Silver, bronze, ebony and plastics are seeing greater use in jewelery as surging gold prices put off price-conscious consumers, jewelery makers at an international trade fair said.
Gold prices have stormed to a record high this year, gaining about 30 percent as weakened economies in major countries and concerns over Europe's sovereign debt crisis spurred investment in perceived safe-haven assets.
High prices have practically squeezed gold out of the low and medium-priced segments of western jewellery markets, with other metals or alternative gadgets replacing it as small gifts worth 100-300 euros, industry officials said.
At the current prices of gold, that level of jewellery in gold has really disappeared, David Lamb, managing director for jewellery at the industry-funded World Gold Council (WGC), told Reuters ahead of the fair.
Silver at just under $42 per ounce is much more acceptable to many consumers than gold at about $1 860.
That opens a window for us. Silver jewellery becomes more desirable for consumers, Franco Pianegonda, the head of Italian upscale silver jewellery maker bearing his name, told Reuters.
Pianegonda sales have risen 10% this year, he said.
At the lower end of the Italian market, producers of hand-made silver jewellery Adam & Martucci said sales of items with retail prices from 50-400 euros were up 50% this year.
We are offering an alternative jewellery ... Now we have made an important step, we have entered in prestigious jewellery shops, said Cristina Paina of Adam & Martucci.
Bronze is also getting more and more popular, especially among young consumers, participants at the fair said.
Playful bronze bracelets and rings priced at 20-30 euros have seen a robust demand, said Barbara Borri of Richline International, part of US billionaire investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.
Among other materials, titanium, a minor metal used in the aerospace industry and in wiry spectacles, is an increasingly popular choice for jewellers because it is much cheaper and lighter than gold and other precious metals.
Even high-end Italian jewellers have been cutting their use of gold either by making lighter-weight pieces or turning to a nine-carat gold instead of traditional 18-carat metal.
Leading Italian jeweller Ititoli, known mainly for platinum pieces, has launched experimental collection of big, heavy rings with precious stones but used nine-carat gold for the first time, aiming to soften a blow for consumer pockets, said Ititoli's Dario Ramerini.
Raffaella Ricci, designer of ebony jewellery with golden and diamond elements, said new collection without gold allowed her to cut prices sharply. An ebony ring with diamond elements has a $300 price tag instead of $1 200-1 300 euros for the same ring with gold elements.
The market is difficult. So people experiment, offer new choices, Ricci said.