In a retail environment where nearly everything is mass-produced, there are few categories where consumers can find something different, let alone products they can help design to suit their own tastes and styles.
The rise of branded products has cast a shawl of sameness across most consumer choices, which is understandable for products that have a particular function or a task to complete but less so when it concerns something decorative like jewellery.
Another way local jewellers are distinguishing themselves is through custom-designed and personally-made jewellery. Demand for this has been on the rise in recent years due to technological advancements that allow for even greater design control.Ironically, advancements in technology are bringing customers back to local stores in search of custom-designed and personally-made jewellery.
“I have the same phone as almost everyone, the same car, same blue jeans, that guy’s shirt, the haircut some league player started, and a Facebook profile,” says James Anson, managing director of Queensland’s Anson Jewellers. “The opportunity to own something specially made for you is very rare.”
Anson believes people still value tradition. “Little of what we have in our possession is unique to us; the majority is mass produced and everyone has it. A custom jewellery treasure allows you the ability to own and enjoy the only one of its kind in the world,” he adds.
Angelo Andronis, a Queensland jewellery designer, says custom design has always been popular.
“Branded product will always have a place in the market, but jewellery is most often sentimental in some way or another. It might be an engagement ring or a gift, and if it is personalised, it makes the piece even more valuable to the wearer,” he says.
James Thredgold agrees that people are looking for something special. His Adelaide-based two-store business, James Thredgold Jewellers, first opened in 1997.“I think the general consumer is looking for a point of difference when purchasing jewellery and custom-made is the only way you will achieve this. Chain stores and even the large fashion houses like Tiffany may have hundreds of each style in different sizes but they are still mass produced.”
The desire to invest personal elements into a piece of jewellery one hopes will be a lifelong possession is what differentiates this sector from others; however, Peter W Beck marketing manager Laura Sawade makes the point that personalised and custom-made jewellery can mean two different things.
“Personalised jewellery can come in many forms and even a ‘standard’ product that many different people can own can still be personalised by adding an engraved name or a different coloured stone,” she explains.
“However, custom-made jewellery is the ultimate personalised design because customers can be involved in the entire design process and their piece of jewellery is like no one else’s in the world.”Andrew Cochineas, managing director of Sydney’s Pallion, says this ability to closely involve customers in the design process from beginning to end gives jewellers a unique edge and shoppers greater ownership of the end product.
“The ability to tailor the item to suit the customer’s personal needs and tastes through computer-aided design (CAD) techniques, and for them to feel involved in the process is heavily influencing purchasing behaviour,” Cochineas says. “Added to this, the emotive side of owning your very own one-of-a-kind ‘bespoke’ piece – which the luxury sector champions – has become key.”
Chemgold director Larry Sher believes the bridal market is also driving the resurgence of bespoke design.
“It’s becoming more popular, especially with the engagement and wedding ring market, because customers want to be more involved in the process of creating a unique and personalised piece of jewellery that will be with them for life,” he says.
Sher adds that improvements in CAD software, which jewellers are increasingly adopting, means the custom-made approach has become a lot more economical both in cost and turnaround time.
There is no doubt that improvements in technology, especially CAD/CAM and 3D printing, have been drivers of a shift towards more custom-made designs. These advancements not only make it easier for consumers to get involved but drop the manufacturing cost, meaning jewellers can offer a unique product for similar prices to off-the-shelf jewellery.Craig Long, director of Sydney-based Pure Casting, also says advancements in casting and design technology have led to large improvements in turnaround times for custom-made jewellery, which is another strong selling point available to jewellers.
“Advances in casting and design technology and also CAD/CAM can give the customer a more detailed product for less cost. The 10 hours of labour to hand- make a piece can’t compete with two hours using CAD,” Long states.
Ben Farago has no doubts: “CAD/CAM is probably the biggest reason for a resurgence in custom-made jewellery.”
As production manager at Rapid Prototyping, Farago is standing at the coalface every day.
“CAD has made it more cost effective for jewellers to produce one-off custom designs, which means their customers can get a unique piece made for close to the same price of buying something mass produced. With the aid of CAD/CAM, jewellers have the opportunity to bring small-scale custom manufacture back under their own roof.”
Interestingly, Long puts another slant on the topic, suggesting the move towards custom-made is driven not by consumer demand but by how little mass manufacture currently occurs in Australia.“I don’t know if custom-made is experiencing a resurgence because I think that is all we do in this country now. I used to do a lot of mass production years ago but all jewellery manufacturing seems to be going out of the country, so I think custom-made has become something of a staple in the industry,” he says.
Anson says consumers are becoming more appreciative of quality and that the custom-made trend will continue. As a result, he urges jewellers to promote their passion for jewellery making to consumers.
“I think mass production may have cut its last corner for some, and people are now looking for things to enjoy longer than the warranty period,” he explains. “Knowing that someone passionate about his or her work has custom-made something for you is very special. Custom-made jewellery is one of the few lifetime treasures that we can desire.”
There’s an industry-wide recognition that today’s jewellery consumers fall into two types – those looking for mass-produced, branded ranges usually sold by the chains; and those looking for something different or more personalised.
It is this latter demographic that is opening the doors for smaller manufacturing jewellery businesses. Such opportunities will be a boon for jewellers who embrace this emerging trend.