High-end items worth buying before the recession ends

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Whether you believe the recession is ending or just taking a breather before the economy dips again, there are ways to take advantage of the decline, and products to buy or items to invest in while consumer pricing is still depressed. Shoppers are headed back to the stores, albeit tentatively, so if you're in the market for one of our picks and can afford it, the time to consider buying is now.

Just keep in mind that not all buys are good buys. If you think there are good deals to be found in the art world, or estate items to be snapped up cheap from panicked sellers, forget about it, say the experts. The super rich are still super rich; it's the middle class on down that have suffered the most. Art, fine jewelry, and antiques have pretty much retained their worth, and auction houses are still racking up record sales. Luxury lines with limited production have also managed to maintain their cache -- and high prices. Instead, look to mid-tier brands and aspirational labels for the best deals and consider taking advantage of the stronger dollar pitted against a weak euro -- you just might snag something you never thought possible.



Jewelry
The price of gold has hit some record highs, making it attractive to sell old pieces for cash. Buying gold jewelry, however, is pretty unattractive, cautions Ken Gassman, a jewelry industry analyst. Instead, look to platinum for the best deals. The bulk of platinum is used in cars, not jewelry. And since consumers aren't really buying big items like cars, production is down. Once automotive production ramps up again, the cost will rise.

if you're looking for some bling to go in that platinum setting, try a diamond. The stones are already in limited supply and it's only going to get worse. With no new diamond mines coming online, says Gassman. It takes roughly seven years to get to the diamonds at a new operation, so when people are flush with cash again and demand picks up, diamonds may be in even shorter supply and prices could climb. National chains like Zales, Kay, and Jared are offering the best deals. These national chains have struggled more during the recession than private jewelers, as their middle class customer base has been the hardest hit during the recession. And while all jewelers are open to negotiation (even Tiffany will do this on their less commercial lines -- they just don't publicize it), these chains are actively offering specials, Gassman says.

So If you think you're on the verge of popping the question, now is the right time to spring for an engagement ring.

Cars
It's not exactly a "cash for clunkers" deal, but if you're in the market for a European car, this could be your lucky year. Once again, true luxury brands like Ferrari aren't cutting deals, but the more aspirational lines from BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen look like good values for anyone in the market.

With savings of 15% to 20% on BMWs and Volkswagens, the savings add up. The timing couldn't be better. New 2011 models are arriving and last year's models -- the very ones dealers couldn't move because of the recession -- are discounted even further.


Fashion/Apparel

Luxury labels like Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and Prada have stayed strong during the recession, but go one layer down in status and you'll find good deals, advises Martin Lindstrom, retail and branding consultant and author of Buyology -- Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. Labels that became trendy or that overextended into lower priced lines or products beyond their core competency are discounted right now -- think Armani with its fragrances and cosmetics, Emporio Armani, Armani Exchange and Armani Casa. Brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Hugo Boss are discounted up to 50% and offer great buys right now, says Lindstrom.

Some of the best deals can be found among middle market or aspirational brands like Coach. Retail prices were cut roughly 12% from last year, making a bag or pair of gloves more affordable than before the recession. Retail sales and consumer confidence are still fluctuating but in general they are picking up, and you can expect lines like Coach to begin raising prices soon.

Experts caution against buying trendy items, even on sale. Something may seem attractive at half off, but it's hard to get a good value from something you'll only wear once or twice before it's out of style. Instead, invest in classic pieces from Chanel and Burberry. Straightforward discounts are harder to find, but a Burberry trench never goes out of style. Department stores are still suffering and offering sales, coupons and special "shopping events" for cardholders that will help defray the cost. Mass market clothing companies like H&M and Zara have always offered great deals to savvy shoppers and they are only getting better, says Lindstrom, especially since these companies hail from Europe, where the economy is even worse than in the U.S.

Up-and-coming Designers
Now may be the perfect time to try something new. Lesser-known clothing designers, perfumeries, and cosmetics lines are being featured in department stores, boutiques and specialty stores like Sephora. Look for displays near the front of the store and on end caps of aisles. Do your research or just buy something because it's pretty. Not everything has to be a great investment, but you could end up with a lovely item from a rising talent. The satisfaction and bragging rights earned can be priceless.
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