In February 2014, Jeweller ignited a great debate when the magazine asked people from all walks of the industry to define personalised jewellery. What is it? What products fall under it?
The result was – perhaps not surprisingly – inconclusive. Personalised jewellery may mean a pendant necklace with a name or monogram to one person and a customisable bracelet with interchangeable elements to another.
While a definitive answer might not have been reached, the discussion did highlight two important points: firstly, this is a category with a complex nature that extends far beyond those high-profile charms and beads; and secondly, the passion expressed by those involved is surely a good indicator of the important role that the category plays in the industry.
Which leads to the matter at hand, one year on... In an increasingly competitive environment, what personalised jewellery options are available to help retailers satisfy the consumer’s unrelenting thirst to put their own ‘unique stamp’ on a jewellery piece and, at the same time, help those retailers to create a unique selling proposition (USP) that differentiates their store from another?
The answer may lie in an old-school technique that is gaining traction once more – engraving. Dating back to somewhere near the beginning of the first millennium BC, engraving is a service many jewellery stores have in their portfolio.
Whether it involves inscribing names, dates, phrases or fingerprints, suppliers are upping the ante in the engraving stakes, promising to deliver an effective solution for on-trend pieces that put the technique front and centre.
Homage Personalised Jewellery is an example of one business that has been developed with this premise in mind. The supplier’s offering consists of a range of silver and gold jewellery pieces that can be customised with names, phrases, dates or messages inscribed in block lettering. Homage director Adam Young believes the renewed focus on individualising jewellery via engraving has largely been driven by technical innovation.
“Laser engraving has come a very long way in the last few years and now 3D printing looks to be the ‘next big thing’,” he says, adding that hand stamping is fast becoming the hallmark of cheap, personalised jewellery more likely to be found in weekend markets and online stores than in fine jewellery stores.
According to Young, modern technology has also paved the way for efficient processes: “It is a common misconception that personalised jewellery takes weeks to customise and deliver. While this can be the case for hand stamping, where the delay can be the result of product demand along with the time taken to personalise the product, we use technology to move product faster than ever before.”
Jewellers might have their own in-house engraving and CAD capabilities but Young says retailers carry the Homage offering because it has the scale to produce pieces faster and often at a more competitive rate than they would themselves. “It means that the jewellery retailer can focus on their core business of jewellery sales and jewellery design instead of fiddling with cut-out templates, finishing and engraving the final product, with all the attendant risks.” He adds that consumers can expect to receive customised pieces within the same week of placing an order in store.
What’s more, personalised jewellery is proving to be an effective USP for independent retailers, helping to give them a point of difference from their independent, chain and online competitors.
Barry Urquhart is the managing director for consulting business Marketing Focus and a strong advocate of the philosophy: “It is better to be different than it is to be better.” He says that retailers who offer personalisation and customisation “inevitably differentiate three sound building blocks for growth: improved profit margins; enhanced customer satisfaction; and heightened loyalty”.
Specifically, Urquhart explains that a product incorporating engraving lends itself to storytelling, a useful selling technique for retailers.
“The appeal, presence and advantaged positioning of branded products like Uberkate are enhanced with customisation. Professional, attractive and ongoing engraving is a talking point for the owners. Subliminally, people revel in the ability to ‘tell the story’ about their recent purchases. We are all storytellers.”
Uberkate, a brand that has become almost synonymous with the type of jewellery in question, is currently experimenting with new technology, according to founder Kate Sutton.
“Modern techniques are not necessarily easier; there’s still plenty of training required and it takes a similar amount of time to make a piece, “ she explains.
“What they do offer, however, is the chance to bring imagination to life. That’s what we’ve done with our newest concept, Your Script.”
Launched in October 2014, the Your Script service allows for an exact replica of a handwritten message to be engraved onto a jewellery piece. The process uses a combination of computer scanning and laser, and Sutton says it is the first of its kind in Australia. She adds that new designs have been introduced to complement the service, which often requires more surface area than regular engraving to accommodate the customer’s own handwriting.
It’s factors such as this increase in design options that are helping to generate interest, according to Gracie Muscat, manager of NSW-based jewellery store Something Special Jewellery.
“The engraving of jewellery has been around for a long time, although the demand for this has increased of late and it is nice to see that the options and the choice of styles have increased. It has gained momentum as people see it in the media and on others, making it a ‘must have,’” she explains.
