The rise of the crystal bead bracelet trend and its future in the UK.
It all began when Jay-Z asked Shamballa Jewels for something a little different to the typical hip-hop bling. Now, several years later, crystal versions of the rapper’s bead bracelet are dominating the fashion-led jewellery market in an array of colours and designs. Kathryn Bishop tracks the rise of the trend and how the brands championing the style plan to keep consumer attention going.
Crystal bead bracelets have become a phenomenon that jewellers might be finding hard to ignore. Love them or hate them, they have dominated fashion jewellery for several months here in the UK, and are set to be a must-have this Christmas for both the jewellers selling them and the consumers shopping for them.
There has been a battle of the brands, with the two market leaders, Tresor Paris and Lucet Mundi, vying for retailer and consumer awareness, both showing off their designs at International Jewellery London (IJL) in September, and both promoting their products with celebrity and television endorsements.
So how did these bracelets come to be key sellers for retailers up and down the country? The trend began longer ago than many think, with the pioneers of the style being Copenhagen-based fine jewellery brand Shamballa Jewels.
The name Shamballa will probably sound familiar, as the word has become synonymous with the style of bracelets, but it is Shamballa Jewels that, back in 2004, created the design as a novel way of casualising fine jewellery design. Caroline Nordstrand Iuel has worked alongside Mads Kornerup, the founder of Shamballa Jewels, for three years. She says the design’s success has been a mix of good luck and hard work. “It was a matter of coming up with the right ideas at the right time, which in our case wasn’t conscious or planned,” she says. “Mads simply created jewellery that he would wear himself.”
Now, seven years later, the brand’s diamond-set bead bracelets have become an A-list must have. “The initial design for the Shamballa bracelet, with the signature combination of round beads braided together using the macramé technique, was born during the brand’s New York days, in the late 1990s,” she continues, “Mads had this amazing store in Soho, a treasure box of antique jewellery. One day he was contacted by Jay Z who wanted a bespoke piece of jewellery that no one else had, with more substance than the usual bling.”
When Kornerup and Jay Z met, they exchanged ideas in the backroom of the jewellery store, with Kornerup sketching a diamond-set version of his Shamballa bracelet, taking inspiration from ancient prayer beads and chains. “So you could kind of say that the first Shamballa bracelet was designed for Jay Z,” says Iuel.
In the years since then the brand has been worn by the likes of models Helena Christensen and Heidi Klum. The Shamballa Jewels bracelets retail upwards of about €670 (£575) with no upper price limit and can be entirely bespoke, set solely with pink Argyle diamonds if the customer so wishes.
Price, however, has led to savvy individuals recognising the room in the market to create a more affordable option for consumers, resulting in the arrival of the crystal bead brands dominating the market. At the fore of the UK race are Tresor Paris and Lucet Mundi.
Tresor Paris was founded at the end of last year by members of the Hasbani family, known in the industry and among retailers as diamond dealers. The soft launch came just before Christmas last year, and the brand has been fully promoting itself since January.
Tresor Paris founder Selim Hasbani says that while the family had been selling diamonds from £50 to £5 million they realised that, with the recession very much on the agenda, it was time to try something different.
“It was 2008 and we thought who is buying gold and diamonds now? So we decided to create something that made you look and feel like a million dollars, was glamorous but affordable and suited all age groups,” explains Hasbani.
Research was carried out into the potential market for the bracelets and though the brand had planned to target 17- to 35-year-olds (those who would be likely to spread the word about what they wore and bought) they found that women in their 60s loved them too.
Lucet Mundi founder Dov Getter also built on his family’s background in the jewellery industry — they own Berker Brothers — to follow his desire to launch a brand. “I saw these crystal bracelets while I was travelling overseas and thought they were spot on.”
The bracelets were the perfect product for Getter’s intentions to create a fashion-led brand, so he launched Lucet Mundi from scratch, designing the boxes, logo himself.
The brand is now best known for its crystal bead range called Power Beads. Though they were only officially launched at IJL in September, the brand is already sold through more than 100 retailers in the UK and Ireland.
