Talent Spotters

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QVC uses LJW as a platform for 4 new jewellery designers.

 QVC is using London Jewellery Week as a platform to put the work of four up-and-coming jewellery designers in front of its audience of 23 million households. Head of jewellery buying Vanessa Bartsch explains why the shopping channel is going to great lengths to help the unsung stars of our industry.

“There is no reason for us to do this,” muses QVC head of jewellery buying Vannessa Bartsch. “But we all believe in London as a capital of fashion and design, and we feel that working with young designers is the right thing to do.”

As one of the biggest retailers in the country, QVC could quite easily sit back and make money from established jewellery brands, and has done so in the past. Even just 12 months ago the TV shopping channel’s programming during London Jewellery Week focused on big British brands such as Clogau Gold and Lola Rose, but this year,

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QVC has its sights set on up-and-coming talent.
The retailer has been known for working closely with aspiring jewellers in the past and has been responsible for turning some brands into household names just by selling their lines.

The instant boost in visibility for a brand is created by the sheer volume of customers that QVC attracts. The shopping channel is beamed into 23 million homes in the UK, granting up-and-coming jewellery brands exposure that would be impossible to achieve through traditional retail channels.

But with this massive audience comes large-scale orders of the magnitude that up-and-coming jewellery designers would never be able to meet. Rather than brushing off the idea of working with artisans as impossible, QVC works in collaboration with less-established designers to create tailored lines for QVC on a commission basis. “It has changed our ability to work with new designers,” says Bartsch.

QVC pays for the production of the line so designers don’t have to worry about financing the creation of thousands of pieces and the shopping channel pays a commission on all pieces sold. All jewellers have to bring is their talent, although Bartsch says that some designers are put off by working with QVC as they fear it will strip any hint of personality out of their designs to make a watered-down version of their original designs.

Bartsch says this fear is totally unfounded. “We want our designers to have their own handwriting,” she says. “We have a lot of jewellery on QVC and if it all looked the same our customers wouldn’t want to buy from us.”

While Bartsch and her team would never want to strip away the essence of a jeweller’s personality, she says there are ways to make collections more commercial and accessible without compromising on design. And this is what QVC has been working on with four up-and-coming designers in the run-up to London Jewellery Week.

QVC will host three hours of shows during London Jewellery Week dedicated to London-based designers. On June 11, QVC will invite Sho Fine Jewellery, Leblas, Tomasz Donocik and Kimberley Selwood in front of its cameras to sell their jewellery to the nation.

Each of the designers behind the labels will appear on the shows, which will be aired on the prime time slots between 7pm and 10pm on the Friday night, to talk about their jewellery and the collections designed in conjunction with QVC.

“Designers might have concerns that their designs are going to be taken away from them but this is not so,” says Bartsch. “We work with some designers that have way-out designs, but we look at them and ask what it is about their designs that we can extract and create a collection that is still very much them.”

Bartsch gives the work of Tomasz Donocik as an example. The London-based designer creates fine jewellery with price tags exceeding £20,000; way out of reach of the average QVC viewer. Therefore the retailer worked with the designer to create a commercial collection with prices between £100 and £800.

The team took note of Donocik’s dark, mystical themes by using lots of black onyx and deep reds, greens and purples. It also made sure that his signature star shapes and Chesterfield cushion designs flowed through the range.

“Tomasz is a brilliant, brilliant designer and it’s great to expose him to a more commercial market,” says Bartsch.

QVC has taken a similar approach with Leblas and Sho Fine Jewellery, again bringing price points down to between £100 and £800. Unlike Selwood and Donocik, who have both appeared on QVC once before, Leblas and Sho Fine Jewellery will make their debut on the channel.

The two designers will have a joint show branded as Rising Gems in a nod to the collective the two brands were part of during London Jewellery Week 2009 that comprised of 10 up-and-coming designers and culminated in a collection in collaboration with Swarovski and World Land Trust that sold at London department store Liberty.

Kimberley Selwood will be promoting a silver collection on her hour-long show, with prices starting at just £25. “It was not so difficult with pricing for Kimberley as the collection is in silver,” says Bartsch. “But we had to work with our manufacturers for one or two months to make sure that we replicated the flower used in most of the collection perfectly as it is iconic to Kimberley.”

While the celebration of young talented jewellery designers working in Britain will last just three hours, QVC has long-term plans to work with up-and-coming designers and is constantly on the look-out for fresh stars.

“We go to all the trade shows, read all of the magazines and search the internet looking for people in the market that have potential,” says Bartsch. “It’s great to have designers that have won lots of awards but I also like designers that are really unique and might not be able to win those competitions.”

Bartsch promises that QVC will continue to blaze a trail in contemporary jewellery and is keen to work with new designers. It has recently signed up to work with eccentric fine jeweller Lauren Adriana and has a few more signings up its sleeve but declined to name names.

If Bartsch had her way she says she would “love to launch a new designer every month”. And with a dedicated head buyer, it seems that QVC could soon be the go-to retailer for cutting-edge jewellery design at commercially sensible prices. Who’d have thought it?

(From the June issue of Professional Jeweller)

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