Rise and rise of the self-purchasing woman

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As the pay gap narrows, women are not waiting to be bought jewels.

Gone are the days when a woman waited to be bought jewellery. Now ladies are more confident, better paid and unashamed to buy their own rocks, writes Rachael Taylor.

When the Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson’s jewellery collection went under the gavel at Sotheby’s last month, we were given a glimpse into the life of one of the early self-purchasing women.

As the wife of the abdicated King Edward VIII, who chose his love for Simpson over the throne, it could be assumed that she was bestowed with numerous gifts and jewels, but it is said that Simpson was fiercely in control over her image and her jewellery box.

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Simpson coined many a phrase during her lifetime, including “you can never be too rich or too thin”, but one that sticks in the mind is her declaration that she would “rather shop than eat”. At her funeral in 1986 it was reported that many of the flowers sent as a mark of respect to the late Duchess were from famous fashion and jewellery houses that she had given her patronage to over the years.

Simpson lived in an era when women received jewellery, they didn’t buy it. However, as the pay divide has narrowed and women’s place in society has become more prominent, the feminine trill from the tills has been transformed from “Darling, thank you it’s beautiful” to “I’ll take that one, wrap it up please”.

Girl power exploded in the 1990s with the advent of the Spice Girls but wasn’t until the turn of the century that women really started buying jewellery for themselves, says Gail Goodrich who founded London jewellery boutique Argent London.

Goodrich specifically set up her retail business to target female self-purchasing customers with an affordable luxury offer, but she says that the business didn’t immediately take off in the way that she wanted it to.

“When we set up the company 13 years ago girls were not buying for themselves,” she remembers. “Girls would go next door to Beatrice von Tresckow where they would sell coats for £600 and they’d happily buy that but then they’d come to us and fall in love with a £50 bracelet and say ‘Oh no I’ll have to wait for my husband’.”

Then in 2000 Goodrich noticed a shift in the buying habits of her female clientele. “It was a good time, everyone had money in their pockets,” she explains. “There was more disposable income. Women had it all then and they were prepared to show it.”

During the recession Goodrich felt another shift, although this time not so favourable. “It died a bit when the recession hit, and girls were again becoming embarrassed to buy for themselves. I thought oh my god we’re going back to the bad old days but that’s come around again,” she says with a sigh of relief.

Not waiting for a man to buy your jewellery is a sure-fire way of making sure you get what you want but it is also a declaration of power and independence.

“I think women’s buying power has really increased as the income gap between men and women is closing,” says Folli Follie UK brand manager Penny Grivea. “By buying jewellery women are making a statement about their power.”

Goodrich says that while the majority of purchases made by women in Argent London are for less than £500, she says women now assert their authority in life by splashing out on higher end pieces.

“Now it’s a status thing,” she says. “We’ve had girls spend £10,000 on a diamond and tanzanite pendant for themselves and in the £200 to £500 range they don’t give it a second thought. It is proving something to the world – I can stand on my own two feet.”

Jewellery designer Shaun Leane says that the majority of his female clients are buying jewellery for themselves. He believes that the increasing influence of fashion in the jewellery industry has prompted the change.

“I think the attitude has changed in respect that women move fast with fashion and are more in touch with what they feel can accessorise their latest look hence the increase in self purchase jewellery,” he says. “Why wait around for a man to buy them a piece of jewellery? By the time he has made up his mind, she’s already onto another style.”

Leane adds that his female clients who are buying for themselves are also willing to buy higher-priced pieces. He says: “Haute jewellery is growing in popularity. There are women who prefer to purchase pieces that are more precious, timeless and individual to reflect their persona and style.”

The designer also feels that women are more comfortable buying jewellery now because it has become more accessible than in previous generations. “Nowadays it is not unusual to wear diamonds in the office,” he muses. “In the past, jewellery steered towards status or a symbol of success but modern day women are buying for many different reasons such as fashion, gifts, sentiment, status or just plain admiration for anything sparkly.”

As well as becoming more comfortable with buying jewellery, veteran designer Theo Fennell believes that the shift has been prompted by women becoming more comfortable with themselves. He likens buying jewellery to dining; in years gone by a woman would not have dreamed of dining alone, but now it is acceptable to book a table for one.

“They are no longer afraid to buy for themselves as it no longer carries the stigma of dining alone as it were,” he says. “Women are earning their own money and so can make their own choices.”

When it comes to engagement rings, possibly the biggest jewellery purchase a woman will ever make, this could be the one jewellery sector that won’t become dominated by self-purchasing women, no matter how independent or how confident they become.

“I would think that women would like engagement rings bought for them and there are still those really sentimental bespoke pieces that I still love to design for people; those pieces that become truly theirs and bring real joy,” says Fennell.

Leane says that while he has experienced a rise in the number of women buying their own engagement rings, he believes that romance should prevail. “I feel there are romantic pieces that women still prefer to be bought such as engagement rings, Valentine’s Day presents and anniversary gifts,” he says. “These are gestures of love, which we all need.”

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