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Articles from CHARMS (270 Articles), BEAD JEWELLERY (132 Articles)










 

A charmed future?

Charms and beads have revitalised the Australian jewellery industry, but has the market hit saturation point? Jacquie Byron finds out, and asks what’s next.

If there’s one thing to be said about any fashion craze, it’s that it can’t last forever. No matter how big it gets, what goes up must come down – right? So when the charm trend hit Australian shores a few years ago and became a cash cow for retailers across the country, it didn’t take long for people to start asking when it might come to an end.

But the charms market has grown and grown. In many ways, it has transformed the jewellery industry and changed the way consumers buy, wear and collect jewellery.

The category’s longevity has shown that charms are not so much a fashion ‘fad’ or ‘craze’, but a significant trend. For retailers, increasing traffic through stores and providing the opportunity to forge relationships with customers are the biggest gifts the charm category has delivered.

Certainly, some retailers in Australia report that sales of charms appear to have peaked. Andrew Nock, general manager of merchandising and marketing for Angus & Coote, says the retail chain’s charm business “hit its height in the financial year of 2008/2009 and has slowly declined in 2010”.

Nock doesn’t believe this is because of any substantial decline in demand though. “I think there will always be a demand for charms,” he says. But he reasons that the trend “can’t go on as strongly as it has forever”, pointing out that once the demand for starter bracelets has been sated, the pool of products shoppers might go for will naturally shrink.

He explains, “We noticed a slowing of the bead business when we saw a slowing of the number of starter bracelets being bought... This meant that bead sales were coming from existing bracelet owners and there was a reduction of new customers to the bead business.”

Another important issue, according to Nock, is that the market has become so crowded. “There are a number of brands on the market now and it is a very competitive area,” he says.

James Temelli from Temelli Jewellery has witnessed a similar sales pattern to Angus & Coote in his stores. He believes there was a boom in beaded charm bracelets two years ago, but says that “in the last year it has dropped by at least 10 per cent, possibly even 20 per cent for some of the beaded jewellery brands”.

Like Nock, he believes that any slowing of the market can largely be attributed to the proliferation of both brands and stockists. “I think the trend is starting to reach saturation due to the number of brands being offered and the number of stockists in each region – or even shopping centre,” he observes.

“It’s the law of diminishing returns,” says Kevin Murray, curator, writer and adjunct professor at RMIT. Murray has also conducted extensive research into the history of charms and their recent revival. “I think saturation point has been reached because the marketing has been so successful. There is more and more on offer, so less to go around,” he says.

Even if the market has slowed, it certainly hasn’t stalled completely. Gary Ching from Joyce Jewellery, in Haymarket and Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building, maintains that “the charm factor hasn’t lost its appeal yet”. However, he says he relies on new seasonal items being released to appease his existing clientele. “But the slice of the pie will get smaller and smaller if these brands open more boutique and retail outlets,” Ching complains.

He says, “We will have to focus on customer service and loyalty to sustain that market.  My only concern is, when it does wane, retailers will start discounting heavily and the brands will lose integrity and appeal.”

If there is any change in the demand for charms, Pandora managing director Karin Adcock says the growth of an increasingly savvy customer is partly the cause. Like Ching, she says service will be key to maintaining consumer interest in this jewellery category.

“Customers are becoming more discerning about what and how they buy. People are looking for the top experience. They want to be served by informed staff, want all the proper beautiful wrapping and a nice brochure; things they’ve gotten used to with us and with the retailers that have embraced the branded experience,” she explains.  

So maybe it’s not that demand for charm jewellery is down but that demand for service and branding is up? Adcock clearly believes that Pandora and certain retailers have created a level of expectation that, if not met, can lead to a drop in business.

 

Melinda Benecke, who deals in the Italian-designed side of the business, agrees with Adcock’s assertion that consumers have become more savvy and selective in their purchasing – a shift that she puts down to the global struggle with recession. “We’re seeing the same consumer response all over the world – with the effect of the current economic climate people want to know more about what they are buying,” says Benecke, who manages Nomination jewellery for Oro Collections.

Nomination
Nomination

“They not only need to fall in love with the product but they will check the quality of the product and the price tag very carefully. Every purchase has become more important so they are choosing how to spend their money very carefully,” she adds.

This “quality” that Benecke talks of is likely to become increasingly key for retailers. Angus & Coote might be finding sales are down, but the retail chain has still introduced an exclusive Italian charm collection – Amore & Baci. Nock says this is “because of the brand’s quality”. “It is Italian, unlike most of the other brands that are coming out,” he explains. “The quality is superior and the use of Swarovski crystal is extensive. The brand is exclusive to us and includes a large range of charms as well as beads.”

Dean Parsons from Arctic Wolf, which distributes Chamilia charm and bead jewellery in Australia, says, “Chamilia believes there is room for growth and while the market may appear saturated it is still lucrative for those retailers who understand the concept fully and can create destinations, where the fans or new customers of the charms can shop easily and often.” A well-stocked store with knowledgeable staff “who understand the potential of this customer” is the key to success, he believes.

Parsons adds, “Is it the same as the heady days of the last few years? No – because the market has matured, economic conditions aren’t the same and many players jumped on the bandwagon. This is typical of any consumer category and as a market matures it rationalises and sorts the good brands from the ‘me toos’.”

But he is also adamant that quality and innovation will continue to keep consumers coming back to stores. “Those with attractive long-term propositions, who can innovate and deliver consistent quality, will survive and thrive in the shake-out phase which I believe we are starting to go through,” he explains.

