As we wave one year goodbye and jump straight into another, Professional Jeweller reflects on the trends and stories of 2018 that are likely to shape the next 12 months…

1. The British weather is unpredictable
It’s a stereotype that Brits love to talk about the weather, so why break a habit of a lifetime? The weather last year was absolutely crazy. At the beginning of the year we were attacked by the Beast of the East, a snow storm which forced jewellery stores to close for days on end, and then in the summer we were greeted with temperatures usually only found in other countries. It went from one extreme to another — and of course it impacted business. The mighty snow storm caused in-store spending to cool down in March, but online retailers reaped the benefits of shoppers staying at home; while the unprecedented heat wave put consumers in a good mood but they were choosing to spend their money on leisure activities rather than jewels. Let’s hope 2019 provides more shopper-friendly weather forecasts.

2. Mind the gap
A national initiative by the Government showed there is still a long way to go to close the gender pay gap. Last year, businesses with more than 250 staff had to reveal the average difference in pay between male and female employees. Diving into the data, Professional Jeweller unveiled the pay gap between the sexes in the UK jewellery retail industry fell at 24.9% — a figure higher than the UK average of 19.3%. While many companies did have a low pay gap, others revealed a wide difference, which most attributed to the make-up of their workforce and the accommodation of flexible working hours for mums. Whatever the reason though, many of the large jewellery industry firms publicly declared plans to review their pay structures and be proactive in reducing the gap. Only time will tell whether enough has been done.


3. We are not coming home…
Even the least likely footballs fans couldn’t help but be swept up by the World Cup this year. The excitement was contagious as the words, ‘It’s coming home’ were echoed around the nation. Sadly it was not meant to be this time, but how did football fever impact sales? Well spend was up during the time England remained in the World Cup, with experts saying the celebratory mood made consumers want to spend, while England’s manager became the ultimate style icon. As men sought to copy Gareth Southgate’s side-line style, Marks & Spencer reported a rise in waistcoats, and Monica Vinader experienced a 300% rise in sales for its Linear Friendship bracelets as the coach wore his to every match. The lesson here is that when there is hope, there is a boost in spend. With Brexit around the corner the UK will need to find ways to lift consumer confidence and help the high street prosper.

4. “Gotta make a change”
When things look to be going south, companies become reluctant to make changes and instead of innovating in order to bolster business, they stand still and complain everything is going wrong. Well, last year retail firms within the industry refused to sit back and watch the decline of the high street and instead made changes to stores in a bid to pull people in. The real change in the UK was the launch of Tiffany & Co’s concept store in Covent Garden. As the American brand aimed to target the next generation of luxury buyers it opened an interactive style studio unlike any of its other boutiques. Whether professionals love or hate the end result, the majority commend the brand for doing something different. Elsewhere, Swarovski transformed its Oxford Street boutique to offer a unique and immersive customer experience, while Links of London used its Cambridge store to play with new ‘Instagrammable ideas’, and Astrid & Miyu saw sales soar with the introduction of a piercing bar.

5. Lab-grown diamonds gain traction
The big news of last year that had readers logging onto PJ from all over the world was De Beers launching a lab-grown diamond jewellery brand called LightBox. This is the company’s first venture into branded lab-grown diamond jewellery, and it came with a promise to offer consumers high-quality, fashion pieces at “lower price points than what is currently available”. Furthermore, the chief exec of Signet said the company, which owns H Samuel and Ernest Jones, was open to selling lab-grown diamond pieces if demand continues to increase. While both of those are based predominantly in the US, it’s interesting to note the winner of Professional Jeweller’s Precious Metals and Gemstone Supplier accolade. As lab-grown diamonds continue to grow in popularity, the UK firms have been turning to Madestones for its products and expertise, and as such, trade professionals were quick to back the company in the award’s poll. Furthermore, Google revealed searches for lab-grown diamonds has grown significantly in the last 12 months and experts predict demand will only grow as consumers become more aware of man-made stones.

