So this is a different way of looking at the state of retail. The latest figures released by the Birmingham Assay Office (an authority on the state of precious metals in the UK), show a decline of 24.9% in the numbers of items hallmarked in December 2012 compared with the previous year: gold items were down 22.8%, and silver was down 27.8%.
In a sense, this is to be expected, considering we’re in the middle of an economic mire. And add to that, the number of gold items hallmarked has fallen every single year since 2002, from a high of 25,000 then to around 4,200 in 2012, according to assay office's figures.
But look at the quarterly figures, and the drop isn’t quite so severe. In the period October to December 2012, the number of hallmarked items by the UK’s four assay offices was 9.3 million, a 14.1% drop on the 10.9 million in the same period the year before.
Look at some specific other metals, too, and the picture is more encouraging: super-expensive metal platinum saw a 1.3% increase in the number of items hallmarked, and palladium (still pretty dear) showed a massive 22% increase.
Needless to say, falling numbers mean tough times for the jewellery trade and therefore a good portion of British retail, but increased interest in expensive metals such as platinum suggests that when people do decide to spend, they spend on pricier pieces than they did the year before.
Also, to be fair to consumers, the price of gold is pretty darned high at the moment, and shows no signs of falling. This obviously makes gold jewellery in particular a lot more expensive than it has been in the past.
So, not much more to be chirpy about than the usual doom and gloom stats, but at least it makes a change. Maybe we’ll stick to GDP figures until the jewellers are shifting more trinkets…