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Business Insights from Andrea Hill

When you introduce someone to the joy of buying art the experience can be transformative. Consumers should have that experience buying designer jewelry.

What I Wish Consumers Knew About Buying Designer Jewelry

19 June 2015

pendants designed by julie romanenko, just jules jewelry

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I’m not a consumer jewelry blogger, but this is something I wish every consumer jewelry buyer would know. It’s about how (great it is) to buy designer jewelry.

When you buy designer jewelry, your jewelry has a back story

Nearly every piece of jewelry I own came from a designer. As I write this blog, I am wearing raw diamond floret earrings and a raw diamond tennis bracelet from Todd Reed, a ring from Bree Richey on my left hand, a ring from Elizabeth Garvin and another from Jennifer Dawes on my right hand. I have lovely little button earrings from Robin and Remy Rotenier. I nearly always wear a bracelet from Walt Adler and another from a craftsman in Mexico whose name I have long forgotten but whose face I will always remember. My favorite brooch is a mokume-gane gem from Jim Binnion and Steve Midgett (yep! both of them).  Someday I will own a heart pendant from Rhyme & Reason. Something from Mark Schneider’s color collection. A mother's cuff from Erica Courtney. A Padparadscha anything from Omi Prive. Anything from Suzy Landa (preferably green or purple), hoop earrings from Pamela Froman, something nouveau vintage from Just JulesDiana Widman’s Night Sky pendant, and a piece from ZAIKEN’s Throwing Stones collection.  (I have not received compensation from any of these designers for mention in this blog).

What don’t I own? A single white diamond ring. No diamond studs. I don’t own any Cartier or Tiffanys. I don't buy jewelry for the sparkle, the status, the vault value, or even the fashion. I love the sculptural quality of jewelry, the gemstones (all of them), the art. In this way, I am representative of the type of women who buy designer jewelry – or women who would buy designer jewelry if they knew what was available to them. There are many of us.

'Art' and 'Decorations' are Different Buying Experiences

Buying designer jewelry is not, should not be, like buying generic jewelry. What is generic jewelry? Any piece of fine jewelry that was designed for mass appeal. Does saying it’s generic mean it’s not beautiful? Not at all. I can see the beauty in a perfectly manicured lawn, even if it is similar to the other perfectly manicured lawns down the same stretch of manicured road. I just don’t want that for my own yard. My yard was designed, layer upon delicious layer, to make a statement (entirely different blog here – but you get my point). Does this make me a better customer or a more desirable customer for jewelry? Not at all. But it does make me - and women like me - a different kind of customer, and one that is not currently very well served.

Buying designer jewelry is about buying art you get to wear. What do you do when you buy art? You look for something that speaks to you. You look for something that pulls a feeling out of you that you weren’t feeling before you looked at it. You look for art that you know you’ll be happy to sit and stare at for hours and years on end. You don’t buy art to match the paint and furniture in the room – for the right piece of art you design the room around it. Good art grows old with you.

Great art doesn’t have to be expensive. Would I be giddy with excitement to own an original Rothco? Absolutely. But there is a painting in my living room painted by an artist named James R Gros. He is not famous and the painting cost me less than $200. But it’s one of the most expressive pieces I own. I never get tired of studying it, and everyone who visits our home at some point wants to talk about it.

Too many people do not know the joy of seeking and acquiring art – which is not a money thing, it’s an awareness thing. You can teach a child to buy meaningful art on her allowance.

So when I look for jewelry, I want it to have artistic merit. I want it to have been conceived of and created as part of a thought process about beauty, and craftsmanship, and precious materials. I want to know that whenever I wear it, I will see it, and when I see it, it will mean something to me.

That’s the first thing I wish every consumer knew about designer jewelry. That it’s buying art. When you take a person by the hand and show them the sheer delight and wonder of buying art, the experience can be transformative. I want consumers to have that experience with designer jewelry.

There's Another Opportunity Beyond Custom

Two Designer Rings The other thing I wish consumers knew about buying designer jewelry is the difference between buying custom/bespoke and buying a designer commission. If a consumer has an idea for a piece of jewelry he wants to make, and he primarily needs a pair of hands to help him execute it; or if he wants a design that is very traditional but using some of his own elements, that’s what I refer to as custom or bespoke. There's no criticism in this – it's an essential service and can be a terrific experience. But that’s not the same as buying designer commissioned jewelry.

Just as you wouldn’t go to Klimt, hand him a photograph, and tell him to paint your portrait precisely as seen in the photo, I personally wouldn’t go to a jewelry designer and tell him what to make. A big part of the value of buying jewelry from a designer is the designer’s point of view. It's not that the customer has no input. Most designers who will do individual pieces have a discussion or series of discussions with the client first. They talk about gemstones, which ones the client likes most, and why. They ask about how the client wears jewelry, why they wear it, and how it makes them feel. As a client myself, I have loved those conversations. But once you find a jewelry designer who clearly has beautiful images in his head and the ability to turn those ideas into real objects, much of the joy in wearing the finished piece is turning the designer loose and seeing how that designer transforms your conversations about intangible things into a physical work of art.

Of course, not everyone who calls himself a designer is actually a designer. There is ample room for argument here, but generally someone who is truly a designer will have a clear point of view, a body of work that expresses that point of view, and a recognizable evolution in their thought process over time.

I have this imaginary scene in my head where a consumer walks into ABC Jewelry Store with her grandmother’s rings and says, “I’d like to turn these diamonds and rubies into something I can wear and love.” And the jeweler, who is very talented at the bench, asks “Do you know what you want?” The consumer says, “No, I really don’t, but I appreciate beauty, and I want something that is a bit unusual but which will keep me visually engaged for the next 30 years.”

And the jeweler thinks, “I’m really good at making jewelry – the best – but I don’t have an artistic point of view and what I make is pretty traditional looking. Since this consumer doesn’t want to direct this effort and she wants something different, perhaps I’ll teach her how to buy art!” Then he says to his new customer, “Let’s have some fun. I’m going to introduce you to some different types of designer jewelry – designers who will also do commission work. We’re going to see what you like and learn a bit together. Then, let’s pick someone for you to work with, and let them create a piece of art just for you, something that you will always treasure and be proud of.”

Shoot, I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Is this experience for everyone? Of course not. But for some, the right guidance from the beginning would turn buying designer jewelry into an obsession for them, something to look forward to once a year, or once every few years.

So these are the things I wish consumers knew. I wish more people were able to have the ultimate experience of buying designer jewelry. Because my new ring designed by Jennifer Dawes just arrived today. I’m utterly conscious that I'm wearing it. It brought tears to my eyes when I opened it. And I know that if more consumers felt like I do right now after acquiring a new piece of jewelry, they’d want fine jewelry more often.