Jewelry Is About Craft. We Should Tell Consumers

This week, The New Yorker ran a long profile on Apple design vice president Jonathan Ive, which goes into tremendous detail about all the care and work required to design Apple products (including its new watch). The underlying message is: Apple puts a lot of work and thought into the look of its creations, even if you don’t see it.

Apple is known for tightly controlling the media, so it wouldn’t agree to that kind of access without a larger purpose. As it’s about to release its first product that isn’t just a gadget, but a piece of fashion, it must have felt it was the right time to get that message out.    

Every year around Valentine’s Day—though, blessedly, not so much this year—articles appear calling diamond prices inflated and artificial. The question underlying these articles is always: “Why do diamonds cost so much?”

As much as these articles annoy the trade, it’s a fair question. There remains a lot of consumer ignorance about jewelry products. But that’s not their fault; it’s ours. As anthropologist Susan Falls told me a few weeks ago:

I don’t think that people are aware of the special characteristics of diamonds. When I talk to people about how old they were or that they might have come from the seeds of meteorites or how they came out of the ground and the geological circumstances involved, they didn’t know any of this and are really interested.

The same could be said for any type of jewelry. When people know all the work that goes into creating a piece—from getting the materials out of the ground to having it look just right—they develop a new respect for it. That’s one reason “hearts and arrows” cuts took off. The craftsmanship behind those cuts gave salespeople something to talk about in the sales process and consumers something to brag about to their friends.

Consider this quote I recently read in a well-known watch blog

The CEO of Audemars Piguet, Mr. Francois Bennahmias, recently exclaimed to me that, in his opinion, the most powerful tool any serious watch brand has was the “manufacturer visit.” I’ve been on many of these factory tours to Switzerland and can attest to the fact that they are extremely powerful ways of having someone connect with the brand. Not only does someone get to experience the location and methods behind how a watch is made, but they also get to experience the people and culture, as well as often the history, behind how a brand’s watches are made.  

In a recent article about retail trends, an analyst mentioned Everlane, a new clothing line that promises “radical transparency” in how it’s made. I recommend everyone check out its site, which includes extensive pages devoted to its factories. Not everyone will read them, of course. But they must make an impression on those who do. 

There are people in our industry who pour their hearts into their creations just as Jony Ive pours his heart into his. There is no reason magazines shouldn’t profile the head designer of, say, Rolex or any other jeweler. Their work is just as intricate. Their stories are just as fascinating.

Our industry has traditionally been as secretive as, well, Apple. But as we consider ways to reach out to millennials—some of whom have skeptical relationships with luxury goods—perhaps it’s time to give consumers more of a peek behind the curtain. I’m willing to bet, they’ll be impressed.

JCK News Director