Fine jewelry is the next battleground online.
As e-tailers look for new categories for growth, fine jewelry has become one of the fastest-growing sectors, with little price resistance and customers hungry for new designs and limited-edition pieces.
Net-a-porter sold a Cartier watch via WhatsApp within minutes of launching the brand on its platform, Moda Operandi’s fine-jewelry business has grown 145 percent in the year-to-date with price points averaging $10,000, while more and more heritage brands, from Chopard to Buccellati, are jumping on the e-commerce bandwagon.
With the e-commerce space becoming increasingly competitive — particularly after Matchesfashion.com’s $1 billion sale to Apax Partners — retailers are hunting for attractive business opportunities and are expanding their online offering with exclusive launches, informative content and new ways of presenting the product on the shopping page.
It all boils down to trust and building a meaningful relationship with the consumer, say retailers.
“Online has proven to be a powerful channel for purchasing luxury goods across all categories. Ultimately, this comes down to trust, which we know is earned,” said Deborah Nicodemus, chief executive officer of Moda Operandi.
When launching Moda’s fine-jewelry business via the trunk show model, Nicodemus said she wanted to secure a serious jewelry customer and “push the boundaries of e-commerce,” with prices starting at $10,000 and a no-returns policy.
The response was positive and the retailer went on to expand beyond the trunk shows into an in-season boutique channel, which offers a mix of emerging and heritage brands, as well as “those one-of-a-kind pieces exceeding $500,000” by designers such as Yeprem and Suzanne Kalan, the ceo said.
“I see this as an ever-expanding business opportunity,” added Nicodemus, explaining that the Moda customer is looking for a one-stop shop and will often buy a piece of fine jewelry to accessorize a gown she has purchased. “It was clear that our customers were looking for jewelry that met the same criteria we are known for in ready-to-wear: Quality, curation and access.”
Net-a-porter has had a similar response from its customer base: Elizabeth von der Goltz, Net’s global buying director, said that women are buying more and more fine jewelry and watches for themselves as they shop for fashion. “They don’t want to do it in isolation; they want to purchase fine jewelry on our site alongside our ready to wear brands.”
Net’s approach to fine jewelry has been focused on getting historic jewelry brands, which have been traditionally e-commerce shy, to sell exclusively on its platform. The strategy isn’t accidental as Net’s parent is part-owned by the hard luxury giant Compagnie Financière Richemont, parent of Cartier, IWC, Van Cleef & Arpels, Piaget and a slew of other watch and jewelry brands.
Cartier, Piaget, Buccellati, Chopard, Pomellato and Tiffany & Co. have all signed exclusive partnerships with Net in the last two years, leading to a 10 percent increase of its customer base and rapid sales of some of the most expensive pieces in each brand’s offer.
Since launching last month, Chopard’s Happy Dreams collection has been a hit, with an 18-karat gold, diamond and mother-of-pearl necklace priced at 23,900 pounds being the bestseller.
“This is a high-growth category for us. We’ve planned to grow hard luxury by nearly 150 percent in the next year. By 2020, we expect the department to grow by over 300 percent,” added von der Goltz, explaining that brands keep coming to Net for the opportunity to access its global customer base and the company’s expertise in creating high-end digital campaigns.
While Net wants to become known as the ultimate online destination for fine jewelry and to partner with more labels that have never sold online before, competitors believe that having a physical space is key.
“It can really help. The stores have great relationships with customers and there are certain styles which consistently generate strong sales in store compared to online,” said Patti Worth, fine-jewelry buyer at Matchesfashion.com, which has three store locations as well as a private town house, in addition to its e-commerce site. “In a store, customers are naturally drawn to look at a fine-jewelry cabinet, whereas online you often have to be looking more specifically for it.”
Browns’ women’s buying director Ida Petersson, who has been revamping the retailer’s jewelry offer with niche labels, also sees e-commerce and brick-and-mortar working hand-in-hand.
“Most recently, our customers tend to use online as a pre-shopping tool. At the very highest level, there is still an element of hesitation, but with the help of personal shoppers, the customer is gaining confidence and the spend threshold increases each season,” said Petersson, adding that the company’s goal is to offer its full fine-jewelry offer online.
Instead of focusing on big names that are already widely exposed, Petersson has been wooing Browns customers with new names that offer “meaningful jewelry, where the pieces tell a story with a spiritual touch.”
Los Angeles-based Shay Foundrae, known for its pendants and cigar ring featuring spiritual symbols, and Marla Aaron, known for its customizable lockets, are some of the retailer’s bestsellers.
The new season’s additions will include Holly Dyment, Tara Hirshberg and Francesca Villa.
