Women in the Know: Jewelry Business Must Embrace Fashion

The jewelry trade needs to think more like the rest of the fashion business, panelists said during a discussion at the 2011 Women in the Know conference, presented by the Women’s Jewelry Association in New York City Jan. 6.

“We have a long way to go before we learn how to market like the fashion industry,” said Carol Brodie, host of HSN’s Rarities: Fine Jewelry With Carol Brodie.

Abby Huhtanen, fine jewelry and watch buyer for Bergdorf Goodman, argued the industry needs to “constantly evolve”—and regularly bring out new product.

Designer Ippolita agreed, noting she tries to come out with six collections a year.

Some panelists argued that the role of the jewelry retailer had changed.

“Service now includes dressing your client,” said Huhtanen. “We have to tell how their earrings go well with their sweater.”

In addition, retailers need to be more proactive in reaching out to consumers.

“We shouldn’t wait for the customer to come in anymore,” said Huhtanen. “We have to go out the customer with the latest goods.”

Panelists expressed mixed feelings about the recent spate of celebrity-related jewelry lines.

Meeling Wong, founder of Ajaline.com, a new “flash” site devoted to jewelry, recalled that she only agreed to work on the Padma Lakshmi jewelry line because Lakshmi loved jewelry.

“When I first met Padma, I rolled my eyes, and said, ‘Another celebrity doing jewelry?’” she said. “But when I met her she convinced me this was part of her lifestyle. Even the jewelry she wore at her wedding, she designed herself. And that’s why the people buying her jewelry are not necessarily fans of Top Chef.”

Added Huhtanen: “Jewelry is all about the innovative. If a celebrity comes in without something innovative, then it’s a home run. But if not, it won’t make it past that last 18 inches of counter space.”

Brodie said celebrity lines have to be “authentic” and “sustainable.”

“If you are just in business for a quick dollar, which a lot of celebrities with licensing deals are, that is not a sustainable business today,” she noted. “And if the marketing doesn’t work well, it actually turns people off to the celebrity.”

All the panelists agreed that the industry needs to be more supportive of young designers. 

But Ippolita called this is a “fantastic moment” for emerging talent.

“They can inexpensively and easily create a website that lets them brand themselves without a storefront,” she says.