6. Everybody loves a Royal Wedding
Just like the football, the nation couldn’t help but be sucked in by the romantic story of an American actress marrying a British prince. Our editor for one got up at the crack of dawn to catch a glimpse of the happy couple, and the UK reported more street parties on May 19th than any other date in 2018. Professional Jeweller were quick to report on all aspects of the day – from the wedding bands, to Meghan Markle’s aisle style and reception accessories – and as such enjoyed a spike in traffic during the weekend. While the bride’s engagement ring had already caused three-stone rings to increase in popularity, the big day led to Art Deco pieces making a comeback and the sales of aquamarine rings soaring after the Duchess of Sussex wore a piece adorned in the gemstone to her wedding reception. In its annual shopping report, eBay revealed an increase in searches for tiaras on the day and also detailed how Princess Eugenie’s engagement and wedding had led to coloured gemstones receiving more attention. Experts believe coloured gemstone demand will continue throughout 2019.

2018 was the year the #Time’sUp movement was founded to support women who had been sexually assaulted in Hollywood. With big names backing the initiative, the hashtag spread like wild fire, and soon the jewellery industry was among many engaging in discussions about women’s roles, rights and representation. Throughout the year the Women’s Jewellery Network hosted several events and launched the #NoGlassCeiling campaign, which encouraged trade professionals to declare on social media that there should be nothing holding them back. While the industry still has a way to go, the events and campaigns launched last year highlighted a need for men and women to come together and first of all acknowledge problems within the trade, and second of all vow to make a change. 2018 also marked the centurion year of the women’s vote. Both the Hollywood movement and the 100th anniversary sparked a rise in female consumers buying pieces that encouraged them to dream big and feel confident.

8. Charms make a comeback
Charms have been threatening to make a comeback for a couple of years now, but 2018 saw brands commit to the trend and shake-up their offering. The start of the year saw Thomas Sabo completely revamp its Charm Club to meet today’s market demands and launch the Generation Charm Club, an offering for fashion-savvy consumers. This charm transformation has been highly successful for the brand, with consumers enjoying creating personal style statements. Towards the end of the year Pandora presented its first new charm bracelet concept in five years. The new line, Reflexions, features a flat and flexible mesh-style bracelet, which can be adorned with slim clip-on charms. When the line first launched it completely sold out in sterling silver, showing there is still a market for charm concepts. Elsewhere Swarovski added charms to its bestselling Remix range, making it possible for consumers to make the strands personal.

9. Get involved in the community
It’s no longer good enough to simply open a new store and hope consumers will wander through the doors. Instead, retailers need to learn the lessons which are keeping traditional jewellers with no online presence alive even in today’s digital age. Whether an independent jeweller with one store in a quaint little village, or a multiple with a presence on all the major high streets, it’s important every single jeweller embeds their business in the community. This could be through sponsoring events, working with a local charity, collaborating on customer experiences, or giving something back. People buy from people, so the more they get to know your shop floor staff and the ethos/personality of the name above the door, the more likely they will be to spend money. As you look towards 2019, how can you be getting involved with the local community and making your name known in the area?

10. Social media channels are increasingly becoming more like shops
Social media channels have been increasing their shopability this year, making it even more vital for jewellery retailers to be present on them. Not only do platforms such as Instagram and Facebook help with brand exposure, trust, and customer interaction, they now provide more opportunity to transform clicks into sales. Messaging app Snapchat has partnered with Amazon to allow consumers to purchase items directly from photographs, while Instagram has added several new tools which strengthens the channels shopping capabilities. Retail expert, Chana Baram from Mintel, says: “Platforms such as Instagram give consumers access to a brand or retailer, regardless of its size. This has helped retailers without huge marketing budgets to get the name of new brands out there. Additionally, giving the option to purchase certain items over social media makes it easier for consumers to impulse purchase and makes the whole shopping experience more convenient, particularly for male shoppers who might need more inspiration when buying jewellery for a female friend or partner.”