Jewelry Is Still About Craft—and We Should Still Tell Consumers

Consumers don’t realize all the work that goes into a jewelry piece

A Bloomberg article this week on the watch industry’s woes contains this observation:

The marketing of Swiss watches is traditionally based on connoisseurship, on creating an artificial impression of rarity, on “convincing a brand’s customers that it is indifferent to their needs and wishes,” as Matt Sinclair of the Loughborough Design School put it in a recent paper: The designer and the artisan knows best. That’s a potential hook for millennials, who admire hand-made, artisanal objects. Yet Swiss watches aren’t sold to them in that way: The glossy advertising is too traditional, too focused on the shiny object on a celebrity’s wrist rather than on the people who make them and the old-school technology they use.

As I have argued before, this is equally true for the industry as a whole. Craftsmanship is basic to a jewelry item. It’s how it gets its value. It’s what makes it beautiful. And yet many consumers don’t know all the intricate, painstaking work that goes into making a piece of jewelry. But it’s a great story. And it could be one of our industry’s best selling points.

A few years back, my wife and I were having dinner at Sakagura, a local sake restaurant. In the middle of the meal, the waiter says we have a special guest: the farmer whose rice was used in your sake. And they brought the farmer and his wife to our table.

It was weird; they didn’t speak English and just stood there. All we could say to them was, “Good rice.” But it was a really interesting and cool experience. It made that meal more than just another dinner. I have told that story many times. I’m now telling it here. It certainly made me think about how my sake is produced.

Wouldn’t jewelry consumers enjoy meeting the person who designed their ring or cut its center stone or was part of the team that found it in a mine? Isn’t that part of the appeal of Etsy—you are not just buying a product, but you’re buying it from someone who put their heart and soul into it?  

As we saw with the cutting of the Esperanza, consumers are fascinated when they get to peek behind the scenes of the jewelry business. And if they can’t actually see a stone being cut, maybe they’d be interested in learning about the process via video and online. If there is a good story behind it, they will surely relay it to their friends. (And if there is not a good story behind it—if it’s mined or cut under bad conditions by underpaid, exploited workers—that’s more than a marketing problem.)

Today’s consumers have the ability to buy just about anything. But they don’t have a ton of money to do it. It’s not surprising that they are choosy—and that when they spend, they want their money’s worth.

The problem for our industry is that many of them—particularly young consumers—don’t understand why jewelry costs so much. We need to tell them. 

JCK News Director