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Jewels from 2020 – Designing innovation

a speech by Beatriz Biagi

Jewellery trends evolve slowly. While other industrial sectors develop and adopt technological innovations quickly, the fine jewellery sector around the globe largely sticks to “same old” production and commercial procedures, feeling no urge to change. Cultural and security issues play a major role in both, keeping fine jewellery a priority for established customers and failing to address a growing number of potential customers.

Over the past 3 decades customer attitudes towards precious jewellery have not changed significantly for a large majority of rooted customers, for whom jewellery purchasing follows the cultural affinity matured over centuries and is essentially linked to special occasions, investment and heritage. This will most probably remain unvaried in the future, as long as the precious materials used are considered highly valuable. And as long as this customer segment remains big enough to justify keeping business practices unvaried. However, there are enough trend indicators showing that expectations are different for a growing number of clients and that what jewellery and luxury products represent will change over the next decades.

During the last 15 years it has become evident that the two major factors inducing a shift in our lives are Technology and Sustainability. We have observed new areas of opportunity being addressed often by newcomers and start-ups also in the fine jewellery scenario.  Precious wearable technologies, medical and communication devices, digital marketplaces and on-demand productions have steadily grown, bringing innovation into the international jewellery scenario.

As predicted in 2006, Sustainability has permeated across all products and is becoming a mainstream trend, as environmental and ethical awareness persistently grows. Although ethical correctness rises operation costs, there is ground to believe that customers will be willing to pay a premium for transparency and sustainability in jewellery or rather spend their disposable income in products and services of brands that adopt and can guarantee best practices. Putting sustainability as a priority by clients is a still quite irrelevant purchasing attitude in the jewellery business, but will gain importance in the years to come.

It is clear that in a luxury business based on gems and metals, environmental sustainability and ethical issues are not necessarily embedded in the system. Nevertheless, many companies are embracing the urge to protect the sources of the materials used, specially when talking about gems produced by living organisms, and to protect all persons involved in the process of extracting materials and transforming them at all stages, up to the production of fine jewellery or other luxury products.

For sure the jewellery sector is starting to adapt to today’s reality. In the past years we have seen a rise in online purchasing, as well as digital communication and client engagement.

We are seeing more significant efforts of businesses and brands to implement ethically correct procedures throughout the trade, aligning to voluntary standards and certifications.

On the other hand, experiential purchasing is gaining importance among young generations against purchases driven by investment or by attachment to traditions. These changes of attitudes and expectations towards fine jewellery in young generations will affect our sector differently, depending on the cultural environment of customers and their degree of affinity and attachment towards precious jewellery.

Today more than ever products and brands are successful if their stories are opportunely conveyed. In the past fine jewellery didn’t need to be supported by any communication or promotional activities. It literally sold just because it existed, as a large part of the population was culturally attached to what fine jewellery and precious metals meant. This is still the case for a large number of customers, especially in rural areas in Asia and among mature generations.

But as customers adopt a more metropolitan and global lifestyle, they lose the emotional connection towards fine jewellery. As customers become younger and more digitalised, they tend not to follow customs and habits dictated by traditional rituals as their parents and grandparents did. They start investing their time and resources in emotional products and experiences that satisfy their personal and needs and individual desires.

We are not talking about an ephemeral style trend. Any jewellery company that wants to be successful in the next decades needs to approach innovation by implementing a coordinated project that addresses design, product development and marketing. It is time to fully understand that it is not by using ideas of internship design students or by launching an Instagram influencer campaign, that we will build competitivity in the mid-term.

The development of successful proposals requires in the first place a correct problem setting and I would like to focus on that today. There are some fundamental questions to be answered regarding why somebody would want to buy our products and how. We have to understand the decision process involved in any successful product purchase and define the spectrum of possible paths to ideally pursue the best match between what we can offer and what our clients require.

Who decides for the style of the jewellery piece and who for the budget to be spent or invested? Very often these decisions are made by two (or more) persons independently, who nevertheless have to be sure they make the right choice even not directly confronting themselves with what the other person decides, but relying on the jeweller’s recommendations.

For which occasion will my product be purchased? A different story will be told if the jewellery piece is proposed for an anniversary, an engagement or a wedding, for a religious festival or festivity, for Valentine’s day or Mother’s day, as a treat or just for fun.

Who will purchase the product, where and how? A complete different set of values and buying attitudes need to be taken in consideration if the proposed jewellery will be self-purchased or bought as a gift, and if it will be bought by a woman or a man. This is the case also while analysing the purchasing process when bridal jewellery is at stake. For example, we can observe a complete different scenario selling a wedding set in India, rather than an engagement ring in the US. Furthermore, we need to understand the attitudes and expectations of those who will wear the jewellery pieces, their lifestyles, concerns and interests. And last but not least, we need to learn to communicate and engage with our clients addressing barriers we are already facing now, such as misinformation, false and counterfeited products or lack of trust.

But most importantly, we need to understand and attract our potential clients. Potential clients are by definition non-existing clients and actually we need to get to know them as accurate as possible, even before we start communicating with them. This segment represents the most difficult target, needing more resources invested for often uncertain returns. Our potential clients nowadays are represented mainly by young millennials and the youngest incoming gen-Z customers in metropolitan areas. Many consumer surveys show these young potential customers have different purchasing behaviours as precedent generations, due to the fact that they rely on digital technologies for every aspect of their lives.

This means for example, they will seek information and feedback from other customers on the net, rather than going to physical stores or ask advise form their families or close friends. Relying on digital technologies also means they demand immediate and personalised proposals, easy purchasing and hassle-free returns and product changes. They need to feel good about their choices, even if decisions might seem casual or thoughtless. It means they no longer keep long-term fidelity towards brands and can spontaneously change their minds. 

Digital technologies are in fact provoking a process of dematerialisation in every aspect of our lives. The meaning of wealth and luxury will inevitably continue to evolve, provoking a shift in the value perception of precious materials. Sustainability and ethical issues are being placed by the general public into the top of the value scale, which leads to questioning the need of using precious metals and natural gems in the first place. The idea of luxury itself is changing, in a world in which basic elements such as clean water, time and peace are to become the most-sought treasures. It becomes clear that in a longer term, the value perception of precious jewellery will no longer be as we know it today and that we need to start taking action to be able to satisfy our future clients.

Each company needs to understand which functions and services will be sought for by their potential client segment, which materials and products and will be accepted and which procedures must be put in place to be coherent. It is crucial to fully understand which message needs to be conveyed  today and what kind of stories brands and products will have to tell in the future, in order to change, not losing any of the existing strengths but rather strengthening the growing potential.

In any case the jewellery sector needs to seriously invest resources not only thinking which products will sell, but also which services and emotions should be accordingly offered. There are many positive attitudes linked to jewellery purchasing, that should no longer be taken for granted, but consciously processed to be built upon.

We should ask ourselves as jewellery makers and sellers which positive experiences do we evoke and can we provoke? To whom? We should understand what it means that our jewellery will represent a valuable treasure for a bride or will become a style statement for the wearer. What it takes to be seen and chosen with the help of a family jeweller or proposed by a recognised brand. How precious materials can become luxury accessories, personal communication or medical devices, religious or status symbols and how these bring security and happiness.

The role of precious jewellery is deeply embedded in human nature, and it will continue to be so, as long as it evolves into the shapes, symbols and functions clients look for. 

The positive elements that precious jewellery is capable of arousing in the pubic represent the most convincing source for competitivity and as such, need to  be wisely addressed and communicated. These represent the solid foundations that will guide us throughout the next decade to generate a compelling business personality.