TRENDS: Why it’s time to stack up on charm bangles

Bangles from Chrysalis' Life collection, showing how each piece can be stacked to form a collection personal to the wearer.

A closer look at the boom in collectable and meaningful bracelets.

Embellished bangles aren’t necessarily a new concept for jewellery designers and retailers, but witnessing companies like Alex and Ani and Chrysalis soar while specialising in nothing but charm bangles has caused the industry to stand-up and pay attention. Could collectible bangles be the first major competitor to the charm and bead bracelet phenomenon? Professional Jeweller investigates.

For brands such as Links of London, Kit Heath, Pandora and, more recently, Michael Kors, decorative charm bangles are normally one-off pieces designed to diversify a collection of rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings for the consumer.

But for companies like American-born Alex and Ani and British-bred Chrysalis, charm bangles are the sole focus of sell-out collections carving a niche in the collectable, stackable and giftable jewellery marketplace.

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Trailblazing the expandable bangle concept from the UK is Somerset-based fashion jewellery brand Chrysalis. Founded by husband-and-wife team David and Andrea Maine, Chrysalis has gone from strength-to-strength in the past 12 months, securing 800 accounts in the US and the UK between August 2013 and February 2014.

Championing the best of Brit brands overseas, Chrysalis has carved its path alongside charm bangle superbrand Alex and Ani, with 50 agents that have opened 700 doors across America. Closer to home, Chrysalis has secured prominent placement on Watches2U.com and in House of Fraser with its ever-evolving collections showcased via branded shop-in-shop counters, supported by downloadable marketing materials and banners.

Chrysalis creative director Audrey Coudyser explains the brand’s appeal: “We wanted to create a statement collectable range allowing customers to stack their bangles and create their own unique jewellery piece. Our bangles are design-led, capturing sentiment and meaning at the same time. By combining colour with meaning, memories, spiritual enlightenment, protection and luck, customers are able to create beautiful stacks that look amazing and also appeal to their sentimental side.”

With wholesale prices from £7 and RRPs in the region of £19 to £32, Chrysalis has created a product with mass-market appeal for fans of collectible jewellery, supported by a unique one-size-fits-all expandable design, plated in 14ct yellow gold and rhodium and set with precious gemstones.

“Alex and Ani is our biggest competitor,” Coudyser reveals. “However our use of 14ct gold, rhodium plate and semi-precious stones is what makes our bangles special. Our team of in-house designers work extremely hard to bring customers on-trend designs of the highest quality,” she adds.

For Alex and Ani, what started as a recycled brass charm bangle range developed into a fully-fledged lifestyle brand with its own vineyard and perfume lines. The American superbrand was founded by Rhode Islander Carolyn Rafaelian, but only became a jewellery juggernaut when businessman Giovanni Feroce was hired as chief executive officer. He left the company earlier this year, but in his wake is a brand so well known it purposely didn’t showcase any product during an expensive Super Bowl advertising spot. In a similar way to Pandora, the brand has built its name as a purveyor of one key product, but now it is achieving success through diversifying its offer. Founder Carolyn Rafaelian says of Alex and Ani’s growing lifestyle range: “We just launched our Scent 7 beauty collection in March 2014. Our plan is to continue expanding our lifestyle brand and evolve both domestically and internationally. This year, we will be launching leather goods, purses, belts, expanding our beauty and candle collections as well as extending the Precious collection.”

She continues: “[Alex and Ani] currently has 14 points of sale in the UK and we are working on expanding our presence through additional doors with our current retailers and by adding more high-quality stockists to our pool of authorised retailers. As part of our brand expansion plan, we are targeting a mixture of department stores, jewellery chains, and high-quality independent jewellers across the UK. We carefully examine each prospective retailer to ensure they adhere to the Alex and Ani brand standards, and we view them as active partners in the successful launch of our brand in the UK.”

One retailer that passed Alex and Ani’s strict vetting procedure is Jo Stroud, owner of Fabulous, which operates stores in Bath, Solihull and Leamington Spa. She explains: “Our customers love the Alex and Ani brand and it has proven so successful in Bath that we have launched it in our Leamington Spa store. Customers really appreciate the authenticity and values of the brand and the fact that each piece carries a meaning and is imbued with positive energy. They make great gifts for a friend or loved one or a personal celebration of values and beliefs.”

With retail prices starting from £24, Alex and Ani’s offering has found the perfect balance between mass-market appeal and individualism, with customers able to stack bangles in their own way, and buy pieces with messages personal to them. Stroud continues: “We have found the most popular [pieces] by far are ones with uplifting meanings – such as Path of Life, which represents strength, motivation and knowledge or Lotus Peace Petals for illumination, beauty and resilience.

Both Chrysalis and Alex and Ani appeal to customers by rapidly updating their collections, providing even more options for already-hooked consumers. In 2014 alone, Chrysalis has launched its Oceania, Flourish, Talisman and Chakra collections, but it is yet to rival the success of the best-selling Good Fortune range. Coudyser explains: “[Good Fortune] is a birthstone collection adorned with coloured Swarovski crystals. Each bangle also features a second tag with carefully chosen meanings that reflect the personal attributes of a person born to that month. Our latest Initials collection also featuring Swarovski crystals is fast becoming a new favourite.”

And it’s not just the charm bangle market leaders that are reporting an increased interest from consumers. Anna Trent, the founder of British jewellery brand Anna Lou London, has experienced uplift in sales. Her animal charm bangles, with names like Golden Jewel and Passion Princess, have utilised neon hues to ensure pieces are as individual and fashion-forward as possible.

Trent explains: “Our charm bangles have become more popular and I think that’s partly down to the fact that it’s a trend and everyone is into stackable bangles [to create] the ‘arm candy’ look.”

With its current success in the US and growing market in the UK, Chrysalis has the potential to recreate Alex and Ani’s market-leading trajectory. Creative director Coudyser is optimistic: “Our business has already grown 300% on last year. This huge trend in the US is spreading across the Atlantic and we are seeing our stockist list grow with major jewellery retailers. We have also just taken on a rep group in Canada that has already opened great stores.”

Looking ahead to the rest of 2014, Alex and Ani founder Rafaelian has hinted that the brand’s focus on the UK market could even lead to a branded store opening, however “no date has been set in stone”.

Facts and figures correct at the time of print. This Trends feature was taken from the July issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here

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