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Jewellery as an emotional statement

All jewellery purchases are considered emotional ones, but some lines, such as charm bracelets, really tap into feelings of love and family. Naomi Levin explains.
To modern observers, Queen Victoria does not appear to be a fashion guru. Depictions of the dour-faced royal after which Australia's southern-most state is named, and who reigned from 1837-1901, often show her dressed in sweeping black clothes and with a strangely small crown perched on her head. But behind her charmless appearance, Queen Victoria was a lover of the arts, and the jewellery industry owes much to her for popularising two items that remain popular to this day: the charm bracelet and the locket.
The popularity of charm bracelets and lockets stem from the ease with which the wearer can link them to milestones or the memories of loved ones. Both have been used to mark occasions, to provide meaning and to tell a story, and they continue to do so to this day.
Charm bracelets were ostentatious pieces that used trinkets such as a family shield, a memento of a hunt or a commemorative coin to tell a story. Lockets, on the other hand, contained tales of love, be they a sweetheart's photo or a lock of a child's hair.
While Queen Victoria may have popularised jewellery designed to promote memories, the history of emotional jewellery goes back further. Ancient Egyptians assigned particular meanings to the colours of specific gemstones and glass intended for use in jewellery. According to the ancient funerary text The Book of the Dead, red amulets or gemstones were said to symbolise Egyptian goddess Isis's desire for blood, while green ones were for bountiful crops and fertility.
Other ancient civilisations used different symbols on jewellery, charms and amulets to ward off evil or to bring luck – symbols such as ichthys, the fish-like shape that later became a Christian icon, and the Jewish talisman, the hamsa. While these meaningful shapes remain popular today, they have largely been replaced by the crucifix and the Star of David in jewellery.
In East Asian cultures, jade carved into beautiful shapes is still worn to keep a person safe from harm and to bring good fortune. For those who have more of a new age bent, crystals, gemstones and birthstones are used to channel energy and bring good vibes. A garnet, for example, is not only known as the "stone of devotion", inspiring love for the wearer, but is also said to raise low blood pressure.
Over time, as wearers garnered more symbols, a desire arose to wear them all together. One way to do just that was to add these different amulets and icons to a charm bracelet. Quickly, the charm bracelet became an easy way for consumers to personalise their jewellery, bringing new meaning to their purchases. Emma Young from the Australian office of Dutch charm company Pandora says personalisation is the key to the selling of emotional and milestone jewellery.
"Personalisation is important when it comes to jewellery. No one wants to wear the same thing as everyone else," she says. "People have different personalities and styles which they want to reflect in what they wear – Pandora is a fantastic way to make your bracelet your own."
Among Pandora's 600 charms are those that mark 16th, 18th and 21st birthdays; a mortarboard to signify graduation from school; and a pram or a hanging bootie on the occasion of the birth of a child. More unorthodox links are a ghost bead for a horror-movie afficionado, or a dice charm for a board-game addict and a queen bee to signify an empowered woman.
Phil Edwards, whose company Duraflex is responsible for distributing Thomas Sabo's Charm Club in Australia, said some of the most popular charms are the milestone ones.
"Numbers 18 and 21, all of the heart charms, engagement ring, key, champagne bottle, best friend, pram, my little girl, my little boy, mama, 40 and fab, and the horoscope collection all celebrate specific events in our lives that our loved ones want to share and remember with us for years to come," Edwards explains.
German-based Thomas Sabo's newest range also features tropical island holiday motifs, a special charm to commemorate this year's soccer World Cup, and new romantic charms, including turtle-doves and hearts.
Thomas Sabo Charm Club is not just about birthdays, graduations and love. Also recently launched is a range of pendants featuring Disney characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and Nemo from Finding Nemo. "The collection is young, original and extroverted and is aimed at a diverse target group of fashion fans and collectors," Edwards said.
One of the unique things about Thomas Sabo's range of charms is the spring clasp, which makes them easy to transfer from one bracelet to another, or even onto a key ring, mobile phone chain or necklace.
"Charms can be playfully put together in creative, unexpected ways to make new statements time and again," Edwards adds.
