Instagram? Insta-Slam!

A primer on using social media’s most jewelry-friendly marketing tool

Jewelry retailers depend on beautiful images—in catalogs and direct-mail flyers, on websites and, increasingly, on social media platforms—to grow their revenue.

Among the various social sites, Instagram in particular seems tailor-made for the jewelry industry, with its simple format, focus on images over text, and filters that can make a picture look ethereal, bold, or anywhere in between.

But the type of image that makes someone stop and take a second look is different on Instagram from, say, a glossy print ad. A head-on view of a jewel photographed in a lightbox against a white background simply isn’t going to cut it on the mobile app, no matter how striking the piece. 

Some Insta-Basics

“Pure white backgrounds generally are photos that say, ‘Hey, I’m trying to sell you this,’?” says Matthew Perosi, founder of Jeweler Website Advisory Group. Yet that’s not always the best approach on social media. “There are no distractions and the only thing a person can look at is the item, but it doesn’t give the personal experience the person could have while they’re wearing that jewelry,” he adds. 

Your social accounts should serve as support vehicles for your main product images, says Daniel Lemin, founder of One Good Brand. “When someone sees a compelling image on Instagram, it may warrant a visit to your website to look at a particular piece of jewelry in more detail. Combined, the photos should tell a whole story.”

Instagram photos should have personality, but that personality needs to fit with your brand. Jewelers and online marketing pros agree that around five to 10 new photos a week is a good rule of thumb.

“As soon as you see drop-off in engagement on a photo or post, you should think about posting another one,” Lemin says. “If you see a large amount of engagement at a particular time of day or day of the week, use that as the basis for your content calendar.”

Up to 10 photos a week might sound like a lot, but fortunately, Instagram lends itself to do-it-yourselfers. Although some Instagram-savvy jewelers use professionally shot work on their feeds, or take their own pictures with a digital single-lens reflex camera (a DSLR), many assert that it’s possible to take beautiful photos with nothing more than a smartphone.

@singlestonela: spotlighting what it does best—wedding rings

Styling the Shot

Since you’re not using a white background, you have to figure out what kind of background you want. One factor that can help you decide on a model or a still life is the kind of jewelry you’re photographing. 

“If you have a big chunky necklace, you probably want to shoot it on a model,” says David Barowsky, co-owner of New York City’s Antfarm Photography, which specializes in shooting jewelry. “Styling jewelry is difficult when it comes to necklaces, but rings are kind of styled by themselves.”

Many photos show just a close-up—say, a collarbone adorned with a delicate necklace or a hand stacked with colorful rings. “It’s more like you’re providing advice on how to wear your jewelry,” Perosi says.

“Even though there are a lot of rings on my fingers, I’m not just throwing rings on there,” says Jaclyn Graver, co-owner of Audry Rose in Santa Monica, Calif. “It’s the thought put into it. I’m thinking about what would look good together, and I think my followers notice that.” 

Model shots give the viewer a degree of perspective, says Graver. “We almost always use a hand—we just find that showing people the style close-up has been the most beneficial. They want to see how it’s going to look on.”

When in doubt, keep one concept in mind: lifestyle. “We’re creating the L.A. lifestyle,” says Arielle Madilian, social media and marketing coordinator at Single Stone in Los Angeles, whose promotions mix close-ups of hands holding or wearing jewelry with photos of weddings, picnics, and the city skyline. “We’re trying to create that lifestyle of who the Single Stone customer is, what they like to do.”

@crownnine: modeling a ring and bracelet

The Good (Still) Life

Popular jewelry still-life props include driftwood and flower arrangements. A variation of this approach involves a close-up product shot on a background that can be anything from wicker to leather to leaves. 

If you’re going to do a still life, though, nailing the details is crucial, Perosi says. Otherwise, you’ll detract from the jewelry. “It’s so difficult to get something as simple as a bow tied correctly to make it look perfect,” he says.

Zahir Jooma, co-owner of Atlanta’s Icebox Diamonds & Watches, couldn’t agree more. A following among celebrity entertainers and athletes brings folks to his feed, says Jooma, but the photos keep them coming back: Icebox has some 51,000 Instagram followers. “You have to connect with them,” he says. 

This means focusing on such minutiae as the brand of candy in the background of a Halloween-themed pic. “I didn’t like the candy they used,” he says of a failed photo attempt. “You can’t take pictures of a $20,000 watch with cheap candy.” In the end, staff replaced Rolos with more-upscale Ferrero Rocher. 

