With the price of a luxury handbag on a par with a diamond ring or a twinkling gemstone necklace, no wonder so many of us view a piece of fine fashion jewellery as a more logical investment. And thanks to a growing number of independent jewellers steering this rather fusty heritage sector into the 21st Century – sales of fashionable fine jewellery have become the sweet spot in a home market hit hard by the Russian crisis.
With prices in store and online starting at around £250, fine fashion jewellery – that is pieces made from precious materials including silver and yellow or rose gold, high grade diamonds and emeralds – is no longer exclusive to the elite. Instead, it is now accessible to a new breed of consumer. Female, fashion-savvy, bored with traditional jewellery ‘suites’ and vintage relics, we are ready to take the plunge into relatively new shopping territory.
According to market research group Euromonitor International report that global sales of fine or ‘real’ jewellery jumped from $168bn in 2009 to $287bn in 2014, with figures predicted to clip $445bn in 2019.
And while all that glitters is not gold for the jewellers of Bond Street currently, I’m pleased to see a number of heritage houses, from Boodles to Cartier, realising that they will have to take their offer beyond the traditional realms of engagement rings and diamond drop earrings in order to up their game. With dynamic upstarts such as Delfina Delettrez (who just opened her first UK flagship on London’s Mount Street); Gaia Repossi and Elie Top, hot on their heels with a plethora of new items including stackable rings, single ear cuffs and playful pendants, perhaps now is the time to regroup, rethink and rebrand, just as leading fashion houses do during difficult times.
As one of the most traditional retail sectors fine jewellery has also been slow to latch on to new technology and multichannel strategies. And while there are more forums for selling fine jewellery now than 25 years ago, perhaps the most surprising new sales platform is e-commerce. But is this the right way forward, especially as the web and high value items are still getting to know each other? The consultancy eMarketer for example, estimates that by 2017, 84 per cent of UK retail activity will occur in bricks and mortar locations.
One luxury portal bucking the trend is Net-A-Porter.com. It launched fine jewellery in 2008 in response to feedback from customers and a shift in the market towards more fashionable jewellery. As a result, the online giant has doubled the number of fine jewellery brands this season and sales have increased significantly. With prices ranging from £80 for a pair of Melissa Joy Manning 14 carat gold earrings, to £38k for a Fred Leighton 18 carat gold necklace, this in itself is quite remarkable. I am not sure how I’d feel about parting with that amount of money, without having a more personal and ultimately more enjoyable experience in an actual store.
Elsewhere, independent jewellers have never had it so good in terms of the amount of physical stores and growing industry support. London, with its pioneering independent boutiques such as Wolf & Badger and forward-thinking stores (Dover Street Market, Liberty, Harvey Nichols) is right behind them.
Valery Demure, jewellery entrepreneur and founder of the eponymous London-based accessories agency, which represents a number of international fine jewellers, will travel far and wide to catch the eye of influential jewellery buyers. She brings her brightest talents to Paris, New York and Las Vegas as part of a travelling showcase and is also working on a new concept, a member’s-only, bricks and mortar store with dedicated personal shoppers. Her aim is to help executive women create their jewellery wardrobe for work and special occasions.
These are precisely the kind of fashion platforms needed to drive the sector forward and bring a new designer’s product to market. With Russian retailers noting that their customers are now more discreet about their purchases, the industry can’t afford to sit back. But as one leading jeweller I met casually remarked, where one set of affluent consumers leave the market temporarily, another group, such as the Chinese, will take their place.
Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see more jewellery designers enter the profession from diverse backgrounds such as architecture and product design as opposed to fashion. Recently, there have been successful collaborations between Frank Gehry and Tiffany & Co while Zaha Hadid paired up with Swiss goldsmiths Caspita. But as former costume jeweller Elie Top told me, the new generation is more concerned about design and less about the price of the stones. Aesthetically, they are far more accustomed to technology and approach jewellery design in the same way they would use an iPad, or a smart phone.
As for my new season wardrobe dilemma, I’ve decided to hold off on new heels and invest in the fashionable side of fine jewellery instead.
Lucie Muir is has been a fashion journalist for over 20 years working for publications such as Vogue, The Financial Times, Luxury Briefing and the International Herald Tribune.