In the age of e-commerce, physical stores have perhaps surprisingly remained key to the jewellery industry, more so than for other, adjacent areas of the retail sector.
Ordering a new pair of trainers or a t-shirt from your favourite online retailer is commonplace and convenient today, and fashion retailers have reduced their brick-and-mortar footprint accordingly.
However, a significant part of the appeal of buying a new ring, bracelet, necklace or pair of earrings is in the in-store experience – the welcome at the door, browsing the products, the décor and ambience of the luxury environment, even the glass of champagne at high-end jewellers.
It would have been little surprise, then, if the jewellery industry fell on hard times in the absence of brick-and-mortar store visits during the UK’s numerous lockdowns since March 2020.
Without underplaying the hardships that many businesses have endured during this time, the number of unbelievable success stories have almost outweighed them.
Companies across the industry have reported unparalleled e-commerce growth and a resurging interest in jewellery from the Great British public.
This has partly been due to the ‘pent-up’ savings we have heard so much about recently, with many consumers unable to spend on travel and dining out for long periods.
However, this theory is only half of the story and does not give any credit to the jewellers who quickly innovated new ways of drawing customers when lockdown hit. One such innovation has been the bespoke jewellery design service.
While it may have existed prior to the pandemic, it has gained a new lease of life in the last year and a half.
Used in conjunction with an immersive online retail experience – live chat functions, video calls, high-resolution 3D imagery and more – it has allowed jewellery businesses to make consumers feel special and bring some luxury to the process of buying jewellery while sat at home in front of the TV.
Roseanna Croft, founder of her own eponymous bespoke service now-based in London, explains it best when she says: “I think the bespoke model works particularly well in lockdown because it’s an experience that can still be enjoyed virtually if done well.
“People aren’t able to travel or seek experiences in a way they once could, so I’ve seen them seeking it in precious jewellery, and in particular in something they can have a big say in designing.”
NB Diamonds is one company that has upped its focus on jewellery personalisation since the pandemic began.
Director Nathaniel Bendayan says: “People have become more introspective and have seen the importance of sentimental purchasing rather than following trends. This lends itself to the development and expansion of our own bespoke services at NB Diamonds.”
Meanwhile, aside from the buying and design process suiting lockdown life, Emily Graffagnino, Stuller senior director of fine jewellery, says that the sort of jewellery that bespoke services produce – pieces with sentiment, meaning and longevity – have made perfect gifts at this strange time too.
“The design of each piece means that much more when they serve as tokens of love in socially distant relationships,” she explains. Graffagnino adds: “In addition to this, women are also celebrating their success and self-expression more than ever through longer lasting investments like gold and diamonds.”
Consumers, she says, have begun “growing their own unique collections one piece at a time” with the addition of new personalised pieces rather than buying mass-produced jewellery.
This “rise of personalised and bespoke” is something that jewellers should not overlook, the director says, something that they should introduce to their repertoire now while customers are demanding it.
NOT JUST A FLASH IN THE PAN
Ed Hole is business manager for Weston Beamor, a Fairtrade UK jewellery manufacturer specialising in bespoke design services, boasting more than seven decades in the business.
Here he draws on all of his and the company’s experience to tell PJ why personalised jewellery is here to stay.
Has interest in personalised jewellery increased since the pandemic started? Why do you think the bespoke business model lends itself particularly to lockdown?
We’ve had a high interest in our bespoke service for many years but I imagine lockdown has added to the demand. Finding hidden gems in drawers and dreaming of what they can be made into using money saved from cancelled holidays must have been very tempting.
Will this popularity remain as normal life returns? What can bespoke jewellers do to ensure it does?
There will always be demand for quality bespoke pieces. Clients enjoy the experience of having a piece designed and made especially for them. Weston Beamor gives that option to retailers who don’t have their own on-site manufacturing capabilities and want to offer quality British made pieces to clients with specific requirements.