Jewelry with a Purpose

Cause-related marketing is a growing movement that the jewelry industry has endorsed for many years. Countless retailers and manufacturers have donated time, resources, and money to charitable causes through sponsorship of charity events, special sales, or by donating proceeds from a particular item or event to charity.

The practice is good for the soul and good for business: A jeweler who participates in charitable causes is seen as a “good neighbor” with a social conscience. Meanwhile, numerous studies from Boston-based Cone Inc., a leading consulting firm in the areas of CRM and cause branding, have shown that when price and quality are equal, consumers are more inclined to purchase a product in which a portion of the proceeds is donated to charity. Furthermore, the retailers selling those products—and the suppliers manufacturing them—are likely to gain brand recognition and market share.

Building on this momentum, the jewelry industry is starting to take CRM to the next level. A growing number of designers and manufacturing jewelers are creating signature pieces and even whole collections specifically to benefit charitable groups and other causes. JCK looks at this strategy through the eyes of three companies that are producing exclusive jewelry for charities.

‘Significant Jewels’

Debra Savage’s involvement in producing jewelry to directly benefit charities began in 2004, when she was contacted by the National Breast Cancer Coalition, the nation’s largest breast-cancer advocacy group, about helping to raise money for breast-cancer research.

Savage, a fashion designer who launched Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Chad Allison Designs with partner David Goldstein in 1999, wanted to do something different and more substantial than the standard practice of donating money or sponsoring an event. She wanted to create jewelry dedicated solely to charity. She proposed the idea to NBCC officials, and they loved it.

“They wanted to make something that people would wear all the time, not just the pink ribbon everyone wears during Breast Cancer Awareness Week,” Savage says. “So they were very receptive to my idea. We were looking to produce something a little cooler, that was more salable.”

Taking note of the numerous charitable requests she receives from various organizations throughout the year, Savage advanced the concept by designing an entire collection, with the proceeds from each piece earmarked for a specific charity. The collection, dubbed Significant Jewels to signify both the intrinsic and symbolic value of the pieces, now includes about a dozen items. The designs incorporate some of Savage’s signature themes, including crosses, hearts, fleurs-de-lis, and antique coins worn as jewelry. Items in the collection range from small silver fashion pieces that retail for $25 to diamond-intensive pieces set in gold that sell for thousands of dollars.

“We make a good living in this industry, and sometimes we forget that,” she says. “Each of the pieces in this collection represents something more significant than just its value. Someone who buys something from the Significant Jewels collection is not only getting a beautiful piece of jewelry they will love and enjoy, but they also will know that it is benefiting a specific charitable group.”

Unlike some charitable ventures, Savage stresses that all of the proceeds (after manufacturing costs) from the sales of her Significant Jewels line go to the designated charity. In the case of NBCC, Savage is creating the pieces for them and selling the group the copyright for $1. NBCC will handle sales and distribution of the items. In other instances, Savage may be more directly involved in distribution, depending on the needs and capabilities of the charity. Savage says she retains the right to manufacture and sell the pieces in her flagship store in Los Angeles—again, with the proceeds going to the charity.

Savage hopes to build Significant Jewels into a major venture supported by the entire industry. She has already registered a Web site (www.significantjewels.com, currently under construction), and has been approached at several trade shows by others interested in contributing designs to her collection.

“This is something I really wanted to do, to make it my main mission,” she says. “The more people in the industry that want to participate, the better, since there are many worthy charities out there I don’t even know about. People love to purchase something with meaning, and I think this can really grow into something big. Anyone interested in designing a piece and contributing it to Significant Jewels should contact me.”

Donating the ‘Elements of Life’

For Paris-born jewelry designer Robin Rotenier, creating original pieces to benefit charities is both a way to give something back to the community and a way to stand out from the competition.

