What does it take for the woman who is an occasional jewelry buyer to become a collector? More specifically, what can a retailer do to transform that casual customer into a loyal patron—one who thinks of jewelry as an essential part of her wardrobe and is willing to spend her own money to get exactly what she wants?
In an uncertain retail environment, the quest to attract female self-purchasers has never been more intense. After all, women make a whopping 85 percent of consumer buying decisions, according to the Interpublic Group of advertising agencies, and more than 90 percent of decisions about spending on food, vacations, and new homes. The jewelry industry, with its emphasis on engagement rings and gift giving, has traditionally lagged behind in attracting female buyers, but the rise in women’s earning power is helping change that: De Beers’ most recent Diamond Insight Report revealed that 31 percent of non-bridal diamond jewelry was self-purchased by millennials in 2015, an increase of six percentage points since 2013.
With so many sources of inspiration and temptation available to female jewelry lovers via the internet, social media, and 24/7 celebrity coverage, traditional retailers have had to step up their game. “If you stand behind the counter and wait for people to come into the store, it’s not going to happen,” says Candy Udell, president of London Jewelers, which has served fashionable customers on New York’s Long Island for 90 years and recently opened its sixth location in the Oculus at the World Trade Center transportation hub. “Clienteling is not what it used to be.”
Lollipop, Senso, and Rock Candy collection bangles in 18k gold with turquoise, mother-of-pearl, and diamonds; $1,995–$5,995; Ippolita; 877-865-5500; ippolita.com
Emily Sarah cocktail ring in 14k yellow gold with 0.07 ct. t.w. diamonds; $550; Dana Rebecca; 312-701-1773; danarebeccadesigns.com
Cleo gold, diamond, and lapis statement ring; $3,100; Marli; firstname.lastname@example.org; marlinyc.com
Octo Finissimo Automatic 40 mm watch in titanium; $13,900; Bulgari; 800-BULGARI; bulgari.com
Drop earrings in 18k yellow gold with Australian opal; $5,500; Amáli; 718-789-8976; amalijewelry.com
Recently JCK met with Udell to talk clienteling at London’s flagship in the ultra-posh Americana Manhasset shopping enclave, 20 miles east of Manhattan. It’s not an overstatement to call the store a palace of jewelry: In 20,000 square feet divided into distinct boutiques and multiple storefronts, London sells its own collections as well as more than 50 designers ranging from Cartier and Chopard to Roberto Coin and Harry Winston.
A pioneer in partnering with established brands, London boasts David Yurman and Van Cleef & Arpels mini-boutiques on one end of the space and Chanel on the other. A sun-splashed Two by London bridal shop offers custom-made engagement rings and wedding bands, and the newly redesigned watch salon brings together the world’s best timepieces. In short, any woman could build an enviable jewelry collection here, attracted by the wide selection of merchandise and the personal attention that London has shown to four generations of loyal clients.
“Nobody else does what we do in terms of customer service,” says Udell’s daughter Randi Udell-Alper. “The internet doesn’t give you that hands-on experience.”
Certainly the internet won’t come to your yacht, docked in Sag Harbor, and bring jewelry to complement a season’s worth of outfits, as Udell-Alper has done. “She goes into people’s closets and jewelry boxes and styles them,” Udell explains with a laugh. “Randi wears 15 bracelets of every brand, and she brings that sense of fashion to her clients. We call it an arm party. People give her their arm and say, ‘Style me.’ Younger clients get the same level of care when shopping for stackable rings or necklaces that can be worn in layers.”
The retailer got its start when watchmaker Charles London, who emigrated from Europe to Long Island, went door to door in the early 1920s offering to repair clocks at Gold Coast estates. That level of service remains the key to success for today’s independent jewelry retailers, according to Udell.
“Get customers involved with the basics,” she says, “because once they come to you for a pair of studs and you do right by them, they will come back. Once they buy a watch, knowing you’ll take care of them whenever they walk into your store, they will become a client and start building a wardrobe, not only for themselves but for their children and grandchildren. That’s what every jeweler’s specialty has to be: relationships.”
No wonder the word family pops up constantly in conversation with Udell, who uses it to refer to customers, business partners such as David and Sybil Yurman, local charities, and, of course, her husband, Mark Udell (CEO and grandson of the company’s founder), and their two adult children. Son Scott Udell dreamed up the millennial-focused Two by London concept, while Udell-Alper works with her mom on buying, marketing, and event planning.
