Free From Convention: Editor’s Letter, September 2012

I didn’t expect to find a key to the future of retail in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, when I spent two weeks vacationing there in July, but nevertheless, there it was, free for the taking. I could walk through the city’s perfectly preserved Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or enjoy a coffee at any number of outdoor cafés while emailing away on my phone without racking up a single roaming charge. Free Wi-Fi in Vilnius is that ubiquitous.

Information, as they say, wants to be free—and even though it may seem counterintuitive for a business owner to offer a customer unfettered online access to information about pricing and competitors, “experts agree that keeping your store vital in the digital retail age means implementing a business strategy that relies on in-store and online technologies working in tandem with one another.”

That’s one of the fascinating conclusions of senior editor Emili Vesilind’s thought-provoking feature on the future of jewelry retail (“Retail Jewelry: The Next Generation”). But there are plenty of others—including an analysis of the burgeoning retail practice known as “showrooming,” in which consumers inside stores use their mobile phones and devices to find the best deals on merchandise.

Free Wi-Fi isn’t the only thing I found in Lithuania, the hub of the Baltic’s amber trade. I bought an amber collar in Vilnius, and admired hunks of fossilized pine resin at the Amber Museum.

Speaking of merchandise, that, too, is changing. In “How Jewelers Are Thinking Outside the Precious Metal Box,” contributor Martha C. White provides a thorough explanation for why alternative metals such as titanium, cobalt, and even niobium are ­finding increasing favor among classically trained jewelers who have ­heretofore worked only in silver, platinum, or gold.

While the prestige jewelry brands have largely avoided ceramics and alternative metals, their counterparts in the high-end watch industry pioneered their use in the production of mechanical timepieces—proving that luxury and material innovation need not be mutually exclusive.

For that, they deserve praise. Elsewhere in this issue, however, we question how relevant big brands will be to most independent retailers in the near future. In senior editor Jennifer Heebner’s sobering feature on the growing power of brands on the retail landscape (“Can an Indie Jeweler Survive in a Big-Brand World?”), the relationship between brands and their wholesale partners appears to be under strain.

One of the suggestions the article makes to repair it? “Curate and carry smaller brands. Cobrand with them. Be aggressive with marketing and PR,” Carrie Soucy, president of Miamore Communications in Providence, R.I., tells JCK. “Be the launchpad for the next great thing.”

I humbly suggest you begin that search with our gorgeously rendered still life (“Pearl Jam!”), where a fantastic selection of pretty–meets–punk-rock pearl jewels is bound to contain a piece that, while far from being free, is sure to appeal to at least one of your clients, regardless of how—or where—they come upon it.

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