NEWSLETTER 6 - March 2013

Dear Crystal Collectors,

Well, Spring has sprung and disappeared again, but never mind, that must mean that its time for another Newsletter!

Crystal Lodge reference guides

Before I waffle on and forget to mention it - our Year of Introduction and Year of Retirement guides (up to and including 2012) are now available for viewing and download from our “Reference Section”. More documents are being planned for publication later this year, as and when we get the chance to compile them.

2013 insurance guides

The 2013 insurance guides are also available from the “insurance/valuations” tab and remain free to download in either pdf (picture format which cannot be changed) or Excel.

The Excel version is interactive, in that you can add the quantity of each item that you have in your collection, and the spreadsheet will do all the hard work for you, calculating the total value of your collection.

Current items can be found towards the end of the sheet, and are as at Q1/2013, that is, including items which Swarovski released in January 2013. If you wish to update your collection during the course of this year to include future releases, there are a couple of blank pages at the end of the document, where you can input the information manually.

A time for reflection

On 1st March this year, The Crystal Lodge, in its current format was 4 ½ years old. It doesn’t seem possible, but it is true! This caused us to reflect and think about our predecessors, realising that August 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the setting up of Crystal Exchange Ltd by John and Jill Whillock. It doesn’t seem possible, does it? Nancy Gibbs Collectibles was set up in 1995, and incorporated at Companies House in 1998 which would make that officially 15 years old as far as Companies House are concerned, 3 years older if you count the previous trading history. So, the secondary market in the UK is almost 20 years old!

How times have changed since those heady days of the old style secondary market, at a time when there was no internet, let alone Ebay (something which many people blame for the demise of the entire collectibles industry). Swarovski does fare better than most other collectibles, but even so there has been a huge downturn in prices on the secondary market since the inception of Ebay. Good if you are buying, but not good if you are selling pieces you purchased in the heyday! Just take the example of the 1993 Elephant which was selling for almost £1000 at the height of its popularity, whereas now (at time of publication) we sell this piece for just £585.

These days I hear many collectors talking about “the good old days of collecting” and I tend to agree that there was something wonderful back then, especially when visiting a store and finding some retired or variation pieces for sale. That’s exactly how I found my set of SCS Lovebirds, amongst other prized pieces! I couldn’t believe my luck! I would go from town to town in search of stores which stocked Swarovski. Back then, most town centres had 3 or 4 stores which sold Silver Crystal, ranging from department stores, small independent china/glass retailers to large jewellery “chains” (no pun intended). I usually returned home with some goodies for my collection, including some fine hauls of older pieces. These days, this doesn’t really happen. Sadly, as most shoppers, let alone collectors, wlll tell you, it seems that High Streets and Shopping Centres all look the same, have the same stores and those stores all look identical to their sister stores. It is rare to find any specialist shops as they just can’t compete with the major names. That’s certainly true for The Crystal Lodge, as there would never be the perfect location for us, as the vast majority of people turn to the internet to find a specialist product, and would not wish to travel hundreds of miles on the off-chance of finding a rare item. From our point of view, a shop would mean even larger overheads than we already have, and real security headaches. I think we really are too niche market for a shop – as you need “footfall” as they call it, but as we don’t stock the primary market product, only the retired one, we would be unlikely to get a lot of people popping in on the off-chance and going out with bags full of shopping.

We have also heard from a number of people, who are upset at the lack of display space in Swarovski stores which is dedicated to crystal figurines, in direct contrast to the amount of space used to display jewellery products. A sign of the times perhaps? From a business point of view, Swarovski have to use the space available to showcase the items that sell best, and therefore I take this to mean that jewellery is selling more quickly than figurines. Indeed, I recently saw figures which confirmed that the ratio of jewellery to crystal in terms of turnover is 80:20. Presumably explained because more people wear jewellery than collect crystal.

Perhaps that is an oversimplification, but going back to “the good old days”, I used to help out at the twice-yearly Nancy Gibbs crystal shows, and later at the Crystal Exchange shows which were held alongside the Swarovski signing events (I am the only person ever to have worked at both sets of shows). They were always very well attended events. By the end of the weekend, we were all exhausted, but it was great fun. Back in the mid-2000s, we were still running 2 events per year and at each show there would be approximately 1,200 collectors in attendance for each signing, meaning a total of 2,400 throughout the course of the 2 events. I was stunned, if not horrified, therefore to see in the latest Swarovski magazine (1/2013) that only 334 collectors attended the Birmingham (UK) signing event last year, out of 600 collectors actually invited. A drop of 50% invited, and then only just over half of those actually in attendance. A mere 28% of the numbers we were used to seeing back then at a signing event.

I also understand that only 600 invitations were sent for the London signing event, again a drop of 50%, albeit the event was well attended. Where has everyone gone?! Was it location for the first one, not far north enough to attract collectors from Scotland and the North of England? Perhaps it was the time of year for the second one, as it was very much in the “Christmas shopping panic period” or have collector numbers really fallen that dramatically over that time. If so, why?!

It could of course, just be to do with the global economic situation where people are being a little more careful about spending money on non-essential goods. Although if you go back 10 years, collectors would insist that they had to have these items, and would give up everything else in order to have them!! No distance was too far to travel to find Swarovski, or indeed to get a treasured piece signed. Does it therefore, come back to the internet, where you can buy virtually anything, including signed pieces, so if you miss one, it doesn’t matter? Surely the point of the signing event, is to meet the designer or designers and have your piece/s signed personally for you, as that means so much more than just acquiring a signed item.

