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Image: Rae & Edward Fingerprint Jewellery
Image: Rae & Edward Fingerprint Jewellery

Invading the personal space

The personalised jewellery category has cemented itself within the industry, but as Emily Mobbs finds, conflicting views exist regarding what jewellery items should be included in this group.
In 1914, Henry Ford implemented his now legendary “any colour so long as it is black” policy. The founder of Ford Motor Company reportedly suggested the use of black paint exclusively for the company’s Model T automobile due to its cheap cost and durability. Back then, successful retailing and manufacturing was predicated on efficient production lines and mass-produced goods rather than consumer demand. How times have changed! 
 
It would be rare for this business model to cut it with modern-day consumers, as the desire for personalisation seems to pervade everything from smartphone cases, ringtones, numberplates, sporting goods and even muesli. The jewellery industry is no exception.
While there once was a time when all jewellery was considered ”personalised” because every piece was custom-made for the purchaser, the industry has evolved greatly and is now much more complex. It could today be argued that the term ”personalised” is perceived very differently by the industry, something that may be owing to the successful marketing strategies of particular jewellery brands. 
 
There’s no denying that the success of international charm and bead brands like Pandora, Thomas Sabo and Trollbeads have helped to make personalised jewellery a category in its own right. Jeweller first began grouping these products under the banner of personalised jewellery in 2008 and what started as a small trend has grown into a significant retail category today, but does the category stop at beads and charms or should it even include them? 
 
There is an opinion in the marketplace that building a charm bracelet or necklace with mass-produced components isn’t personal at all, and is instead better described as “customisable”. After all, if another consumer selects an identical assortment of components and creates exactly the same charm bracelet, if only by coincidence, is it still personalised? Such a distinction could also apply to ID bracelets, “quote-stamped” brooches and any of the huge number of products now being marketed to cash in on the personalised jewellery trend. 
 
Conversely, if charms and beads are not personalised, then what is personalised jewellery? It seems a stretch that it can only contain one-off pieces that can never be made again. Where do other jewellery items that allow for personalisation fit into the mix, such as engraved pendants for example? 
 
Just as the line between fine and fashion jewellery has blurred over the last decade (see Jeweller’s July issue), trying to define what is and isn’t classified as personalised jewellery is becoming more difficult, and the industry is not necessarily in agreement, but more on that later. 
 
 

Taking it to the streets

In an attempt to provide some clarification on this ever-evolving jewellery category, Jeweller developed its own definition of personalised jewellery and has sought opinions from local retailers, suppliers and jewellers who are at the coalface.
 
It was proposed that personalised jewellery implies that the purchaser has input into, and control over, the final appearance and/or creation of the actual product. The category can then be divided into four sub-categories: customised, individualised, custom-made and one-of-a-kind. See following for definitions:
 

PERSONALISED JEWELLERY DEFINITIONS


CUSTOMISED

Jewellery that allows the wearer to customise a piece and separate components to their own style using a selection of interchangeable elements (beads, charms, links etc). While the interchangeable elements are often manufactured on a large scale, the wearer will create and customise their own combination – which can signify particular milestones or simply represent individual taste/style – meaning no two jewellery items will be the same. 

INDIVIDUALISED 

Jewellery that allows the purchaser to add a unique feature to their piece, such as name engraving, personal message, fingerprint or photograph, that ties it forever to the individual.

CUSTOM-MADE

Where it all began. Unique, custom-made jewellery that allows the wearer to dictate the exact specifications of a piece – from the selection of metal and design to the choice of gemstones. The items are made-to-order by manufacturing jewellers, based on a customer’s request and input. 

ONE OF A KIND

This is an interesting, and growing segment of the market. It differs from the above three sub-categories because, while the wearer has no involvement in the piece’s creation or final appearance, it is however one-of-a-kind as each item consists of at least one unique element that differentiates it from any other existing piece. The purchaser is therefore selecting a “personalised” product that is unique and irreplaceable. 
 