While the look is different to a traditional charm bracelet, Italian stainless-steel jewellery manufacturer Nomination is another company that uses its jewellery to mark milestones.
Intrigued by the customisable aspect of traditional charm bracelets, creator Paolo Gensini designed a modular bracelet comprised of a series of links. Connected by a spring-loaded mechanism, each segment can be filled and replaced individually with a different decorative tile made of stainless steel and highlighted with 18-carat gold, diamonds, coloured enamel and gemstones.
According to Melinda Benecke, spokesperson for Oro Collections, Nomination has grown to take in more than just the milestone and emotional jewellery market.
"As Nomination's composable bracelets increased in popularity, so did their communicative powers," she says. "What started as a series of exquisitely-detailed links that conveyed everything from initials and astrological signs to sports, special interests and life passages quickly grew to encompass more enigmatic and mysterious symbols.
 "Links featuring more esoteric images – scissors, a padlock, a spider web – became imbued with the wearer's own meaning, building on Nomination's language of icon-based communications and the wearer's personal mystique," says Benecke.
According to the group's sales figures, Nomination's most popular composables include letters of the alphabet, signs of the zodiac, sporting icons, flags, animals and heart motifs. A new collection called Peace and Love has just been released, and features links for peace, love, rainbows, flower power, the peace dove, hippies and sunglasses.
Benecke emphasises the importance of personalisation and customisation in selling these sorts of products. "If we don't have a link in our extensive range, engraving on a plain link is another option."
While Nomination can customise a piece so that specific milestones are intricately remembered, other products such as Pastiche's Lovelinks and Petite Lovelinks focus on aesthetics, rather than direct milestones.
The bracelets are still personalised, but rather than threading on a pram charm or a bootie when a child is born, or a palm tree to remember a tropical holiday, Lovelinks plays on a slightly different concept.
Lovelinks and the smaller Petite Lovelinks are Danish products created from Murano glass, sterling silver and 22-carat gold-plated beads. Included within the range are flower, number and animal designs, but the focus remains on beauty and the "look" of the charm.
"Beyond the milestones, we believe in acknowledging the small moments too. A rose to share your appreciation, a bead for your loved pet or a house to mark a new home are just some of the special moments we can treasure," Pastiche spokesperson Laurian Ryan says.
Already focussing on different hues and designs in the glass, from modern swirls to classic, solid colours, Lovelinks is adding to its collection.
"We are exploring new textures and surface treatments in the Lovelinks range. Faceted or frosted Murano glass beads have added a new dynamic to the range," Ryan says, adding, "We continue to introduce dazzling designs into the silver bead range, and bright enamel inlays add another layer of interest to the Lovelinks and Petite Lovelinks lines."
The focus in Love From Venus is different again. Spokesperson Georgia Hatzis emphasises the spiritual nature of these personalised pieces, saying, "Each piece is created with the intent to bring the wearer a feeling of unconditional love, divine protection and empowerment."
Love From Venus jewellery draws on classical mythology and folklore for its aesthetic and is composed of pearls, silver, gold, old coins, leather and semi-precious stones combined in a layered look.
"Love From Venus stays true to the use of real stones and pearls as they have throughout time continued to resonate with our karmic energy and our vibrational levels, I believe this is the reason that people are drawn to the jewels either consciously or sub-consciously," Hatzis says.
"The colours provide bursts of energy and when you hold a semi-precious stone in your hands, you know if it is for you. They say that the right stones call for you as you may need a certain stone at a particular point in your life for additional self-love, healing protection or happiness."
As well as its interesting aesthetic look, which no doubt appeals to a younger market, Hatzis says the range is popular among those with a religious outlook or who are interested in self-empowerment.
"Love From Venus embraces all faiths and religions as it is a spiritual-based concept. The jewellery is designed to bring comfort, inner-peace, balance and harmony to its wearers," she says.
In another point of difference from more traditional charm manufacturers, Hatzis says the focus in Love From Venus is on more than just aesthetics or marking a milestone.
"Love From Venus' new collections will expand on using more of earth's energies, using raw-sliced agates in breathtaking colours, using colours that represent the all-natural elements of earth, fire, water and air, and of course metal," she says.