Panthère Joueuse in 40 mm 18k white gold case with brilliant-cut diamonds, lacquer spots, and emerald eyes; price on request; Cartier; 800-CARTIER; cartier.us
Mixed diamond double wire illusion earrings in 14k yellow gold; $595; Zoë Chicco; 213-489-1226; zoechicco.com
Forevermark by Jade Trau pavé signet ring in 18k yellow gold; $2,900; Forevermark;
Scallop Artisan pavé pendant in 18k white gold with 1.57 cts. t.w. diamonds; $5,680; Harry Kotlar; 213-626-0428; harrykotlar.com
Flex Forte bypass bracelet in 18k white gold with 0.3 ct. t.w. diamonds; $2,200; A. Link;
Mad About Marketing
The family actively participates in the company’s marketing efforts, including distributing 60-pound holiday gift baskets of fresh fruit and gourmet goodies to 350 top clients. (“When people get bumped off the list, we hear about it,” Udell quips.) London Jewelers hosts charity cocktail parties at its two Hamptons locations, and Udell has received national recognition for her Cause for Paws jewelry line, whose proceeds have saved the lives of more than 2,500 shelter dogs to date. Two by London has partnered with Tacori and Forevermark in a series of scavenger hunts in which young couples compete to win a $25,000 diamond engagement ring.
Although London maintains an extensive website and active social media presence, Udell firmly believes there is no substitute for handling a piece of fine jewelry. “You can research a million things online, but you really have to touch it and see how it’s made, feel the weight of it, look at the stones,” she says. “Jewelry is an emotional purchase, and websites lose a lot of that [feeling].”
As for that coveted self-purchaser, Udell sees an increase in women shopping on their own for what she considers the core pieces of a jewelry collection: diamond stud earrings, bracelets that can be layered, and chain necklaces that can be worn at different lengths. Even the Two by London department is set up to encourage brides-to-be to participate in the design of their rings. Notes Udell-Alper: “Our customers start with the classics and then add in things that are funkier. It’s how I like to wear jewelry, mixing new pieces with things my grandmother gave me.”
Having spent her career catering to luxury shoppers, Candy Udell has concluded that the personal nature of jewelry inspires a higher level of customer loyalty than other accessories and apparel.
“When it comes to a handbag or shoes, women will buy it wherever they see it,” she says. “But in the world of jewelry, there are so many firsts—baby gifts and push presents, bar and bat mitzvahs, communions, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays. These are the special occasions you help people celebrate, and you become part of their family.”
Sidney 38 mm chronograph with signature zigzag hand-set diamond bezel and mother-of-pearl dial; $1,895 (available July 25); Michele; michele.com
Nudo rings in 18k rose and white gold with prasiolite, diamonds, madeira quartz,
blue topaz and diamonds, London blue topaz, and amethyst; $1,750–$13,450;
Pomellato; 800-254-6020; pomellato.com
One-of-a-kind Starfish Sea pendant in 18k yellow and white gold with 32.2 ct. boulder opal and 0.88 ct. t.w. diamonds; $36,500; Monica Rich Kosann; 203-972-3115; monicarichkosann.com
Paradise necklace hand-engraved in 18k yellow gold with chalcedony; $6,530;
Marco Bicego; 415-249-3800; marcobicego.com
Oceanica Fringe earrings with gray pearls and hematine; $950; David Yurman; 212-752-4255; davidyurman.com
The Gail with dark camel textured leather strap and gold sandblast sunray dial; $700; Shinola; 888-304-2534; shinola.com
Top: 18k rose gold open hexagon with rock crystal pendant, $2,750, Walters Faith,
917-484-0490, waltersfaith.com; double elongated teardrop earrings in 14k white gold with 1.39 cts. t.w. diamonds, $2,495, Ritani, email@example.com, ritani.com; Haute Couture ring in 18k white gold with 2.8 cts. t.w. diamonds, pink sapphires, and tourmalines, $39,000, Roberto Coin, 212-486-4545, robertocoin.com; Sonoma Mist Dew Drops bracelet in 18k yellow gold and sterling silver, $4,490, Tacori, 800-421-9844, tacori.com