 
Duraflex Group Australia managing director Phil Edwards agrees with the suggested definition, adding, “In general terms, personalised jewellery is about the wearer making their own unique statement and point of difference.” 
 
Duraflex supplies popular brands Thomas Sabo and Nikki Lissoni, both described as ”customisable”.
 
Former Pandora Australia president Karin Adcock concurs, saying that she believes the popularity of brands like Pandora, Thomas Sabo and Trollbeads has encouraged other designers to take the notion of customisation even further to include additional offerings like engraving. 
 
Adcock’s business House of Brands (HOB) distributes the innovative new concept X by Trollbeads and she says that one of the keys to the success of jewellery businesses like those listed above is the proliferation of branded jewellery. 
 
“I believe customised jewellery will always have a big place in the market as it allows the customer to create their own look, showcasing the brand that they love to be a part of,” she explains. “The wearer can be part of a ‘brand cult’ at the same time as putting his/her own stamp on how they want to wear their chosen pieces.”
 
Some people use the term ”customisable” as a way to describe jewellery that allows the wearer to customise separate components to form a piece that matches their own style. Such jewellery mostly uses mass-produced interchangeable elements (beads, charms, links etc) but Story Jewellery Company’s Lida FitzGerald suggests that jewellery that has been designed with the intention of layering different pieces to form a unique style might also fall into the “customisable” sub-category.
 
“This gives customers another myriad of design possibilities and the chance to mix textures, colours and materials to form their own unique style,” FitzGerald argues. 
 

Differing opinions 

As is often the case with product categories, there is a degree of wiggle room, and personalised jewellery is no different. Some suggest that consumers may have a different interpretation of “personalisation” to that of the industry.
 
Justin Linney, assistant creative director at retailer Linneys, argues that the meaning of the word ”personalised” has evolved within the industry as salespeople now use the phrase to appeal to a customer’s overwhelming desire to have everything individualised. 
 
“When a customer is grouping together different mass-produced components, they are creating their own meaning or symbolism. It is this process that people refer to as personalising jewellery but, essentially, they are just constructing their own interpretation of the designs to relate to personal experiences or events that are important and relevant to them,” Linney explains.
 
Kate Sutton of Uberkate, a jewellery business that markets itself as offering personalised jewellery, has similar sentiments. She says placing sub-categories under the umbrella of personalisation is an attempt to appease those consumers who label their jewellery as such in order to fit into an emotive category. Sutton argues that such products are not a true reflection of what is “truly personalised”.
 
“Personalised is just that, a name or a monogram that is so personal that it can only belong to one person; it is a truly personal piece of jewellery,” Sutton says, adding, “therefore, personalised jewellery stands alone and, unless your name or initials are on it, then the piece is not personalised.”
 
StyleRocks founder and CEO Pascale Helyar-Moray agrees with Jeweller’s definition that personalisation indicates a purchaser has input into the actual product, but believes that consumers associate the term in a similar way as Sutton describes. 
 
“I would say that there are very many varying definitions between what the jewellery industry would regard as personalised and what the wider market or consumer market would,” she says. 
 

Is it important?

At this point, it’s easy to wonder if this is all much ado about nothing. Does categorising or grouping product really matter? Helyar-Moray believes it does, and demonstrates the importance of appropriate wording when communicating with consumers and how it can affect a business if there is no alignment.
 
She says the impact of words and definitions has been a learning experience for StyleRocks, a website that allows customers to customise their own jewellery using a set of pre-existing options including metals, finishes, gemstones and engraving. 
 
“We refer to Stylerocks as a customisation website, although this has not always been the case,” Helyar-Moray explains. “Previously, we called ourselves ‘design your own jewellery’ but what we’ve seen is that some people take that interpretation quite literally and the feedback has been, ‘Oh, I couldn’t create my piece from scratch.’”
 
Language is also considered to be of paramount importance for Mondial Pink Diamond Atelier director Michael Neuman, who says that, the appropriate – or inappropriate – use of terms within the industry is a “particular bugbear”. 
 
