TRENDS: Lust for luxe

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Global luxury sales are on the up as consumers invest in quality, but as the aspirations of shoppers elevate the big brands are simultaneously stepping out of the secretive world of high jewellery to meet them half way. Juliet Hutton-Squire & Maia Adams of Adorn Insight report on how to make luxury fresh.

In ancient times kings and queens used gemstones and precious metals to separate themselves from the common man, using jewellery to put on a fabulously extravagant display of wealth that elevated their social standing.

In modern times however, much has changed. Flashing your wealth and status has become a game for all the classes to play, not just the aristocrats, although jewels have retained their pole position as material symbols of prosperity.

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As the world has battled through a global downturn, luxury goods have not faltered. Sales have in fact been on the rise and will continue to do so; Boston Consulting Group has forecast that global sales of luxury goods will rise 7% a year until 2014.

This is shown by the constant success of well-established brands with heritage in the luxury sector. In May the Luxury Institute revealed its Luxury Brand Status Index for jewellery that placed Graff Diamonds on top with a score of 7.98 out of 10. Hot on Graff’s heels were Asprey, Mikimoto and Tiffany & Co.

But how do we define luxury? One man’s idea of a luxury item is another’s conception of a regular purchase. With a bloating middle class that is spreading wealth, luxury is not quite as clear cut as it once was, and luxury brands are now working this to their advantage by becoming more accessible to those outside the upper echelons of the mega rich.

The key to maintaining a position as a luxury brand is to be that little bit unobtainable, which is where the role of one-off haute joallerie pieces comes into play and the characteristic stratospheric price tags. But regardless of this, a trend that we have been documenting at Adorn Insight is that of luxury jewellery brands making their wares more accessible.

This is not a case of simple diffusion lines – let’s not confuse making a brand more accessible with making product more attainable – but of finding new ways of speaking to a different community of consumers. In doing so, high-end jewellery houses are talking to them about the same level of luxury designs and materials that they have built their name on but are presenting these goods in an alternate light.

A perfect example of this from the past 12 months is Fabergé. The illustrious jewellery house has recently fallen back into family hands and those ties have been further strengthened by the use of Josh Fabergé, the great-great-grandson of founder Peter Carl Fabergé, and his friends to promote the brand.

The jewellery house hired revered fashion photographer Mario Testino to shoot a campaign that it hoped would take new lines of luxury jewellery that referenced the iconic Fabergé eggs, and present it in a fresh, youthful light. It decided that using the new generation of the Fabergé clan would be an ideal to achieve this.

“We wanted to celebrate la jeunesse doree with this campaign and make Fabergé relevant to a younger audience,” says Fabergé creative and managing director Katharina Flohr. “We invited Josh and his friends to discover Fabergé for themselves, engaging with the jewellery, mixing it up and layering the pendants however they like. The result is a compelling image that tells the story of a new generation reinterpreting Fabergé for their contemporaries.”

Fabergé backed up this fun, fresh promotion of an incredibly heritage brand by running an Easter egg hunt in London earlier this year. The jewellery house asked 40 artists and designers to decorate oversized fibreglass eggs that were then place round the city. The promotion not only raised cash for charities – the eggs were auctioned off after the hunt – it allowed everyday passers by to engage with a jewellery house that to date had hidden much of its rise to success behind doors closed to those outside the luxury consumer circle.

Fabergé’s forward-looking strategy is indicative of a new mood in which the experiential side of the luxury sector is booming born out of the consumers desire to buy into a lifestyle and giving the brand further cachet to their product-led categories. Unsurprisingly therefore, spas, luxury travel and adventure travel are some of the sectors forecast to perform extremely well in the coming years with the likes of LVMH cashing in on its reputation with burgeoning upscale hotel chain Cheval Blanc and recently launched Art Of Packing microsite which teaches customers how to pack their designer wardrobe into a Vuitton case.

The once rarefied Van Cleef & Arpels has also made move in this direction, opening up its doors in February with the launch of a jewellery school in Paris that the house says it hopes will “cast a light on the very secretive world of jewellery” and allow it to pass on some of the expertise it has built up over the years.

“[The school] offers a unique method of discovering and learning for those who are passionate about jewellery, lovers of beauty or simply curious and anyone who wishes to acquire inside knowledge of this fascinating world,” said a release from Van Cleef & Arpels at the time.

Gucci has perhaps not gone as far as Van Cleef & Arpels, but it has opened up its collections to the public through a museum in Florence dedicated to its wares. While this might seem almost the opposite of coming down to meet the consumer – the idea of perceiving one’s own goods as art somewhat contradicts this – what it is in fact doing is allowing consumers to browse its collections outside of a store environment, and so allowing them to familiarise themselves without feeling any pressure to buy or to have to cross the threshold of one of its stores, something that can be an intimidating experience for a first-time luxury shopper. At the same time, the creation of a museum places the brand strategically at a certain level of aspiration, so hitting two birds with one stone.

As stated previously, becoming more accessible to consumers as a luxury brand is not about trading down, it is about rising to the challenge of making it easier for shoppers to trade up: an important lesson that retailers can learn from the big brands.

There are lots of ways to do this in store, from targeting younger consumers through dedicated evenings created specifically for a certain demographic, such as young professionals, to allowing luxury goods to be a little more creative than previously – why not collaborate with a local art college and invite student designers to create window displays that will portray heritage luxury jewellery in a youthful way? An idea successfully played out by Vogue jewellery editor, Carol Woolton’s Street Lights initiative that saw Bond Street jewellers’ windows transformed by young graduates.

The fear factor is also an important element that needs to be knocked out of luxury jewellery sales when broadening your market. While brands and products should at all times remain aspirational, methods must be devised to make younger shoppers feel comfortable enough to imagine themselves owning such treasures.

At Adorn Insight we are broadening our outlook beyond just product trends to wider jewellery retail trends and have been studying the buying habits of the evolving consumer, and the sale of jewellery as well as its design. The challenge to the jewellery industry is to show luxury in a new and fresh way: incorporating innovative marketing initiatives is not a sales track reserved for the over 50s but a boom market that should be snapped up, with a little persuasion, by a new generation.

 

 

This article was taken from the July 2012 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read a digital version of this issue click here.

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