At cave and cavern stores, jewelry is as hot as ever. Amethyst is the top-selling gem just about everywhere, while vendors like Wheeler and A. T. Storrs remain go-to favorites.
But after two years of pandemic stress, demand for healing stones has soared. As masks as well as jackets come off, dangling earrings and other statement-making pieces are gaining ground.
“Our most popular jewelry dangles, and it does have gemstones,” noted Terran Radliff, retail manager at Howe Caverns in Howes Cave, N.Y. “With the removal of mask restrictions, you’re going to see a lot more women going back to those dangling styles.”
Metaphysical gems — said to promote emotional wellness — have been in demand, especially amethyst and rose quartz and the so-called “chakra” stones, which are associated with harmony and balance. “Anything with those seven stones sells big,” Radliff said. On a related note, zodiac and sun sign jewelry “is a trend that comes and goes, and it’s back right now.”
With cavern shoppers in the mood for rocks, it’s no surprise that necklaces and delicate bracelets incorporating gemstones are best-sellers. The most popular necklace styles at Howe Caverns include pendants with a single stone suspended from a coiled wire; the “tree of life” design featuring metal branches within a circle; and “cage” necklaces, which allow wearers to customize stones in an openwork metal pouch.
“It’s really versatile, which is a selling point,” said Radliff of the cage style, sold as a pendant with a single polished stone. “People will often add a metaphysical stone, or buy a bag of polished rocks so they can change up the stones to match their outfit.”
With supportive management, Radliff tries new styles each season to determine what works for the 800-square-foot store. Her favorite brands are Wheeler, with a plethora of choices, and Silver Forest, which has a popular rewards program. Successful new items typically incorporate gemstones or are nature oriented; those under $5 do especially well. “People looking for a memory that’s not too expensive,” Radliff explained. “It may be a kid who doesn’t bring a lot of money on a school trip, or a parent on a budget who still wants to buy something for each child.”
At Marengo Cave, a National Landmark that bills itself as “Indiana’s most popular natural attraction,” Store Manager Mary Jo Calhoun looks for unique items. “We try not to carry the same jewelry that every other cave carries,” she explained. To that end, Calhoun works with local artisans to customize pieces, and scours trade shows for new arrivals to showcase. “We play with different kinds of lighting and displays to catch people’s attention,” she said.
Natural materials — especially colorful gemstones like amethyst and carnelian — are always strong selling points. But as visitation rises at caves like Marengo, Calhoun is seeing two different kinds of jewelry shoppers. “Some people come in looking for pieces for healing, calming, anxiety,” she noted. “And some people just want pretty.”
Ann Dunlavy sees the same divide at Lincoln Caverns, which she owns in Huntingdon, Pa. “We’ve got customers who want crystals for healing, and others who go for colorful stones,” she said, adding that purple amethyst, pink quartz, ruddy jasper, black obsidian and multicolored, ringed agate are all best-sellers.
Shoppers especially love jewelry under $5; gemstone cross necklaces are favorites in this category, along with shark’s teeth, mood and rock nugget necklaces for kids. A recent hit is the $7 recycled bottle bracelet from Holden, which “fits in with our sustainability mission,” Dunlavy noted. At $12, gemstone hearts are also favorites.
“We have a lot of locals who shop here because of our rocks,” explained Dunlavy, who has greatly expanded the gemstone selection in recent years. “And our prices are really good compared to other shops.” All-day themed programs — around bats, for instance — boost sales with tie-ins including charms, earrings and mood jewelry.
For new merchandise, Dunlavy turns to favorite brands like Wheeler and A.T. Storrs’ “Medicine Stone” line, as well as cave vendors like Village Originals, Pike’s Peak Rock Shop and Nature’s Retreat. She also shops carefully at local trade shows — ”I like to hand pick” — and features an employee’s handmade wire-wrapped jewelry. “We look for things we don’t already have — a mix of unique items and pretty, vibrant, colorful pieces,” Dunlavy reflected.
More than a few cave retailers, like Manager Tim Grissom at Ohio Caverns, in West Liberty, Ohio, mentioned they found new vendors in SGN. That’s how Grissom came across the A.T. Storrs “Wild Pearle” line, whose eye-catching displays and $15-$20 tags have made it a best-seller for the West Liberty attraction. “It’s a decent quality product for the price,” explained Grissom. Abalone, with its mother-of-pearl seashell luster, is a favorite material.
Aside from getting inspiration from magazines and trade shows, Grissom also imports semiprecious gems directly from Brazil and has pieces custom made. Predictably, amethyst is tops — “that shiny purple gets people’s attention” — but quartz points and tourmaline are close seconds. Lately, Grissom has noticed a growing trend toward raw, unpolished stones — “that natural look.”
New merchandise immediately goes on the Caverns’ social media sites, which Grissom said has been highly effective for the 2,400-square-foot gift shop. “Our cave is attractive, but a lot of people do come in here just to shop,” he observed.
The two-story retail emporium at Smoke Hole Caverns Resort draws all kinds of shoppers, from serious jewelry buyers to browsing vacationers. Shoppers at the 26,000-square-foot store will find everything from turquoise and silver Westernwear to higher end gemstone jewelry. Crystal, long beads and anything featuring rocks are popular. “They just buy it all,” said Owner Janet Henritz. “People come here because they know they can find it here.”
Assisted by her daughters, Jill and Janel, who are the buyers, Henritz sources crowd-friendly styles from trade shows (the Dallas Gift Show is a favorite) and trusted lines like Storke and Florentina as well as Brighton, which customizes classic silver styles with gemstones. “I still have all my Brighton jewelry from 30 years ago,” Henritz reflected. “It really lasts; the quality is there.”
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