Custom-made pieces represent 95-98 per cent of Mondial’s business and Neuman even registered the term ”Jewelature” several years ago to describe “what we do and what we see is truly personalised jewellery”.
 
In Neuman’s opinion, personalised jewellery refers to items that look the way they do as a result of the customer’s input: “The jewellery that we make embodies the wearer’s aspirations because they’re full of input from the end-user. It is this quality that makes the items personal. These things are born when we get together with the customer, and never existed before.” 
 
Phillip Schmidt from Platinumsmith also produces custom-made pieces and he raises the issue of manufacturing jewellers being asked to create items that replicate or resemble pre-existing branded designs. 
 
“That’s very common but it is custom-made?” he asks. 
 
Thus, the plot thickens; the piece might be custom-made by a manufacturing jeweller, but if it’s a copy of an existing piece and both the customer and jeweller have no input into its finished design, should it be called ”personalised”?
 
The market is awash with a growing demand from consumers to be able to change certain design aspects of a jewellery piece. RJ Scanlan & Co distributes the popular wedding ring brand Dora and marketing manager Chris Scanlan says they often receive orders that have a custom-made aspect. 
 
“In fact, 25 per cent of all Dora orders each year have required a new drawing, which is a statistic that even surprised me,” Scanlan says. “We have one of the biggest ranges of men’s wedding rings in the Australian market and it’s still not enough. Men want the option of a personal touch, which might be as simple as a change in width, the addition of  some diamonds or it may be a completely new design, but it’s becoming increasingly popular to exercise the option of creating something new.” 
 

Stand-alone definitions for stand-alone pieces

In an attempt to define personalised jewellery, it was suggested that ”one-of-a-kind” pieces could be included within the personalised jewellery category.
 
While custom-made pieces are technically one-of-a-kind items, as rightly pointed out by many of the sources Jeweller contacted, the segment also includes jewellery that has been created with no input from the wearer but comprises at least one element differentiating it from any other existing piece. 
 
The idea is that the wearer has selected a piece that is personal to them due to its unique and irreplaceable qualities. 
 
The consensus among respondents is that this sub-category does not warrant inclusion in the personalised jewellery category. 
 
“There is absolutely nothing about that ready-made piece that has been specifically ‘personalised’ to the purchaser,” argues Carolyn Cagney, founder of Etched in Memories, a retail business specialising in jewellery with photo engraving.
 
“The purchaser has, in fact, had no input, no control and no say on the appearance of the piece at all. Should you be trying to define the market of ‘unique jewellery’ then this category would make sense, but we are talking about ‘personalised jewellery’ and a ready-made, one-of-a-kind jewellery piece really doesn’t fit under that definition.”
 
Linney has a similar opinion: “I would argue that one-of-a-kind pieces of jewellery do not fall under any category within personalised jewellery.  
 
This is because the customer has not been involved at any stage of the process, therefore the piece has in no way been personalised for 
that individual. 
 
“If a customer purchases a one-off limited edition ring because they love the design and uniqueness of the piece, it has not been personalised by the customer at any point even though it is not the same as any other piece and may be irreplaceable,” he says. 
 
Renee Blackwell Design is one business that specialises in one-of-a-kind pieces like those in question. Renee Blackwell says 95 per cent of her jewellery designs are “one-of-a-kind originals” that feature elements such as antique buttons sourced from Paris and London. 
 
As for whether she believes her pieces should be classified as personalised jewellery, she says, “It’s a tough one – personal, as in one-of-a-kind, but not personal as in the customer has a say in the design.”
 
While it’s difficult to reach a conclusive agreement on definitions that exist within a design-orientated and creative market, perhaps Mondial’s Neuman best explains why it’s imperative for the industry to, at least, try to align itself with consumer perceptions.
 
“Language is important as it determines how we think about things,” he says and for that reason both sides starting a transaction from the same point is undoubtedly wise, even if a little difficult at times.

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