Luxury: The Real Thing

(pdonahue@chilton.net)

Luxury is a state of mind, believe many marketing experts. Buy gourmet ice cream for $3 a pint and feel pampered. Upgrade to first class using frequent flyer miles and feel rich.

That is not, however, what our new JCK Luxury section is all about. We are well aware of luxury wannabes, those people who buy Tiffany silver and dream. What we’re talking about is attracting the real luxury buyers, consumers who are interested in jewelry you have to be seriously wealthy to afford.

Is JCK abandoning its democratic focus on all the other kinds of jewelry? No, that’s what the rest of JCK is about. Our article on quality last month was just the beginning of a series of articles we’ll bring you about how to deliver such jewelry and services not only to the rich, but also to the hoi polloi who still make up a substantial portion of most independent jewelers’ customer bases.

JCK Luxury, on the other hand, is our offer to help you capture the really big fish, the rarefied customers who will spend $20,000 and up on a South Sea pearl necklace or a platinum and diamond tiara (yes, tiaras are back, according to a fun little article in a recent issue of Vogue).

We know that rich people also buy inexpensive earrings when they want a little trinket to wear to the gym. But clearly they know there is a difference between affordable jewelry and the magnificence of one-of-a-kind luxury pieces. They understand the thrill of jewelry that takes one’s breath away with its beauty and artistry. As Senior Editor Robert Weldon told me, “I had a wealthy acquaintance who used to zip around town in a little car. But she also had a chauffeur-driven Mercedes. She knew which was the luxury product. And which was not.”

In JCK Luxury, we’ll show you the luxury product. We’ll offer you insights into the kinds of people most likely to buy such exceptional items. We’ll profile luxury retailers who have used innovative methods for charming these rarae aves, or rare birds. And oh yes, we’ll occasionally tell you about the aspirational rich, the people who go into serious debt buying a piece way out of their budgets because they simply fall in love with it or need outside affirmation of their worth as people. We’ll also help you to watch the younger generation closely, because these sons and daughters of the burgeoning millionaire class are going to be serious jewelry buyers within the next 10 years. But mostly, JCK Luxury will be about today’s big money people and the jewelry you can tempt them to buy.

This means we will be selective in the kind of jewelry that appears in the section. JCK must have high standards if it is to convey true luxury standards to our jeweler/readers. Luxury jewelry features magnificent design, impeccable craftsmanship and the absolutely finest materials available in the world, in plentiful array. The jewelry is generally handmade or handfinished and it will not feel light, flimsy or lacking in depth or heft.

Why create a special section in the magazine just for this kind of jewelry, which at the moment may not take up an enormous portion of your sales? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the middle class increasingly is too busy saving for college and searching for bargains at mass merchandise stores to patronize a lot of jewelers.

So who’s left to form a significant portion of the customer base of independent jewelers? You guessed it, the not-so-idle rich. If independents, the core of JCK’s readership, are to survive, they must begin to seriously court and attract these buyers. Going upmarket is the way to survive.

The rich are multiplying like rabbits, while the middle class is still trying to figure out how to have 1.8 kids instead of two (does that mean 1.8 college tuitions, we wonder brightly?). Retail sales and earnings literally shout the news. While discounters and most middle-market department stores smiled gamely at respectable gains in sales and profits for 1996, Tiffany reported a nearly unbelievable 50% rise in net profits for the fiscal year ended Jan. 31. As Ace Ventura would say “is there a lesson in this?”

Making hay while the sun shines is what JCK Luxury is all about. These happy days may not last forever, but while they do, don’t miss the ride.