Balancing Act: Retailers Who Hit the Fashion-Fine Jewelry Sweet Spot



The era of high-low living is upon us. In practice, it’s the ability to master the pairing of items made for the few with those made for the many. For example, a favorite blogger dons a limited-edition Chanel handbag to accessorize a Zara dress, or an interior designer pairs a custom couch with a lamp from IKEA. But do the same rules apply to jewelry? 

Heck yeah! What was once taboo—a fine jewelry store carrying fashion or bridge merchandise—is now de rigueur. For one thing, the rise of casual lifestyles demands that retailers be ready to serve clients for whom jeans and sneakers are a daily uniform. For another, the designers themselves offer both high-end and entry-level collections. As the number of specialty boutiques that carry jewelry, clothing, and accessories continues to grow (see “Lifestyle and Substance”), customers are in fact relying on one-stop shopping for all of their jewelry needs. 

What are the secrets to mastering the delicate balance between fine and fashion? And what’s involved in educating customers on why and how to shop both categories? To learn more, JCK spoke to three retailers who are successfully straddling the high-low divide, each with a unique strategy that keeps their customers coming back both for little indulgences and big-ticket items.

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Amour necklace in 18k gold with 2.24 cts. t.w. opals, 0.06 ct. t.w. diamonds, 0.84 ct. t.w. peridots, 0.6 ct. t.w. yellow sapphires, and 1.42 cts. t.w. tourmaline; price on request; Daniela Villegas, Los Angeles; sharifa@danielavillegas.com; danielavillegas.com 

 

Maximizing Designer Loyalty: Etc., Birmingham, Ala.

“I like to carry both fashion and fine jewelry because I love how loyal it makes my clients. I know that they don’t have to go down the street to buy a pair of earrings for the wedding they have next weekend just because they have a small budget for that particular occasion.” 

—Meg Margjeka, owner, Etc.

When Meg Margjeka took over Etc., a successful accessory store with a 35-year history in Birmingham, Ala., in 2009, she knew she wanted to expand her fine jewelry inventory (including standout one-of-a-kind pieces) and add a limited selection of designer clothing in small runs. The store, which still stocks accessories like scarves and handbags, has now become a destination for locals who want wardrobe staples with more of a hip, urban edge than most of the competition has to offer. “The mix of merchandise keeps my clients coming into the store more often,” Margjeka explains. “We don’t have that much tourist traffic, so it’s important to keep them engaged.” 

But fine jewelry is the store’s focus, and Margjeka has cultivated a roster of high-end designers including Cathy Waterman and Hoorsenbuhs who make the shop a diamond destination. Her strategy for fashion jewelry, however, is simple: Margjeka sticks with the same fine jewelry designers she already carries, but opts for their diffusion lines or lower-priced pieces rather than investing in entirely new lines that are solely available in plated metals or synthetic stones. 

One example? Liz Legg, an up-and-coming Alabama designer who offers an “everyday” line in sterling silver and gold vermeil with leather accents as well as a more refined line featuring diamonds. “Legg’s non-diamond drusy stud earrings are a store staple at $165, and we can’t keep them in stock,” Margjeka says. “But those same clients are the very ones who ask for one of her diamond-accented pieces [up to $2,500] when they have a special occasion or holiday. It’s fun to see customers collect pieces and create their own looks month to month, depending on disposable income.”

This game plan is a subtle but successful way to turn customers into collectors. When Margjeka scouts for lines to add to her store, she’s looking for this sort of versatility—a cohesive collection with varying price points. “When I do invest in a new designer, I know that it takes a few seasons, even a few years, to really cultivate,” she says. “I try not to get carried away with picking up new designers all the time because I know that in order for my clients to trust that it’s a good investment that won’t fade away with the next season’s trends, I need to continue to carry the designer and promote them in my shop.” 

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Saturn Gris earrings with diamonds in rhodium-plated 18k gold; $6,400; Spinelli Kilcollin, Los Angeles; marisa@spinellikilcollin.com; spinellikilcollin.com

 

Masterful Merchandising: Just One Eye, Los Angeles

“Fashion jewelry is comparable to a seasonal clothing collection that may become outdated. We diligently limit the amount of fashion jewelry we have displayed for this reason. Our fine jewelry has a much more powerful voice with our clients, who often seek timelessness, rarity, and top quality.” 

—Paola Russo, cofounder, Just One Eye

With the feel of a small but chic department store, Just One Eye is a specialty boutique offering Angelenos the best of international fashion with lines like Chloé, Valentino, and Bottega Veneta living alongside carefully curated art, home goods, and jewelry from top designers, including Wilfredo Rosado, Daniela Villegas, and Carolina Bucci. Drawing on a sophisticated aesthetic, eclectic merchandise, and an intimate setting, the concept was created to be completely immersive for the clientele. 