Something Special Jewellery has been carrying Uberkate for three years and Muscat says that customers “really like having something unique that no-one else has, with the personalisation of names or messages. Customers will often spend more to get that something personal.”
Similarly, John Wohler of John Wohlers Jewellers in Victoria says of products like Homage, “Customers loved the idea of having family names/dates/messages on a piece of jewellery that had meaning to that person.”
When asked why demand is increasing, Wohler perhaps hits the nail on the head: “The increase in demand is because this type of jewellery focuses on the engraving of names/dates as the feature piece, while in previous years the engraving may have been on the back of a locket, where the locket was the feature piece.”
Need further proof of the expanding opportunities within this market? Look no further than suppliers who do not specialise in this type of personalised jewellery but have nevertheless expanded their collections and introduced new ranges in order to cater for demand.
Pastiche founder and director Barbara Hastings says the desire among consumers to be able to add their own touch and creativity to jewellery has increased so much that many of the pieces in the supplier’s collection have been designed in-house specifically for engraving.
“We find sterling silver and stainless steel are the best materials suited for engraving. Styles with a smooth, flat surface show the best results,” Hastings explains, adding that while Pastiche doesn’t currently offer an engraving service, retailers may be able to arrange for engraving by request.
A rise in popularity was also the motivation for the release of Twin Plaza Metals’ Names & Co collection, launched in October 2014.
“Evidence has shown that personalised jewellery is gaining huge momentum. The introduction of the Names & Co pendant collection was designed especially to expand on our already existing personalised pendants,” Twin Plaza managing director Victor Donovic says of the range that comprises a combination of nameplate and disc pendants combined with laser engraving.
According to Donovic, this laser technology has also afforded the supplier the capacity to offer what he calls “fingerprint jewellery”. As the name suggests, the service involves the laser engraving of a genuine fingerprint onto pieces like identity tags, pendants and wedding rings.
It doesn’t get much more personal than a fingerprint and Donovic says it’s a service that provides opportunities for retailers to preserve profit margin, given that it is harder for consumers to comparison shop.
Everyone wants a piece of the pie
There’s no denying that competition is heating up within the engravable personalised jewellery space.
“Over the past year there has definitely been a growth in demand from consumers and also new companies entering the personalised jewellery space,” Sutton says. “What is interesting, however, is that the new entrants to the category aren’t necessarily doing anything that is different. There is a lot of very similar product that doesn’t give the consumer the choice that they want. There is a danger that all the different brands will become ubiquitous, which is exactly the opposite of what personalised jewellery is all about.”
Kath Brushfield is a manufacturing jeweller who operates The Jewel Shop, a business specialising in personalised name pendants, charms and necklaces. She too raises concerns about competition.
“The market for these items is still growing rapidly but it is hindered largely by unqualified people making pieces from home using poor-quality products that can easily be purchased overseas,” she says. “As a professional, this is a little disappointing because supplying quality product is primarily better for our industry and certainly better for the customer as well.”
Young believes the answer lies in education: “I also believe that retailers of personalised jewellery will continue to face pressure from cheap online offerings and non-traditional retailers such as newsagencies, who are finding that they have to diversify into new product ranges in order to survive,” he says. “This means jewellery retailers and their consultants need to be more fully educated about the alternatives available and why it is important to purchase the highest quality one can afford.”
As for how this type of jewellery will advance in the future, Young says that while the product ranges might not evolve greatly, the methodologies for selling and displaying them will.
“Computer applications (apps) that show customers what their final piece will look like before manufacture will soon be available,” he explains, ”and retailers who have in-store capabilities to use these applications – whether it’s on an iPad, tablet or customer accessible computer – will prosper in this environment and make more sales.”
Brushfield is a little more philosophical: “With technology and jewellers’ craftsmanship, the design possibilities for this product is limitless. I do actually believe that the family-inspired designs will certainly become heirloom, timeless pieces. For instance, just as everybody who will get married must have an engagement or a wedding ring, I believe everybody with loved ones, family and children will have a family memento.”
The idea that engraved mementos could become as ubiquitous as engagement rings must be music to retailers’ ears. In fact, they should probably get it in writing ... preferably engraved.