this past holiday season was the "most challenging" in 21 years. But they don't see any "signs of an upturn" in business. Perhaps they haven't heard that these days, rich people are embarrassed to be seen spending the money they'll always have. We'd suggest Tiffany take its sign down and open new stores in a secret underground space only accessible through subway barber shops, where rich people can shop in secret. Or bring door-to-door salesman back for the sake of job creation.