One other aspect about DIY or personalised jewellery, and particularly charm bracelets, is that the nature of the piece encourages return visits.
"Everyone buys jewellery, but milestone jewellery really is special," Pandora's Young says. "On many occasions, men are in our stores buying for their partners, whether they are buying a charm to add to their bracelet, or a ring stack for something different. Little girls save up their money so they can buy a charm for a friend – everyone buys gifts."
Charm bracelets, particularly ones where the charms are easily replaced, can also grow with the customer: the little girl who got her charm bracelet while she was still at school can alter a couple of beads to turn it into a subtle piece that she can later wear in the workplace.
Women make up the biggest market for milestone and charm jewellery. Pandora is almost exclusively worn by women, but men are beginning to be enticed, similarly for Pastiche's Lovelinks.
"Milestone jewellery is typically for women but men are now starting to wear Pandora," Young says. "Selling jewellery to men has traditionally been difficult. However, men are now more open to wearing jewellery. Men are buying our leather bracelets and even our oxidised bracelets."
Lovelinks' Ryan adds that men who purchase milestone jewellery are still usually purchasing a gift for their girlfriend or wife.
Representatives of other brands says their ranges are being accessed more and more by men – as a result, they are finding innovative ways to tap into this new, and enormous market.
"Our jewellery can be unisex," Hatzis says of Love From Venus' range, adding that more and more men are buying from the range to wear themselves. "The range is expanding as demand grows," she says.
Others are including more male-focused charms into their ranges. Edwards says Thomas Sabo Charm Club caters to both the female and male markets: "Selected styles appeal to our male fans, such as motorbikes, helmets, skulls, guitars, cars, skateboards, footballs, pistols, and eagles, all of which can be hung from leather necklaces and bracelets or silver chains to create an individual look."
The flat look and stainless steel polish of Nomination means it is probably the most masculine of all the charm bracelets on the market.
"Of late, men are purchasing jewellery more," Benecke says. "Men also like to treat themselves to a personal gift that they can wear every day."
Two specific Nomination collections which have had a particular appeal to male customers are the Time Collection, a watch that comes with both a leather and a composable band, and the Trendsetter Collection, with either a simple or personalised bracelet.
While charm jewellery has so much going for it – its ability to be personalised, its diverse range, and its tendency to encourage repeat custom – one of its downfalls is that it competes not only against other jewellery, but against other products outside the jewellery market.
The relatively low cost of this type of jewellery, which stems from the benefit that bracelets don't have to be "filled" with beads or charms all at once, means that it is up against home-wares, books, electrical appliances and clothing and shoes in competing for the birthday, anniversary or mother's day dollar; however, those in the industry say charm jewellery has certain advantages over these other gift ideas.
"Jewellers should definitely be competing for the milestone market," Young says. "Every day someone around the world will have a milestone. Pandora's strength is that we pride ourselves on everyone having an unforgettable moment. When you buy a charm it means something, not only to the person receiving the gift but also to the person giving it."
Young believes it is the meaning that drives sales, even morethan the product itself. "Everyone wants to buy jewellery that has a lot of personal meaning. You treasure that piece and remember the exact moment when you look at the charm. It becomes an unforgettable moment."
Pastiche's Ryan says retailers should capitalise on the customer's desire for jewellery which is inherently beautiful and enduring.
"There is a growing appreciation of endurance," she says. "Customers want jewellery which can be passed down through future generations."
Meanwhile, Edwards from Thomas Sabo Charm Club says the idea of competition with non-jewellery products is false and misleading.
"There is no competition – jewellery will always be a personal statement, an intimate link between the giver and the wearer. This is the strength of the jewellery industry. This simple, true and straight-forward message is all that needs to be communicated," he says.
Retailers who can indeed communicate this important message are sure to create some meaningful sales this season.

Naomi Levin
Contributor •

Naomi Levin is a journalist who knows a little bit about a lot of things. She has worked as a sports journalist and is currently a political and general news reporter, in addition to writing for Jeweller.
Duraflex Group Australia

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