Thomas Sabo, which has a broad charm offering, believes there is still growth to be had and Phil Edwards, managing director of the brand’s Australian distributor Duraflex, says its trading figures speak for themselves. “The Charm Club has remained a strong arm of the brand since its conception in 2004. We don’t believe the interest has peaked, and judging by our figures, consumers are still responding extremely positively to the collection.”

Having a long-term proposition is something that Thomas Sabo believes has insulated its retailers from market fluctuations. Edwards explains, “If you continually offer a high level of service and are willing to spend the time with your customers to familiarise them with the range, you will hang on to your more high-end sales long term.”

So if there is still demand for charms but the consumer market is changing, how is the charms industry changing with it?

Murray, who facilitated a workshop this year on the growing trend in jewellery product development for ‘storied objects’, likens the Pandora phenomenon to that of the iPhone. He says iPhone ‘apps’ have led people to want to fill their immediate space with little things of interest. “It’s individualism but from a mass-market selection.” He thinks jewellery can capitalise on the social connections people are after these days – “like Facebook”.

Murray cites Melbourne jeweller Phoebe Porter as one designer who has taken this idea of connection and developed it. Porter designs simple metal discs that can be attached to your clothing. “You choose them from a grid, knowing you’re part of a group; a special club. We’re exploring to what extent jewellery can express who you are,” he explains.

 

The bigger picture

Similarly, Anthea O’Connor, Melbourne editor of Vogue and a freelance stylist, believes that although the charm trend might have peaked, it has sparked a bigger consumer love affair with personalisation. “The personalisation aspect is what has really captured the interest of consumers and reignited interest in this jewellery,” she says. “There is still much room for those at the higher end of fashion jewellery to create signature styles and capitalise on demand for personalised pieces.

“Fiorina, in Melbourne, is a good example. She uses antique coins, Italian gold box  chains, skulls, tassels, etc, and her work is an example of high-end, charm related jewellery. Because everything is hand-chosen and no two pieces are the same, you can really choose something that suits your style. Or you can have a piece commissioned.

“I think the biggest positive outcome for jewellers, from the charm trend, is the consumer’s quest for individual style and expression. This is what jewellers should jump on now.”

Pastiche
Pastiche

Eryn Behan, director of Ginger Trend Consulting, also offers encouragement. “The charm trend is evolving as accessories continue to be treasured possessions that can record significant times in people’s lives,” she explains.

Despite advertising Pandora in fashion bibles such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, in Adcock’s mind the brand’s charms have not been such a success because of fashion anyway – but because they have made branded jewellery more accessible.

“We wanted Pandora to be desirable but achievable. When you look through the pages of those magazines few people can actually afford the items there. With Pandora you could spend $90 and build on this or spend $200 right away,” she explains. “We’ve become something people can aspire to.”

However, she does say it is important to keep customers “on board” through innovation.

Laurian Ryan from Pastiche – another brand that specialises in charm and bead jewellery – also believes you can’t put charms’ success down to fashion. “The move towards individuality, creativity and investing in jewellery that is meaningful is an enduring trend and cannot be outdated,” she insists. “Personalised and meaningful jewellery will always have a place in the industry.”

What’s next?

So the continued strength of charm and bead jewellery could rest on offering new and innovative products to customers and continuing to explore the desire to personalise jewellery looks.

One way in which the big charm brands seem to be unanimously moving forward is by offering a wider selection of customisable jewellery in their new collections.

Parsons, for example, believes recent innovations from Chamilia will indeed lead to a greater use of charms and beads. “During October we will launch our stunning new range of necklaces and earrings. Here we’re saying to women that you don’t have to ‘set and forget’ the collections on your bracelets... Our research tells us that, as women build their charm collection, they’re looking for alternative ways to wear them as jewellery.

“Our in-store displays, training, brochures and advertising have a strong emphasis on inspiration... This is critical in taking the consumer on the journey as they create their own pieces that suit their style,” he says.

Similarly, Pandora’s most recent product developments have expanded its personalised jewellery range beyond the traditional charm bracelet to rings and earrings. “We’re now offering a large range of jewellery like rings – ring-upon-ring where you can once again create your own look and wear different rings for different occasions – and we have a new earring concept where you can buy the hoop and add four or five attachments,” she says. “People say they started on the bracelet but have now moved to rings or earrings. Once you start you cannot stop. Pandora is something you collect.”

Thomas Sabo believes its continuing popularity is linked to the brand’s “versatility”. Edwards explains, “There are so many different ways to wear the charms – on silver or beaded bracelets, on leather, on necklaces or anklets – it’s an incredibly easy product to adapt.”

However, it also understands that innovation is key. This October, the brand will launch a new range – “Charm up your Diamond” – that will include diamond-studded charms, thus bringing more affordable luxury to its customers.

“At Pastiche we are working on our core range of silver and adding the same level of imagination and creativity as we have with our charm and Lovelinks ranges,” explains Ryan. “Currently we’re developing a range featuring interesting surface treatments and textures as well as many more custom designs. We’ve invested in developing our brand in a way that’s in keeping with the Pastiche concept: there is no substitute for beautiful jewellery.”

And perhaps that sums up just what will keep the industry moving forward: beautiful jewellery that inspires consumers to be creative in a personal way – whether it be with charms, beads or any other type of jewellery. In an increasingly competitive market, quality, service and innovation could be the differentiators between those companies and stores that flourish and those that find their business slowly shrinking.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jacquie Byron

Jacquie Byron discovered a love of pearl farms in Broome, truffle pasta in Vicenza and diamond tiaras in Hong Kong during her years as editor of what was then called Australian Jeweller magazine as well as her stint as launch editor of Jewel. Today she is a freelance journalist, editor (Get Creative magazine) and sometimes blogger. Visit: mrsunderhilldotcom.blogspot.com

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