By Carla Caruso
The massive demand for personalised jewellery means consumers no longer want to fit in; they want to stand out. CARLA CARUSO reports.
Gone are the days when the biggest dilemma facing jewellery buyers was, "Which colour?"
Now, not only are there countless brands to choose from, there are also seemingly unlimited combinations available so shoppers can craft a product to meet their needs.
From customising mobile phones or car rear view mirrors with charms to purchasing virtual gifts to gloss up a Facebook account, the desire for personalisation seems to pervade everything. And the jewellery industry is no exception.
Perhaps it follows on from the trend of limited edition or highly exclusive items - say, brands dealing in such goods as high-end watches or coveted sneakers putting out small runs of 50 to 250 in a certain style or handbag devotees willing to put their name on a year-long waiting list for the latest "It" bag from Balenciaga or Prada (though it may end up selling out before the year is up).
Jewellery manufacturers are working harder than ever to create differentiation between their pieces and the other pieces on the shelves and personalisation is one way to do just that. Such personalisation includes subtle additions such as laser (and even photo) engraving on diamonds but nothing epitomises the thirst for individualism more than the rebirth of the mix-and-match charm bracelet - the abundance of interchangeable charm and bead brands now hitting the market has given wearers the opportunity to create one-off pieces by simply by choosing their own combinations.
The explosion of the charm trend has had such a huge impact over the past two years that many retailers are reporting vastly-improved revenue figures solely because of it. It follows that there are now more than 15 charm and bead distributors in Australia, each hawking their own variation on the successful formula.
Is the trend's rapid rise in popularity due to it being new and innovative? Perhaps it's just indicative of a social need to personalise and express individuality? Well, both are correct.
In Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail, management consultant John Hagel is quoted as saying: "The more we reflect on what we really want, the more involved we get in the creation of the goods we buy and use (via customisation). The more we participate in the creation of products and services, the more choices we end up creating for ourselves."
Ciara Ryan is marketing director for Pastiche, the distributor of Danish bead range Lovelinks. Ryan believes the desire for personalisation is a natural product of globalisation. "As a result of the increasingly-accessible global market - think Internet shopping - consumers now have access to an infinite scope of products," she says. "You don't have to travel to Mexico to buy a piece of Mexican jewellery; you just buy it online. So the market has adjusted by supplying the ultimate rarity - an entirely unique piece of jewellery."
The Lovelinks brand combines sterling silver links with brightly-coloured Murano glass beads. Some beads are plated in 22-carat gold, while others feature solid 14-carat inlays. Shoppers can choose between combinations, even matching with the smaller, more delicate Petite Lovelinks collection.
Another factor feeding the personalisation trend is its suitability in gift giving, according to Ryan. "There is a strong aspect of sentimental feeling associated with the buying process," she says. "A charm with a person's star sign or initial has personal value. Gifts are always more special when they are tailored to the receiver and, as a result, there's huge interest in these products."
The first name on most people's lips when you mention the charm trend is Pandora Jewellery. Created in Denmark, it arrived in Australia just over three years ago and is distributed by Brook and Karin Adcock. With more than 600 pendants to choose from - sterling silver and 14-carat gold decorative designs embellished with gems and Murano glass - wearers become do-it-yourself designers.
It's a selling point Pandora emphasises strongly in its marketing material, which shows how someone can a build their bracelet over time by adding pendants for different occasions - say, when they met their partner in Spain, received a gift from a best friend, or graduated from university.
The concept has spread like wildfire. As well as hundreds of stockists around Australia and New Zealand, Pandora Australia has just opened its first flagship store in Sydney's Queen Victoria Building, further demonstrating the concept's popularity.
Adcock believes the largest propeller of the personalised jewellery boom has been the brand itself, and that Pandora has created a domino effect on the whole accessories sector. "Pandora has breathed new life into the jewellery industry and it has brought customers back to the stores to browse. No-one normally browses in a jewellery store - it's too intimidating," Adcock says. "But Pandora has embraced customers in a whole new way and it has helped with other jewellery sales too. Local stores and the local community now have a rapport."
So, while a customer may have bought a Pandora product this time around, their next purchase could be a wedding ring!
While Pandora's target market is 25 to 39-year-old women, Adcock believes its popularity is admittedly more far-reaching, a factor that is also helping the trend along: "It is a brand that is appealing to all ages. We often have three generations looking at a window - a mother, a daughter and a granddaughter. Because the range is so wide, there really is something for everyone."
Given this general accessibility - charms hit a much wider audience than diamond-studded tennis bracelets, for example - Pandora is surprisingly exclusive in how its markets itself with campaigns running across the nation's top women's titles, including Harper's Bazaar, Shop Til You Drop, Madison and Cosmopolitan. "We do spend a lot of money on advertising," Adcock admits, "We believe it's important to get a strong brand-awareness out there."