Going to such lengths might sound silly, but these are make-or-break details, Jooma says. “If it’s flowers, it better not be carnations. You have to think about it all.” 

Consistency Is Critical

It’s equally important to be stylistically consistent without being monotonous, according to experts and savvy Instagrammers. 

“I have noticed some of the more successful ones, maybe they pick two or three different environments,” Barowsky says. “Consistency is good. You probably want to be doing this every few days or every week, so you should have a few go-to environments.”  

Play around with angles—overhead shots, shots from the right or left, or oblique off–center shots. Decide which one or two suit your merchandise best, and stick with them. 

“We have maybe 10 basic looks—wood and steel backgrounds, and types of shots on the body like my hand holding a ring,” says Kate Ellen, founder of Crown Nine in Oakland, Calif. “It’s about getting a nice mixture.” 

But making sure your feed is recognizable is also key. When customers who live out of town come in to Ellen’s boutique, the feel of the place is already familiar to them, thanks to the tone of her photos, she says. 

@loveaudryrose: in case you’re wondering how to wear their stacking rings… 

Lighting and Filters

Natural light tends to be the photographer’s go-to for bringing out the best in nearly any kind of Instagram picture. “Use whatever natural light you have available,” Perosi advises. “Smartphones are so intelligent they can [often] compensate for light on their own.” 

And when using a smartphone, Barowsky says, “I would stay away from an on-camera flash. That’s going to kill it.”

When you get the shot, a bit of judiciously applied photo editing can go a long way. After all, Instagram became popular because of its bevy of ready-made filters. But there’s a fine line between enhancing and overdoing.

“We don’t really do any retouching,” Jooma says. “We don’t want them to look fake. We’re a brick-and-mortar store. [Our customers are] going to come in, and they want the piece to look as good as it did in the picture.”

The two biggest dangers are oversaturating your photos or washing them out. “We typically use…the higher-contrast type of filters, because you want that piece to be vibrant,” says Shane O’Neill, vice president at Toledo, Ohio–based Fruchtman Marketing, which specializes in jewelry. “You want to be able to really feel that diamond and not feel that it’s weighted down or that it’s too light so the diamond’s washed out.”

Dealing With Diamonds

Speaking of diamonds, experts agree they’re notoriously tough to photograph. A few tips: 

Experiment with angles. “We’ll either angle it face-on or slightly to the right,” Madilian says. “Sometimes you want to capture the light of a diamond a certain way, and it’s better to see the detail of a piece from the side.”

There’s a great tool for bringing out intricate details in the setting for a diamond or other piece, Perosi says. “I love the ‘sharpen’ effect, because a smartphone can rarely capture the full detail of intricate metalwork or the facets of a gemstone,” he says. “I sharpen photos I post to 60 percent or more.”

Another factor to consider is distance. “One thing is really knowing the closest distance you can get to any piece of jewelry before it gets blurry,” Ellen says. “You have to play with your camera and click to get right on that spot, then just take a bunch of pictures.”

Ultimately, that’s the advice all the savvy jewelers on Instagram give: Take lots of photos (more than you think you need), and don’t be afraid to experiment before you post. 

Top: @iceboxjewelry: touting a Rolex President day-date and “custom Icebox setup” #instawatches #atlanta #atl; inset: @iceboxjewelry: custom his-and-hers rings (well timed for those engaged-over-the-holidays shoppers)


Legal Limits

It’s important to know which photos and uses are safe.

Online doesn’t mean free. “We don’t take anything off the Internet,” says Jeweler Website Advisory Group’s Matthew Perosi. It’s easy to drop a pic of a celeb in a style you carry onto your Instagram, but avoid the temptation.

Skip the sales pitch. “A key attribute in classifying use as commercial is whether the image is used to promote a business, goods, or services,” says Getty Images’ legal team. 

Don’t tie commentary to your store. “Where a business is commenting only on current trends with no corresponding promotion…the use may be considered noncommercial,” Getty says. In other words, you can mention J. Lo’s jewelry—just not that you also sell it.

• Get a license. Getty or a stock site lets you register for rights-managed or royalty-free photos—you’ll pay, but less than you would otherwise. The drawback: They may not have the pics you want. 

Think DIY. “We license the photos from a stock photography company, or we take them ourselves,” Perosi says. This may limit your ability to show red-carpet moments, but it keeps you on the right side of the law. —MCW


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