But with fashion houses now offering more fashion and bridge jewelry than ever, the store, while previously focused on its fine jewelry offerings, is now able to offer pieces at lower price points that work seamlessly with its customers’ wardrobes. “[French designer] Paco Rabanne introduced jewelry as part of his new SS16 collection, and in turn our faithful Paco Rabanne client has been more curious about fashion jewelry,” says cofounder Paola Russo. 

Russo points to merchandising as the key to a successful mix of fine and fashion. Rather than keeping everything separate according to price point, she emphasizes that the overall look and flow of the space is paramount. “Then, the client is drawn to a piece he or she loves in the moment,” she says, “rather than shopping within a certain budget.” 

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Chainmail Mesh earring in aluminum; $180Paco Rabanne, Paris; 33-142-362-226; www.pacorabanne.com

 

Staying Budget-Friendly: Charm & Chain, New York City

“Fashion and fine jewelry both serve different -purposes. Fashion jewelry is just that—it’s a fashion statement and it’s meant to be fun. Fine jewelry is more giftable, more sentimental, and can be worn every single day. We focus on encouraging the customer to mix and match both, and this is very much in line with how today’s woman dresses.” 

—Ali Galgano, founder, Charm & Chain

When Ali Galgano, founder of the online jewelry destination Charm & Chain, was studying at GIA, she spent a lot of time exploring New York City and its diverse selection of designers across specialty boutiques, vintage stores, and street vendors. While designer fashion jewelry was prevalent in the city, there was remarkably little of it online. In response, she created Charm & Chain in 2008 to support designers by introducing them to a broader audience while also providing her customers with access to a highly curated selection of fun fashion jewelry.

Featuring designers such as Dannijo, Kendra Scott, and Alexis Bittar, Charm & Chain quickly became the go-to site for fashion-forward women seeking well-made, trend-driven jewelry. While the category has seen tremendous growth in recent years, Galgano wasn’t content to stick with semiprecious materials and launched her first in-house fine jewelry line, Mined, in 2015. 

“Over the past few years, we’ve increasingly seen our customers look for everyday basics and fine jewelry to layer in with their fashion jewelry,” explains Galgano. “The concept behind Mined is to address this need with high-quality diamond -jewelry at accessible price points [starting at $88].” 

The collection, composed of the delicate styles that represent the “new classics” in fine jewelry—think bar necklaces, stackable rings, and ear crawlers—is made with 14k gold and ethically mined diamonds, and every piece is offered in rose, yellow, and white gold, with either white or black diamonds. 

The kicker? Charm & Chain doesn’t take a wholesale-to-retail markup, allowing price points to stay reasonable. “We know the price point our customer is comfortable with, and we priced the line accordingly to fit in her sweet spot,” Galgano says. “We attribute much of the line’s success to this strategy.” She’s also seeing many of her customers treating themselves to fine jewelry the way they have always treated themselves to fashion jewelry, a sure sign that high and low can happily coexist. 

Like Etc., Charm & Chain appeals to shoppers with a one-stop-shopping mindset. “If you look back to 10 years ago, the two distribution channels were completely segregated,” she says of fashion and fine. “Our success is based on being more of a hybrid model. We offer a vast variety of styles and price points based on each customer’s needs. The important thing to keep in mind when offering both categories is to be very clear about the quality and details of each piece, so that people know exactly what they’re getting.” 

 

Top: Photograph by Ted Morrison

Clockwise from bottom, blue half: Bounkit 24k gold–plated carnelian, moonstone, and quartz earrings, $385; Asha 14k vermeil malachite and mother-of-pearl ring, $295; Capwell & Co. 10k gold–plated ring with rose quartz and simulated opal, $39.99; Sarah Magid cuff in 12k gold–plated brass with enamel and snakeskin, $148; Robert Lee Morris collar in 14k gold-plated brass, $695 (courtesy of Charm & Chain)

Clockwise from top, purple half: Clockwise from below: Emily and Ashley 18k gold moonstone ring, $2,310; Mined 14k gold and diamond V ring, $395; Mined 14k gold pavé diamond-shape ring, $375; Emily and Ashley 18k yellow gold pink tourmaline bangle, $2,750; Mined 14k gold pavé diamond-shape ring, $375; Emily and Ashley 18k gold blue topaz earrings, $1,950; Mined 14k gold and diamond triangle necklace, $2,500 (courtesy of Charm & Chain)

Inset: Encrusted Spiral Caged Crystal Nugget collar; $595Alexis Bittar, NYC; 718-422-7580; alexisbittar.com