Rotenier, based in New York City, has created charm bracelets for various institutions and causes. For instance, in October 2004, Rotenier designed a one-of-a-kind “shoe” charm bracelet for the Fashion Footwear Charitable Foundation’s 11th annual FFANY (Fashion Footwear Association of New York) Shoes on Sale benefit. The bracelet, Rotenier’s signature Seville Link, featured five hand-carved charms in 18k gold. Three of the charms were inspired by recent shoe collections from world-renowned designers Michael Kors, Stuart Weitzman, and Cole Haan. A fourth charm featured the FFANY Signature Shoe with pink and green pavé diamonds in a flower motif. The fifth charm was Rotenier’s interpretation of the Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon, in pink gold, highlighted by a pink sapphire on the fold. The unique piece, with an estimated retail value of $14,000, was auctioned to the highest bidder during the event.

“This shoe-industry event raises millions for charity,” Rotenier notes. “I was going to give a few silver ribbon pieces, but I decided to do something different. So I picked designs from the recent collections of three shoe designers and created a charm bracelet based on those designs.”

Rotenier says his interest in supporting breast-cancer research and education stems from a personal connection: A close friend was stricken with the disease, and he found her strength in the face of the affliction inspiring.

“My involvement with charities was almost accidental, but I owe much of my business success to the fact that I’m doing certain things that others aren’t doing,” he says. “That’s where my market is—they expect to see different, unique things from me.”

Another charity Rotenier supports with his work is the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, North Jersey affiliate. In 2003, Rotenier designed for the foundation an exclusive, signature charm bracelet called the Elements of Life. The bracelet features charms of various nature themes, including butterflies, ladybugs, seeds, angels, and leaves in sterling silver and 18k gold. The successful design has been a strong seller in Neiman Marcus stores. Other charitable items Rotenier has created include three charm bracelets: Equestrian; Sea Life; and Swinging Monkey, which features various animals such as lions, elephants, zebras, monkeys, and rhinos, and was donated to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

“Creating jewelry for charities is not something I do as a corporate enterprise,” he says. “Every case inspires me differently, and I can only do it a few times per year. But it’s something I enjoy, and it helps me to stand out.”

Recognizing Survivors

For the past 12 years, Harold Jaffe Jewelers has supplied the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Northwest Ohio affiliate with an exclusive, custom-design gold and pink diamond jewelry award. The pieces recognize community breast-cancer survivors for their courage, strength, inspiration, and support in helping others deal with the disease. The item, dubbed the Harold Jaffe Jewelers Survivor Award, is awarded each year at a September brunch held the day before the organization’s Race for the Cure.

But the Toledo, Ohio-based retailer and custom designer/manufacturer hasn’t stopped there. Since 2000, the company also has been selling a line of special charms it designed exclusively for the foundation. Each year, Harold Jaffe Jewelers introduces a new charm into the collection. Other pieces in the line include a heart-shape pin/pendant, pink-ribbon pierced earrings, and two different sterling-silver bracelets. Offered in sterling silver or 14k gold, they retail for about $59 to $300, with a portion of each sale going to the charity.

According to Jeff Jaffe, president and owner of Harold Jaffe Jewelers, the company has always been very active in supporting charities and community organizations, but its long association with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation was spurred by the loss of several close friends over the years to the disease.

“We started out just doing the Survivor Award, but the more we became involved with the foundation, the more we wanted to do,” he says. “Right now, there are four charms. We have committed to creating a new charm every year until they find a cure.”

At press time, the company already was working on sketches for this year’s addition to the line.

Jaffe estimates that in the four years since his store started selling the Breast Cancer Cure line, it has donated at least $10,000 per year—and sometimes much more than that—to the foundation.

Harold Jaffe Jewelers also markets its Breast Cancer Cure line through a small network of retail jewelers around the country who want to participate in the initiative.

Although the company has added some pendants and earrings to what is essentially a charm collection, there are no current plans to expand it beyond a new charm each year. However, Jaffe says, he would not be averse to taking the line in a new direction “if we find something that makes sense.”