Buying posh jewellery is a rite of passage for most people, involving set-piece events in their lives. And the retail experience often seems as timeless as the gems themselves. Shuffling round a department store counter or sitting primly in an anteroom somewhere in London’s Mayfair, you begin to feel you’re back in the 1950s.
But now some of the most venerable brands in the sector are bringing contemporary design to the high-end jewellery environment. Their aim is to attract younger, fashion-conscious consumers in the hope they will aspire to expensive jewellery in the same way as they would a Gucci handbag or a Versace belt.
Garrard, demerged from Asprey and under the creative direction of Jade Jagger, opened a London flagship in September, designed by Waldo Works’ Tom Bartlett (DW 15 August). Last week, De Beers LV unveiled The Partners-created identity that will support a De Beers-branded store, coming soon to London’s Old Bond Street (DW 10 October). Meanwhile, Dew Gibbons has designed the brand’s ‘visual personality’, including colour palette, website look-and-feel, packaging (with Sebastian Bergre) and a corporate pattern, billed as the equivalent of the Burberry check.
These are not the sort of places to buy your average engagement ring. With onyx table tops, satinwood-and-stainless-steel display cases and white lacquer wall finishes, the Garrard store is intended to convey the brand positioning of ‘classic avant-garde’.
Bartlett explains, ‘Retail is theatre and theatre means fantasy. The design is for people who have an opinion – who are confident enough not to be intimidated, who will feel comfortable here.’
This may be the right approach for the fashionistas. But tackling the sense of intimidation people can feel at upmarket jewellers is crucial in attracting a wider – though still affluent – audience.
The Partners managing partner Aziz Cami says De Beers LV’s strategy is to target high net worth individuals – ‘dollar millionaire households’ in terms of their disposable income – whose ‘self-directed attitude’ toward brands makes them demanding and knowledgeable consumers.
But even such savvy sophisticates can be daunted by the traditional jeweller’s image. ‘The issue is that these consumers are confident in one way, but insecure in another,’ Cami says. ‘They don’t like being ripped off. The heritage of a brand like De Beers is a guarantee of complete credibility.’
De Beers LV chief executive Alain Lorenzo adds, ‘High-end jewellery has not really kept up with new lifestyles and trends. A lot of the innovation is taking place in the world of costume jewellery instead. The high-end is still too often about designing formal pieces for special occasions.
‘The products don’t reflect people’s personalities and are difficult to match with the clothes women want to wear on a daily basis. There is none of the impulse and self-purchases that are found in other luxury segments like high-end fashion and shoes, even though these items often cost as much as diamond jewellery pieces,’ Lorenzo explains.
Cami adds, ‘All the brands we surveyed were seen to be fussy, over-sentimental and predictable to a greater or lesser extent. The obvious gap is for something more extrovert and exuberant that would break the mould, while retaining its authenticity.’
When top-end multiple Mappin & Webb undertook a management buyout in 1998, its aim was to re-establish its brand values to make it ‘relevant for today’, says MW Group marketing manager Julia Jackson.
Hosker Moore Kent Melia (then Hosker Moore & Kent) created a concept for Mappin & Webb’s Knightsbridge flagship store in London, which opened in November 2000. The revamp aimed to replace its ‘fuddy-duddy’ image with a revitalised and luxurious shopping environment, she says.
Technology also plays its part. Advances in lighting design suggest that pink and blue beams are more effective than plain white light for illuminating jewellery.
Garrard has added mobile phone rechargers and Internet access to its store, so that ‘boyfriends can keep themselves occupied while their girlfriends shop,’ according to marketing director Brad Harvey.
Reinventing the service ethic is common to all these revamps. As Cami explains, ‘Jewellery has a long lifecycle of purchase, it’s about relationship-building. People need to feel comfortable about buying items, as opposed to intimidated into buying them.’ Both Garrard and Mappin & Webb have stylish bars and discrete VIP areas in-store.
Bartlett adds, ‘Retail design should move away from formulaic solutions, while retaining a cohesive branding strategy. It has to become almost as personal as designing a home.’
Indeed, a key element of Garrard’s store design is its front door. The entrance is welcoming, says Harvey, to get over the ‘commitment issue’ people often feel before they cross the threshold of a traditional jeweller. Allowing them to look in before entering makes them more relaxed, he says.
With Boucheron shortly to relaunch under the creative guidance of Solange Azagury Partridge, what might be termed the ‘Burberry-fication’ of upmarket jewellery is gathering pace. The sector is clocking on to changing attitudes to luxury.
Cami says, ‘These brands haven’t embraced as many innovations as they could have done. They’ve rested on their historic reputations. But as with fashion brands – many of whom are active in the jewellery market – there’s a tremendous amount of rejuvenation happening.’
If the audience for high-end jewellery brands now extends from hip-hop artists to grand duchesses, as Bartlett puts it, there’s plenty of scope for designers to polish their appeal.