Singular Sensation: The Hoopla Over ‘One of a Kind’

Last week, while I was flying from New York City to Los Angeles, an in-flight magazine ad for Dr Pepper caught my eye. Depicting a man in a red t-shirt emblazoned with the words Always One of a Kind, the full-page ad included an image of a glistening can of Dr Pepper beside a call to action: “Try One on Today’s Flight.”

I opted for water, but the ad intrigued me. After doing a little research, I learned that Dr Pepper debuted the advertising campaign in January based on this rationale: “Dr Pepper has been one of a kind for more than 125 years, and now it’s time to celebrate,” said Dave Fleming, director of marketing for Dr Pepper, in a statement. “The Dr Pepper ‘Always One of a Kind’ advertising campaign should serve as a catalyst for expressing originality and being authentically you.”

The centerpiece of the campaign is a commercial that some of you may be familiar with. It shows nearly a thousand Dr Pepper fans spilling into the streets as they rip off identical-looking suits and blouses to reveal red t-shirts bearing original expressions “describing what makes them unique and different from the rest of the crowd,” according to Dr Pepper’s site.

There’s a beefy construction worker whose shirt proclaims “I’m a Momma’s Boy”; a musician who boasts “I’m a Dreamer”; and a cute brunette whose slogan “I’m a Pepper” nods to the soda brand’s iconic 1970s ad campaign—a clever, if ironic, touch, given that the youthful consumers targeted by the current ads weren’t, as the saying goes, even twinkles in their fathers’ eyes then.

At the risk of preempting my editor’s letter in the upcoming November issue, which treads this same territory, I feel compelled to point out that Dr Pepper has embraced a concept of extreme relevance to fine jewelers. The one-of-a-kind phenomenon has gathered so much steam this year that hardly a day passes without me hearing or seeing it used to describe all types of jewels—from rather conventional-looking pieces incorporating unusual, and, by the strictest definition, unique gemstones, to truly extraordinary baubles that only exist in limited editions of one.

There’s no doubt that these sumptuous Gandhi-inspired earrings from London-based Ana de Costa are one of a kind. Set with 20 cts. of Gemfields Zambian emeralds with natu­ral cognac diamonds in 18k gold, they retail for $120,000.

In other words, the phrase—once used to refer to the most rarefied offerings in a jeweler’s repertoire, often bespoke and unquestionably unique (in every sense of the word)—is now being bandied about with such regularity that it’s worth asking what it means, and why it suddenly matters more than ever.

In our September “Future of Retail” issue, senior editor Rob Bates’ interview with Dr. Kit Yarrow, a San Francisco psychology professor and coauthor of Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail, offered some key insights.

“Status for this generation isn’t about money—it’s about attention,” Yarrow told JCK. “Previous generations got that Chanel handbag or 3 carat diamond to tell the world they made it. This generation has already grown up in a time of unprecedented prosperity. They have always been given a lot, even those who grew up in low-income families. So their expectations are much higher. What they are looking for is something that sets them apart. It could be a unique item or a unique opportunity. People love to buy things on sale because there is a rarity. Being able to get something special for less is not really about the price. It’s a badge of honor to say, ‘I got this cool thing for 80 percent off.’ So it could be a special price, it could be something designed by a local artist. It has to be customized for them. One of the reasons people like Blue Nile is that you can play around with making your own jewelry.”

JCK is going to examine the issue in depth in the new year, but for now, consider this invitation I received via Facebook on Friday, from Lisa Koenigsberg, president of Initiatives in Art and Culture:

“Join us to explore ‘One of a Kind.’ A descriptor used so casually that we might forget that in every domain there is that which truly stands head and shoulders above the rest. This, the extraordinary, is the focus of the 2012 New York Fashion Conference.”

The event, which in the past has covered topics as far-reaching as gold and coral, kicks off on Thursday, Nov. 29, with a cocktail reception and viewing at Van Cleef & Arpels. Two full days of panel discussions, presentations, and book signings at the Graduate Center, CUNY follow.