I don’t say this to panic you as a collector, designer or dealer because change (however painful) is the lifeblood of innovation but those of you hoping to go back to normal once a vaccine is found will be sorely disappointed. The good news is that jewellery as adornment and a store of wealth goes back thousands of years and will continue to be so long after this crisis has passed. From the ashes of the world economy, those adaptable and agile enough to try original ways of marketing themselves and selling the dream that is jewellery will access previously unknown income streams and markets.
Digital technology will be central to this new world, as will intelligent and meaningful design. Sticking a few diamonds into a traditional setting will become more difficult as the big fashion brands muscle into the fine jewellery market. That local high Street jeweller, once the industry majority are now an endangered species as branding has and will become more important. Only India still has the all-powerful family jeweller and even that tradition will be challenged as younger buyers become seduced by brands like Gucci, Chanel and Dior. Digital giant Amazon now has thousands of lines of fine jewellery and while the design is generic, jewellers at the lower end of the market will have to fight to survive.
So what can you do? Well firstly it’s important to understand that there are opportunities for new collaborations but that liquidity is key. Those businesses with heavy debt, high overheads and a few big clients will struggle. Secondly, invest in your social media and digital channels and thirdly prepare for a deep and lasting recession. Collectors should look to up-and-coming designers and sell at auction, dealers should concentrate on unusual pieces and stones with history. It’s a great time to be alive because a leap in creativity is coming, dragging the next era in jewellery design behind it. The trick is to survive long enough to see it!
Here are some key trends on the horizon:
1. An acceleration of online sales. Christies have reported that jewellery has been their top category for online-only sales in 2020 pushing their value threshold beyond the $1M estimate for the first time. They have created a new online viewing room to meet demand. Brands who were dragging their feet thinking that jewellery as a visual medium could only truly be experienced in person have underestimated the global appetite for online shopping. Mobile first sales will escalate beyond the pandemic.
2. Jewellery advertising campaigns (like the Bulgari campaign above) promoting new collections have plummeted due to store closures and the shuttering of production and this will take months if not years to recover. In the meantime bloggers and influencers will have to find new income channels and the brands innovative ways to market themselves.
3. Diamonds will become cheaper due to a market surplus and sluggish sales in what will be an L-shaped recession. An L-shaped recession is characterised by a severe drop in growth followed by a long and deep retraction. The diamond industry will have to reinvent itself along the lines of the De Beers ‘A diamond is forever’ campaign and create a new global marketing strategy to reignite desire.
4. New cheaper non-traditional materials will be used in the design of jewellery as smaller designers struggle to invest in the traditional gold and diamonds. Creativity will leap as designers are freed from traditional ways of seeing and the concept of value is reimagined. In recent years independents have married non-precious materials like titanium, iron, steel and rubber with important gemstones but now we will see some pioneers move beyond precious stones altogether.
5. Sustainability will rival digital for its importance in the jewellery industry. There will come a time when untraceable stones and gold which is not Fair Trade or ethical will be harder to sell but that also dependents on the ethical jewellery bodies forming one singular overarching vocal lobby. Also top design talent using ethical materials in their work.
6. More artists will make jewellery and more jewellers will make art. The hierarchy we accept today of fine art and decorative art will cease to matter as creativity surges.
7. Lab created stones will become cheaper and some very talented jewellers will use them but it will take a long time for them to be accepted in high jewellery at the top end of design because collectors like the history traditional stones.
8. Global fashion brands will produce fine jewellery collections in greater numbers with more artistry, polarising the industry so that local jewellers will face stiffer competition in the middle price points.
9. Auction prices for signed jewellery will continue to escalate despite the recession as collectors and investors take refuge in gold and important stones.
10. Africa will be the place to watch for new talent.
Creativity can only prosper from the industry changes and challenges on the horizon. Rich people are still rich and the aspiring middle classes still want to treat themselves. One thing is for sure, the desire for jewellery may ebb and flow but its enduring appeal as a symbol of love and prosperity will endure.
Images from top to bottom
Model Julia Stegner in an ad campaign for Bvlgari.
A spectacular diamond ring of 28.86 Carats – D colour, VVS1 clarity, Type IIa. Estimate: $1,000,000-$2,000,000. The highest valued lot currently ever offered in an online-only sale at Christie’s.
Man Ray Swan twist earrings in recycled silver by Ute Decker.