The somewhat prestige positioning is similar to that taken by Bavarian pendant range Thomas Sabo Charm Club - just introduced into Australia.
Philip Edwards, director of Thomas Sabo distributor Duraflex, says his brand is also advertised in high-end glossies, including Vogue and In Style - even though the charms are priced to appeal to middle market consumers.
"When we spoke to our counterparts in Europe, we asked which brands they benchmarked themselves against," Edwards says. "We were expecting other charm brands, but they actually named Gucci, Prada and Tiffany and Co as the competition. Even though the range is sterling silver, it is seen as a high-quality, aspirational women's product in a brand sense."
Thomas Sabo, which can attach to anything from bracelets to earrings and mobile phone carriers via clasps, comprises 400 diverse pendants grouped into varying themes that employ freshwater pearls, semi-precious stones and crystals.
Hot for the new season is the Lucy and George range, revolving around a Hepburn-esque character known as Lucy, and her trusty pooch George. The cutesy collection comprises such charms as a lipstick, handbag, high heels, the Eiffel tower and a dog bowl and bone for her pooch.
The charms can be mixed and matched with pendants from other collections - such as the rock 'n' roll range with its turntable pendant and black cubic zirconia records.
Also a hit for the brand are its lengthy chain necklaces, from which any number of charms can be hung.
Edwards says Thomas Sabo has secured 50 stockists nationwide since launching here in August and it's a list that keeps growing. "Every girl associates with a charm straightaway - it's very interesting to watch what each gravitates towards," Edwards adds.
American brand Chamilia is another name that is relatively new in Australia. Sydney couple Robert and Christine Barry fought to bring the brand here - the Americans were in no hurry - but after a few short months, have also landed about 50 national stockists and recognition is growing.
"The feedback that we're getting is that people love the variety, the colours, the definition and the quality," Barry says.
Chamilia is not dissimilar to the other interchangeable charm bracelet and necklace brands in the market, except that it does have the Disney charm range, which means devotees can grab Tinkerbell and Nemo charms for everyday wear. Such childlike kitsch is emerging as a trend of its own - as Disney has shown with its own Disney Couture range - and Chamilia is reaping the benefits.
Barry says the trend means people can change their jewellery as often as their outfits: "People like the fact that they can go out at night and put on different beads to help accessorise the clothes they're wearing; nothing is fixed."
Another Danish brand prodding the market is Trollbeads, which has 200 different charms inspired by mythology to astrology, fairytales, fauna, flora, cultural diversity and everyday life. Trollbeads is said to be the first charm brand on the market, having 25 years up its sleeve - and Trollbeads' Lily Webber says it's a brand that continues to encourage people to be creative.
"We have recently confirmed this fact with our very successful Be Original concept on our website, where the doors have been opened to many new, creative Trollbeads people. Trollbeads fans can meet, be inspired in the spirit of Trollbeads and chat across oceans and borders. We believe in sharing ideas and giving the opportunity to be creative," she says
Yet another Danish brand, Spinning Jewellery's point of difference is stackable rings. It has more than 80 different rings to combine and interchange and also has interchangeable parts for necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
Andrew Arnott, who distributes Spinning Jewellery in Australia and New Zealand through Melbourne's Danish Modern, says a unique aspect of the brand is that shoppers can have a go at designing a piece online before they leave home. This means customers can design their own ring on the website, print it out and take it to the retailer or perhaps put it on their birthday wish list.
In-store, Spinning Jewellery's merchandising equipment is designed to make it easier for staff to deal with the itty-bitty nature of charms.
"One of our strong pieces is a ring cabinet - a box with 30 holes in the top to which the rings are attached by weighted chain," Arnott says. "Customers can pick up a ring, put it on their finger and try different combinations, but they can't walk out with it. For shop assistants, it means they don't have to worry about security and they also can be dealing with other customers at the same time."
One brand that has been ahead of the game in the personalisation trend is Nomination. The Italian label introduced a customisable aspect to traditional charm bracelets some two decades ago, with designer Paolo Gensini's composable bracelets. The wrist accessories are still sold today and comprise a series of links fashioned from stainless steel. Connected by spring-loaded mechanism, each segment can be filled (and replaced) with different decorative links. The brand also now has dog-tag necklaces that can be engraved for added individuality.
The Link-iT brand, distributed by Sydney wholesaler Jewellery Junction, has followed on from Nomination's composable bracelet, producing a low-end version for under $20. "We carried on from that trend and branched into the personalised-bling market - including crystal initial pendants and mobile phone charms - and that's proving to be quite large," operations manager Ed Lonnon says.
