Silver Memories

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Simon Carter discusses how men’s jewellery has evolved.

With Simon Carter celebrating its Silver Jubilee this year, company founder and managing director Simon Carter describes how the men’s jewellery industry has evolved over the past 25 years.

Picture the scene. I’m at an agreeable dinner party in the Home Counties. I’ve been sat next to a lady of a certain age and the conversational pleasantries commence. ‘And what do you do?’ she asks. ‘Well, in essence, I run a menswear brand’, I explain.

The conversation continues and I elaborate, and tell her that we happen to be one of the largest brands in the world in cufflinks. ‘Really?’ she says, looking surprised, ‘Do people still wear cufflinks?’ At this point, I used to say, ‘well last year, we sold over 350,000 pairs so I guess they still do’. If I had a shiny pound for every time I was asked that, I would be able to afford a new pair of cufflinks. Well, you get the point.

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However, now if I was asked the same question, I would not be so glib with my reply. It’s a good question because the answer is ‘not as much as they did two or three years ago’. All through the noughties we enjoyed a rapid and steady expansion of the cufflink market. Popular style icons like David Beckham were seen in Richard James suits, doing a Prince Charles and fiddling with their cufflinks. The growth was fuelled by twenty something men who could get the look from Next, or River Island, and looking sharp was in. The football commentators all wore the look and that area of our business grew considerably. Mums, girlfriends and wives heaved a sigh of relief; now they knew what stocking fillers to buy.

The last two or three years have seen a change. There’s been a drastic move away from the double cuff shirt, and all those football pundits who were suited and booted are now just wearing an open necked, single cuffed shirt with the top two buttons undone. Not good for business.

However, if the cufflink market is looking more challenging, then the general market for men’s jewellery has never looked better. Cast your eye around any fashionable bar on a Saturday night and you will see dog tags, wrist bands, bracelets and rings on men. All quite unthinkable when I began selling brooches to men 25 years ago.

This is a trend that is set to continue. The line between men’s and women’s jewellery has become ever more blurred. It is easy to forget the shock of seeing premiership footballers wearing diamond earrings a decade ago; now those ears would look naked without one. Our challenge is to produce products that appeal to this demographic but still have the core Simon Carter values of affordability, great design and quality. This is where West End by Simon Carter comes in. This is my new sub-brand, aimed at 20 to 30 year old men. The tailoring is slimmer and slicker, and the accessories reflect this. We have launched a highly successful range of West End watches and cufflinks, and S/S11 sees the production of a full range of men’s jewellery.

Our core customer, the 35 to 45 year old professional guy, is still wearing the shirt and cufflink look, if slightly less, but the challenge is to keep him interested. One of the main trends recently has been a total move away from ‘novelty cufflinks’, such as Simpsons characters, or topless women. We have deliberately made our collections more sophisticated. There is greater use of semiprecious stone and clever use of crystal. The look is about quiet elegance, rather than full on ‘bling’. It reflects the mood of our times; less is more and buy to last. By focussing carefully on our customers, we have maintained sales.

I don’t think this year will be easy, and it’s hard to read what the next six months will bring. But one thing is certain; knowing your strengths and knowing your customers will be more important than ever.

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