Going back to Swarovski stores, I also know that the lack of price lists has been on the minds of many collectors, who feel that since they can’t really see everything in store properly as few stock the entire range, they would like to take the price list so they can make a more informed choice. A situation made more difficult for those without internet connection, as they have no alternative to a printed price list.

Colour price lists are incredibly expensive to produce/distribute, so perhaps by not producing them in a vast array of different languages and currencies, bearing in mind they are only really valid for around 6 months, it keeps overheads lower, and crystal costs cheaper.

We also didn’t see the “Article Listing” on line last year, which is a shame as they are great to download as a quick reference guide, and I have to admit a real fondness for those cute little line drawings!

Enough of the retrospective stuff, let’s fast forward to the newest innovation from Swarovski – their amazing new formula.

Advanced Crystal

We understand that, as a consequence of Swarovski’s continuing desire to develop and improve their product, while significantly reducing the lead content in their product due to Health and Safety issues, they have now patented their new formula “Advanced Crystal”. We are told that it is as sparkly as the previous formula, but is lighter in weight. But the best news, for all those of you out there who, like me, much prefer their crystal to be clear instead of colour, is that the new formula brings with it the opportunity for Swarovski to release new designs in clear, facetted crystal, and apparently there is no visible difference in sparkle between the old and new formula crystal! Can’t wait to see them!

We have heard some negativity about this from collectors, but Swarovski have always been the market leader and had the most sparkly crystal – by some margin – of all their competitors, however, this was falling foul of some new Health and Safety laws being introduced globally. All manufacturers are affected, but because of the higher than average lead content of Swarovski products, they had the biggest problem to solve, particularly as they would not wish to introduce an inferior product or one similar to their competitors. Had they not publicised the new formula, would we have actually noticed the difference?

Instead, of just giving up and calling it a day, over the course of several years, they developed and tested new ways of achieving the same sparkle whilst radically reducing the lead content, all of course, within the constraints of keeping end prices to affordable levels. Indeed the lead content has reduced from, what we believe to be approximately 32% lead content in the early days of manufacturing to less than 0.009% now. Yet, the new product continues to sparkle just as well as the old, and since it is still crystal, it can be facetted – which is just the way we like it. The research, development and innovation that has gone into the new product has been well worth the investment as, apart from the difference in weight of the 2 compounds, we are assured that it is impossible to tell the difference between the two formulas.

Crystal Lodge News

Since the last Newsletter we have sent items to 4 new countries: China, Namibia, Turkey and Latvia. This means we have now despatched crystal to 52 countries worldwide, as well as to all 4 countries of the UK from the most remote islands of Scotland all the way down to the Channel Islands!

Our invoicing system is now up to 4,850 orders despatched, and the orders we place for cardboard boxes and packaging material get ever more frequent – which is great, of course! Our franking machine seems to be constantly hungry for refills, too! Which leads me onto a topic that has given us some sleepless nights recently.

Royal Mail are introducing a new pricing system for parcels on 2nd April, which will have a huge impact on our business as the vast majority of our parcels will be classed as “medium” sized. All mail order businesses will have the same problem, and it seems counter-productive that a business like Royal Mail who should be trying to get their hands on as much of that new business generated by the internet, should introduce pricing strategies which make them less attractive. However, they are telling businesses that this is a good move and benefits everyone!!! I remain unconvinced!

When we look through our franking records, back in 2009 we were paying £1.95 to despatch a 1st class recorded parcel. We will soon be charged a minimum of £5.90 per parcel, and having absorbed all the price increases from 2010 to 2012, and also the 2 ½% increase in VAT (which we pay on all your purchases), I’m afraid this really is the point at which we have to tell you that we can no longer continue to offer free postage to our UK clients. We have also heavily subsidised our international parcels in the past, but with the introduction of Royal Mail’s new pricing structure, this will also no longer be sustainable, and our international rates will also need to be increased.

It is, therefore, with huge regret and a very heavy heart that I have to announce that parcels despatched to UK destinations on/after 2nd April will incur a flat rate postage fee of £6.00. The good news is that even if the actual postage cost is more than this, for example, if you have bought several items or just one heavy item, you will not be charged any additional postage. The price rises also affect international postage, and our flat rate fee for European parcels will be increased to £12, and our international parcels to £15. The international rates will be under review for a while, as we are being very conservative with our initial estimate of what an average parcel might cost. We have thought long and hard about this issue, coming to the conclusion that the best way forward is to introduce a flat rate fee, which keeps the charge very transparent and obvious from the outset. We feel this method is more beneficial to clients rather than if we were to add an amount to each and every product to cover the cost of individual postage, and it will have particular benefits for those who purchase multiple pieces within the same order. However, it is with huge sadness that we introduce the system, but all businesses are finding themselves in the same situation and so at least, it is a level playing field!

Some special VIP items in stock

Onto more pleasant topics. New in stock – straight from Wattens, we have the fabulous 2013 Cinta elephant paperweights in large and small size. I think you will agree that the new paperweight shape is fabulous, the added bonus being that you can see the picture of Cinta, without having to display it at strange angles, as per the old round paperweights.

Also, in very limited quantities, we have the Cinta VIP lounge pin, which is a numbered limited edition of just 500 in the world, and are absolutely gorgeous. Each pin is boxed and has an individually numbered certificate.

And finally ….

We’ll be adding many new products to our website over the next few weeks, and we’ll then get to work on the updating the “current crystal gallery” to include Q1/2013 releases, to bring the product range back up to date. Although, please remember that the items in the current crystal gallery are only there for reference and are not available for sale from us.

Well, I think that’s quite enough for one instalment.

Until the next, time happy collecting!

Alison & The Crystal Lodge Team

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