Link-iT also sells initial pendants for pet collars - particularly for pampered pooches - and mix 'n' match bead jewellery kits.
The desire today to express a little personality through fashion is a strong one with shoppers generally keen to embrace the innovative trend. But the charm phenomenon also appears to be an indication of a society's need to express itself beyond one's initials or an engraved message.
With the internet opening up stores to the entire world, consumers now have more opportunities to be interactive and creative with what they buy. And when it comes to jewellery, it's a highly personal matter. Perhaps New York Times columnist Virginia Postrel put it best when writing about the value of the personalised purchase: "They help us to be ourselves."
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This fun, inexpensive fashionable jewellery brand has jumped on the personalisation trend with interchangeable stainless steel link bracelets, pet charms for pampered pooches, mobile phone charms, bag charms, mix 'n' match bead jewellery kits and crystal initial pendants.
The American brand uses sterling silver and 14-carat gold in beads that are twisted onto bracelets and necklaces and secured with decorative locks. Other materials used in the range include leather, Swarovski crystal and Murano glass. Chamilia also has an exclusive range of Disney charms in all popular characters.
In 1987, Italian brand Nomination created the world's first composable bracelet, comprising a series of links that could be interchanged to create a one-off piece for each wearer. It was dubbed "an absolute innovation in the jewellery world" at the time and immediately became a must-have accessory. The brand also now has dog-tag necklaces that can be personalised through engraving.
Each bead in this Danish brand takes inspiration from mythology, astrology, fairytales, fauna, flora, cultural diversity and everyday life. The beads are made from sterling silver, 18-carat gold, Murano glass, natural pearl and precious gemstone, with original models typically created in hard modelling wax and finished in metal.
Lovelinks by Pastiche
A Danish brand comprising a collection of sterling silver, gold, gold-plated and Murano glass beads that fit over a flexible sterling silver bracelet or necklace. Each link has a unique fused-rubber core that slides on easily. Both bracelets and necklaces feature evenly-spaced pods that function as stoppers when links are positioned directly over them. This creates the option for varied designs and colour combinations.
Spinning Jewellery by Danish Modern
This Danish brand comprises rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings for women who don't believe in comprising their personal style. Forget middle-of-the-road items, Spinning Jewellery has more than 80 different rings to combine and interchange - something for every style, mood and occasion. There are also more than 80 different pendants for necklaces and bracelets, as well a range of interchangeable parts for earrings.
Thomas Sabo by Duraflex
The Bavarian brand has launched its own Charm Club, which comprises more than 400 sterling silver charms that attach to various carriers (including bracelets and earrings) via clasps. There are different themes such as Asian, Rock 'n' roll and Beachy and materials include freshwater pearls, semi-precious stones and crystals.
A Danish brand that has led a heavy assault on the Australian marketplace with its interchangeable charm/bead bracelets and necklaces. More than 600 beads and charms are available in the range, which has recently been extended to include stackable rings and matching jewellery sets to complement the pendants.
Denmark's charm: charms and their origin
The act of charm-wearing goes as back as far as the Stone Age when primitive man would pick up a unique stone or piece of wood and don it to ward off enemies.
Thousands of years on, more elaborate jewellery, using precious stones and metals, was worn in Ancient Egypt, marking the first recognisable charm bracelets and necklaces. These were used for identification and for faith and luck.
Today, however, it is Denmark that has cornered the market in modern-day charms, akin to the way the Swiss and watches are synonymous.
And, it is no real surprise. Industrial design, furniture and artfully-crafted objects have always been one of the northern European country's biggest exports. Since the "golden age" of the 1950s, Danish designers have been making waves worldwide.
Thomas Dickson, author of Dansk Design, says the success of Danish design can be explained by its "playfulness". "The Danish twist on things involves a simplification, but without making things vulgar or cold," Dickson said.
It is little wonder that the Danes then have been able to take the modern interchangeable charm trend and propel it into the stratosphere.
Danish brand Pandora Jewellery has had a foothold in Northern Europe since 2002 and is one of the most successful jewellery businesses of its type to date - its pieces made from sterling silver and 14-carat gold and handcrafted with interchangeable charms such as precious stones and cultured pearls. In the UK, Pandora is considered the most successful brand in the European charm bracelet arena.
Other Danish brands on the market include Lovelinks, Trollbeads and Spinning Jewellery.
The interchangeable charm trend is as functional as Danish design in itself, appealing to a diverse customer base due to the wide range of beads available, varying in price from under $10 to several hundred dollars each. Now that's a functional marketplace.
Posted August 16, 2009