Fine-jeweler Bibi van der Velden launched Auverture.com, her own online retail platform, last year as she saw the increasing traction the fine jewelry category was having online but felt that existing online retailers “did not show the emotion and design process behind the jewelry or the creators” and that the “magic was missing.”
Auverture focuses on the new wave of designers in fine jewelry including the likes of Venyx by Eugenie Niarchos, Noor Fares, Gaelle Khouri, Fernando Jorge, Monique Péan, Foundrae, Delfina Delettrez, as well as Van der Velden’s own label.
Van der Velden has been working toward building “an environment of knowledge and trust” through content that tells the story of a piece of jewelry from concept to manufacturing. Each designer’s page features a brand profile, a mood board of their inspirations and videos, alongside products on sale.
Prices range from 423 pounds for a gold ear cuff by Foundrae to 61,683 pounds for Fernando Jorge’s gold and diamond Disco bracelet.
“By sharing the emotions and stories of the designers, we try to create a relationship between the client, the jewelry and the designer. The Auverture content creates the frame in which the story of the jewelry is told. It’s more than just body decoration: clients buy pieces that celebrate milestones,” said Van der Velden, adding that to nurture the company’s relationships with customers, she organizes a wide range of off-line events.
As the trend of buying fine jewelry online grows, brands have also been given an alternative route to engaging with their customers directly and growing their businesses via their own e-commerce platforms.
In fact, some have rejected wholesale altogether and opted for a direct-to-consumer business model, where they address their customer base via their own online platforms and showrooms or retail spaces.
London-based Sabine Getty took a step back from wholesale last year in a bid to gain a better understanding of her customer and have more control of her business’ growth.
“I think there’s a big disappointment all round, because small brands like me invested a lot into wholesale in the beginning, putting a lot of our own stock into stores. I started by having more than 18 stockists, but most of it was consignment, which results in [the jeweler] being financially squeezed and cut out from the customer,” Getty told WWD at the time.
Since then, she focused on sales at her Berkeley Square showroom and launched a new e-commerce site where she sells her higher-end line, Memphis, as well as a younger, lower-priced line of fine jewelry called Baby Memphis.
“In today’s world, having an online presence is completely indispensable. The response we had since the launch has been incredibly positive and we can tell by the number of views on all items that customers love to be able to have a look through our entire collections rather than edited selections by retailers,” said Getty, adding that pieces under 2,000 pounds by Baby Memphis tend to be purchased with greater ease online, while purchases of her main collections are usually made by placing an online enquiry and following up with a studio appointment. “Once the relationship is established, online shopping becomes easy for customers, as the trust is there.”
For Sophie Kahn and Bouchra Ezzahraoui, the founders of the New York-based fine jewelry label Aurate, selling directly to the consumer online was a way to democratize gold and introduce modern designs and ethically sourced materials at fair prices, in what has otherwise been a very traditional market.
Starting to sell on the site they launched in 2015, Kahn and Ezzahraoui have seen online sales multiply by 10 in the last year. For them, jewelry was a perfect fit for e-commerce.
“You don’t even need to fit the majority of our items, with the exception of rings. It’s not like trousers, or shoes or a bra that are much harder to fit. Also, shipping-wise, jewelry lends itself really well to e-commerce. It’s so light that it doesn’t cost much and of course everything is insured,” said Kahn. “In the beginning we noticed customers getting anxious buying a $2,000 piece online, so we made sure everything’s insured, so there would be no risk for the customer. It works really well.”
When it came to gaining customers’ trust in making bigger purchases on their site, the founders said it all comes down to “educating the customer” and they have been working toward building their brand equity through storytelling.
“At the end of the day, it’s about quality and your rate of investment return — people should know how much gold is worth. Our market is so behind in terms of lack of education of the customer. We also have margins, but we don’t have crazy margins. Others have basically conditioned the customer to think they need to be paying those higher price points,” added Ezzahraoui.
In keeping with their mission to “empower the customer,” the label is working toward launching a new e-commerce site. “We’re changing the online experience completely with a web site that will feature more imagery, 360 videos and even customization. If the piece is yellow gold with black diamonds, you can make it rose gold and choose from an array of colors. It’s obviously our collection and our designs, but we are giving customers more freedom to play with [the product].”
The business’ rapid growth — it’s set to quadruple by the end of the year and the duo secured a $2.6 million investment in July — allowed Ezzahraoui and Kahn to build brick-and-mortar stores that complement their online business. Their first location was on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, while in the last two weeks they opened three more stores in Williamsburg in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., based on customer feedback derived from data on their site.
“The omnichannel customer is the most lucrative one. You see a lot of customers come to the store, having seen the ads online. Vice versa, if you open stores, you see a lot of online sales coming from the store’s territory; by opening in Washington, D.C., we see traffic pick up there,” added Kahn.