The rise of the jewellery voyeur

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Why it pays off to let customers see behind the scenes.

It would seem that an increasing number of jewellery shoppers like to watch. Craig Heatly reports on the Trend for jewellery voyeurs, from those who want to get up close and personal with hallmarking to the hoards catching sneaky peeks through glass-panelled workshops.

To raise a beautiful piece of jewellery out of metals and stones is a long process; the first idea, the second and third, the sketches, the models, the sourcing, the making.

The majority of such design processes have traditionally gone on behind closed doors, away from the eyes of those who will eventually buy the designs and keep them close for life. But now the world of jewellery is opening itself up to a curious consumer.

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Recently the industry has experienced a rising trend for voyeurism in jewellery; that is to say there is an increasing demand for consumers to see behind the scenes and so a rising number of designers are opening their workshops to the public, while the assay offices are giving consumers the opportunity to witness their jewellery being hallmarked, something rarely seen by those outside the trade, and even allowing visitors to have a go themselves. But just what is driving this voyeuristic trend?

The Birmingham Assay Office (BAO) is in a testing phase of opening its doors to the public, allowing consumers, designers and members of the general public the opportunity to see how hallmarking is done.

Visitors will get a tour, be taught the history of hallmarking and how an item is assayed, and see for themselves how hallmarking is done. The BAO decided to offer this experience after visitors to its Silver Antique exhibition starting asking more and more questions about hallmarking. “Customers were given a brief introduction to hallmarking and seemed to be curious about it,” says Birmingham Assay Office heritage and training officer Sally Hoban. “People don’t understand that it is a quite a delicate, intricate skill. Our hand hallmarkers train for two years before they are able to hallmark independently.”

The tour groups are small, limited to just a few people, so that the customer gets a more personalised experience where they will have the opportunity to ask more questions and get detailed answers. “It creates a better learning experience,” says Hoban. “It’s very much about education and bringing hallmarking alive.”

The BAO only has two tours planned for 2012 but says that it is considering adding more dates next year.

In London the Assay Office is similarly opening up hallmarking to the masses, but is focusing its scheme on designers rather than the general public as a way for jewellers to add value to their offer by allowing them to invite clients to a private hallmarking session where rather than getting a general tour, they will be there to see their jewellery hallmarked.

“We have only had one group in so far, a designer and a couple, but we have a few more that are interested,” says London Assay Office head of assay training David Merry, who adds that the service only launched two months ago. “It came out of an idea I had about offering a wedding service where a manufacturer could bring in the rings that he had made for a bride and groom and take pictures of their rings getting hallmarked to give as a keepsake. I then thought it would be better to open it up a bit and make it less specific and cover everything.”

Merry personally meets people embarking on a private hallmarking session and uses the time to tell them about the history of the business, and says the experience can be as long or as short as the customer likes. He believes that the private hallmarking service will help designers to create a point of difference and says that the people using the service can take photos to keep as a memento, something he believes will work particularly well for wedding jewellery. “I know the customer likes to get involved with the process from start to finish and if a maker or designer can offer a little more it gives more value,” he says. “It’s an extra extension of their service as a commission.”

Merry says that offering private hallmarking will also help designers to see the value in the Assay Office rather than viewing it as a final chore to be checked off the list before sending a client the finished piece. “Designers saw us as a bit of an obstacle before, a legality, something that they had to do,” he says. “It’s not a huge money making thing, this is not why we do it. Its only £100 for a group so it’s not bringing in lots. It’s about communication and educational-based client contact. When a client can see the hallmarking being done it gives them more confidence in the product, and it’s a nice experience and part of a long process.”

Transparency is also becoming important on the high street. At jeweller Harriet Kelsall’s studio in Hertfordshire shoppers can get a glimpse into the world of the jewellery bench and see some of her creative team at work, something the company has incorporated into its studio since it moved into a converted barn in 2004. At present there is a glass panel the size of a door that allows shoppers to peek into the workshop but plans are afoot to increase the glass area to allow for a better view, something that will be introduced when the shop is refurbished in November.

“If you are an independent jeweller who makes your own jewellery in your own workshop, then it is important to show the difference between what you do and what some other jewellers do who import and mass produce their jewellery in their shops,” says owner Harriet Kelsall. “Showing the workshop is one way in which you can show customers that you actually make the work yourself. When customers realise that you are making the jewellery by hand they feel better about the products and seeing this can bring a new understanding and therefore they are more likely to buy our products compared to mass produced alternatives.”

Kelsall adds that customers have really taken to the voyeuristic activity. “Some have been known to stand and watch for hours,” she exclaims. “Customers are fascinated by the process. They don’t realise how the jewellery is actually made. It is interesting to watch, and the public like to see a traditional craft by hand.”

Independent jewellery design and retail team Tatty Devine has also become part of the voyeuristic movement after installing a laser-cutting machine in the centre of its Covent Garden store in London that allows the brand to offer its customers the chance to see their jewellery being made.

“[The introduction of the machine] has boosted the sales of our name necklaces, as we were losing customers because of the two-week wait,” says Tatty Devine co-founder Rosie Wolfenden. “For the customer it is providing an amazing service as the name necklace is such a popular item and now they can not only see it being made but get it so quickly. People love it and really respond to the sense of theatre about it.”

Wolfenden believes that curiosity and ignorance of the process of jewellery making is the driving force behind this trend. “I think people are curious to see how things are made and are more concerned about the production process,” she says. “To some extent I think the consumer has always been relatively oblivious to the manufacturing process. I think being shown all the processes and also the person making the piece means the consumer begins to understand the item’s value and its price.”

Wolfenden reiterates that bringing jewellery making out into the open is not just about helping customers understand manufacturing but to give them a reason to come to the high street. “As e-commerce becomes the consumer’s main route to purchasing, it has become more important to provide a good reason for the customer to come to the store,” she says. “The number one way to add value is to create a unique and fun experience. This trend is about businesses creating brand-led experiences and awareness.”

Marc Samuel, co founder and owner of jewellery retailer Number Ten in Brighton, also thinks that it is important for the public to get a look behind the scenes of the jewellery industry and so has been running an open workshop for a number of years. “It has always been our ethos to give the impression that most of the stock is produced on site, which it is,” he says.

In Samuel’s experience it creates an element of trust with his customers. “Customers of a certain age are often nervous about handing over items to a jeweller to have them remodelled or repaired,” he explains. “By allowing them to see the workshop it makes them feel their item is safe, it builds trust and they are content with where it’s going to go. It offers them piece of mind. Apart from when a piece is getting hallmarked, nothing leaves the shop.”

Samuel reveals that the workshop is very successful, and it accounts for more than 40% of the business’s turnover. He believes that a large part of this is down to the fact that the workshop is open for everyone to see.

He also attests that the current economic climate has had a helping hand. “Rather than buying new jewellery, people are coming in with old pieces of jewellery and having them recycled, remodelling them. The customer has involvement and we encourage them to come in stage by stage so they can see the process.”

From getting involved with remodelling or discovering how jewellery is made, to stamping your own hallmark, it seems like the industry is increasingly becoming open for all to see, and with some serious business benefits to be had as well as providing consumers with a jewellery education, it would appear that if you’ve got it, flaunt it.

This article was taken from the September 2012 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To see a digital version of the issue click here.

 

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