Promoting the Product
Like any trend, the reason something becomes must-have is the exposure it gets and the people, places and events it is associated with.
The crystal bead bracelets, with their vast array of colours and styles, no doubt appeal to younger shoppers looking for something eye-catching.
Tresor Paris kicked off its marketing campaign by going straight to the heart of its target shoppers via the wrists of television stars on The Only Way is Essex and UK singers and urban artists at the MOBO Awards, gifting bracelets to those dominating the pages of magazines and the music charts. It has also used social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to win attention.
Has this type of exposure paid off? Hasbani certainly says it has helped the brand get recognition. “The more people who see it, the more ask about it and more want to stock it,” he says.
For Lucet Mundi, while it has gifted its bracelets to footballers living and training in affluent areas of the Midlands and is working on dressing TV stars at the BAFTAs, it says its sales agents are the ones getting the brand into retail stores.
Getter believes that the trend is already present in the mind of the consumer so while people might recommend the product to others there is no need to shout about it. “We don’t need to be telling people to buy the trend because they have already seen it,” he says, but does agree that the more visibility the crystal bead bracelets have, the higher their profile and desirability. “If Lucet Mundi is in 100 shops then people will see it and they will keep wanting it.”
For Shamballa, the calibre of celebrity wearing the brand has proved helpful, especially when reaching out to customers with not hundreds but potentially thousands of pounds of to spend. But, Iuel says, it has also been about hard work. “A lot of good press coverage has helped along the way but celebrities were never a target. A good network of people supporting, believing and trusting in the brand has also been, and still is, a key component,” he says. “It might sound a bit nonchalant, but it truly was an organic development. An important aspect which emphasises this is the fact that we never give our jewellery away for free, like many brands do, in order to generate press and sales.”
Growth vs. exclusivity
Each brand has won exposure and all have a foot in the market, but there is the question of what will happen to take their collection beyond the present form: 20 colours of crystal as well as semi-precious gemstones for Lucet Mundi, and 12 colours of crystal and magnetite beads for Tresor Paris. The big question is whether there is potential future growth for the trend. Or are the brands happy with their lot? For Tresor Paris, its growth has been significant over the past 12 months, something Hasbani says he fully anticipated. The company now has more than 1,000 retail stockists in the UK and is moving closer to the 3,000 stockist mark worldwide.
“We were expecting that [level of growth], we knew it would be big but it has been so much bigger than we thought,” he explains. “At the beginning of the year we were seeing 30% growth every month from January. Post-IJL our monthly growth has increased by 55%.” The expansion of Tresor Paris has been enough that the company has had to tell its sales agents to put new accounts on hold until the new year. Presently it has agents and distributors working in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, France, Israel and Spain.
For Lucet Mundi the past three-and-a-half months have brought more than 100 stockists to its books from across the UK and Ireland, and it plans to only work with jewellery retailers. “Ireland is a tough market, but we have managed it and I’m very pleased with things,” says Getter. “We have more and more orders each week and our re-orders are almost every fortnight at present.”
Shamballa Jewels’ high-end, gold and gemstone bracelets have achieved an air of exclusivity here in the UK, with only two stockists in London — Harrods and Frost of London — selling its diamond-set designs to both British and international shoppers.
However Iuel says the UK is still open to expansion for Shamballa Jewels but does reiterate that its position as a high-end product does means that only specific retailers would be considered as stockists. “The UK is a large market, so if the opportunity to expand in a new city or area opens up, it would be interesting,” she says. “But because our brand is quite special there is not endless space for it in every city. The brand is suitable for very specific types of retailers, and often there aren’t more than one or two of those in each city.”
Crystal bead bracelets are a trend that buyers have snapped up, with the boom potentially reaching its peak this Christmas. Interestingly a number of retailers are selling Tresor Paris and Lucet Mundi side-by-side, meaning that no consumer, or retailer, will miss out on the benefits of each brand.
The sheer presence of the bracelets has drawn several comparisons to the surge that Pandora felt, with a boom in stockists and then standalone stores. Whether these bracelets are comparable is something retailers have considered. Jenny Flight, marketing manager at Green & Benz, says its sales of Lucet Mundi have been excellent and have attracted customers that have previously bought into bead brands. “The crystal bracelets are now picking up Pandora customers who are looking for something new,” she says.
Likewise, Mallard’s head buyer Sandra Callcut has watched Tresor Paris fly off the shelves at its six stores. “Time will tell with how [the trend] develops but so far it’s been very good. People tend to buy a couple to wear together, and our shop girls are all wearing them in-store.”
Rox, based in Glasgow’s Argyll Arcade, has gone a step further by creating its own version of the crystal bead bracelet in response to what it believes is a strong product. Its Crystal Disco bracelets retail from £49 and were designed as an “affordable alternative”.
The future of the trend
While retailers are experiencing demand right now, the brands are already well into establishing their points of difference to one another, a necessity to ensure the style of jewellery has legs to carry it into the next season and beyond.
For Tresor Paris a number of offshoot lines have been added to ensure there are other products under its brand umbrella. The first, its Les Petites children’s collection, consists of smaller versions of its bracelets, with little bead characters such as teddy bears. It has also created rings made from the macramé set with a single crystal bead, as well as stud earrings in two sizes and a collection of bracelets and necklaces with skull beads carved from howlite.
Lucet Mundi, meanwhile, launched at IJL with a number of friendship bracelet lines alongside its range of crystal Power Bead bracelets. The collections included its Lucky Amulet line of coloured thread and disc-shaped charm bracelets, including evil eye and lotus leaf designs, a range that Getter wants to work on further.
“After Christmas I want to develop more lines in silver, I want to keep the look clean and exclusive,” he says. Lucet Mundi’s Silverdust collection is its newest line, made using cubic zirconia to add even more sparkle. Getter, however, recognises that his Power Beads are very much a trend-led product, and that time will tell for the style of jewellery. “I think this trend will keep going for at least a year. In the future, the main thing I think will happen is that all of the smaller distributors and brands who are making these bracelets will fall out and there will just be a few of us continuing to produce quality bracelets.”
Both Shamballa Jewels and Tresor Paris have launched collections in support of charitable causes, such as Tresor’s Breast Cancer Care La Bande Rose bracelet, a single bead bracelet featuring the famous pink ribbon design in pink and white crystals of which 25% was donated to the charity. Shamballa Jewels has also been benevolent endeavours include working with a number of Danish charities from its base in Copenhagen. “Shamballa Jewels is focused on acting collectively and will continue to work with charities in 2012,” says Iuel, though she declined to reveal its charitable causes for the coming year.
The future of crystal bead bracelets will be proven as fashion evolves. At present, though, they remain one of the most in-demand items of jewellery that the industry has felt for some time, becoming a phenomenon that has filtered from the higher echelons of the jewellery display cases in Harrods down to the copycat styles being sold on eBay and local market stalls. And, it seems, for as long as celebrities are wearing the bracelets, there will be shoppers aiming to replicate the look.
The brands will need to put in effort to ensure that they can continue to win consumer attention in the long-run however, and Hasbani says that Tresor Paris is already on the case, with new launches lined for early 2012. “We have to keep them so under wraps so people don’t copy them,” he says. “But there will be more precious stones and metals and we are looking at something a little more high-end as fans of Tresor look for that next thing.”
Getter is also aware that the designs will need to move forward, but thinks the best brands will remain top choice.
“Christmas will be proof of how things are set to go. I don’t think demand will slow so quickly [but] I would say the future is going to depend on how long the trend lasts and making it more exciting,” he says. “People will then settle with their brand of choice.”
For Shamballa Jewels the creation of new designs is something it is continually working on. “We do that all the time but in a different manner to other fine brands that are seasonal,” says Iuel. “Instead we develop and reinvent our designs, for example we introduced a ceramic bead earlier this year. If the world thinks that we don’t extend our line with different or new things, it is simply because the Shamballa bracelet is still the most popular item in our collection.”
This article was taken from the December issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the article and others, in full online click here.