If you think you’re hawking products, think again. Stories are what sell. Take a page from three of jewelry’s best tale-tellers for tips on crafting your own.
Some of the best-known fine jewelry brands and retail entities—both established and emerging—blossomed into existence through a series of circumstances, events, and decisions that, woven together, form engaging narratives.
These intriguing origin stories aren’t just fodder for the “About Us” section of your website. When wielded wisely, true tales can guide and enliven a company’s marketing, branding, and sales strategies.
“People buy stories, not products,” says Andrew Lloyd, founder of Luxury Lloyd, a marketing firm based in Hertfordshire, England. “A good backstory is essential to any modern luxury brand.”
Below are a few of our favorite jewelry origin tales from brands that continue to capitalize on their roots to differentiate themselves and inspire wellsprings of consumer enthusiasm and devotion. We hope their narratives—and a few tips from some bright marketing minds—will give you ideas on how to best leverage your own.
Renaissance bracelet in sterling silver and 14k gold with green onyx, chrome diopside, and Hampton blue topaz, $1,100, David Yurman, 212-752-4255, davidyurman.com
David Yurman’s Meeting of the Minds
Part of the appeal of New York City–based iconic jewelry brand David Yurman has always been its origin: an unbreakable partnership between husband-and-wife artists David and Sybil Yurman. They met when David, a sculptor, was working as a foreman in sculptor Hans Van de Bovenkamp’s Greenwich Village studio in the late 1960s, and Sybil, a painter, came in to apply for a job. “For me,” David recalls, “it was probably love at first sight.”
Sybil inspired David’s first-ever wearable art pieces: bold designs that felt like natural extensions of his sculptures. And after a local gallerist admired one of his necklaces on Sybil and ordered up four more (which sold out quickly), the Yurmans became bona fide jewelers.
The couple debuted Putnam Art Works in the 1970s, changing the name to David Yurman in 1980. Though his name is on the door, “the roots of the business are based on our collaborative partnership,” David says. “We never set out to make a business. It was always done the way we painted or did sculpture: a private moment, dreaming with our hands.”
The couple’s synergistic partnership and shared artistic background have been a part of the brand’s DNA for decades. They underscore the company’s digital and print marketing and advertising, and help define the kind of events and promotional initiatives it produces.
This past holiday season, for example, David Yurman collaborated with paper artist Calvin Nicholls on the windows of its store in downtown Manhattan to create a fairy-tale forest scene evoking the upstate New York landscape where the Yurmans had their first date.
The company also shares its complete history on its gorgeous website, on a page titled “Heritage.” The story of David and Sybil (and their son, Evan) is illustrated, magazine-style, with photos of significant people, places, and designs from its timeline. It’s not a long-winded history, but rather a series of easy-to-read blurbs that appear as you scroll down the page. (Fans of the brand will also find the story told through the lens of its most iconic design in the pages of David Yurman Cable, a coffee-table book published by Rizzoli last fall.)
Stories like theirs “connect you to your customer,” says Ellen Fruchtman, a veteran jewelry marketer and president of Fruchtman Marketing. “And the minute you connect with customers is the minute you secure their trust and loyalty.”
Fruchtman warns retailers to steer clear of long and/or depressing family histories on their website. “We’re in a business that celebrates relationships and love,” she says. “You still have to wordsmith the story carefully.”
Kendra Scott recently sponsored 10 families facing terminal illness on a trip to Walt Disney World, in partnership with Inheritance of Hope; Kendra Scott and her late stepfather, Rob; Nettie statement necklace in gold-plated brass, $140, Kirsten drop earrings with bronze-veined turquoise magnesite in 14k gold–plated brass, $75, Kendra Scott, 866-677-7023, kendrascott.com
Kendra Scott’s Will to Give
Kendra Scott, the Austin, Texas–based jewelry designer and industry phenomenon, comes from a different, but no less resonant, place in her work.
Scott debuted her first-ever business, The Hat Box, as a teenager. The store made and sold hats for women undergoing chemotherapy and made in-kind donations to cancer research. It was short-lived, but the retail venture solidified her path.
When she opened The Hat Box, her stepfather, Rob, was battling brain cancer. “He taught me that the most important thing in life is to use my talents to do good in the lives of others,” Scott says.
The brand Kendra Scott debuted in 2002 sprang directly from the entrepreneur’s desire to “share my love for fashion and also help others.”
From day one, the company maintained a “never say no” policy on philanthropy. In 2016 alone, the business donated $3.5 million to charity, along with 75,000 pieces of jewelry to 3,500 local and national organizations.
The brand maintains a page on its site titled “You Do Good,” in homage to the last words Scott’s stepfather said to her before he passed away. There, the designer presents her history and vision for her philanthropic jewelry company, surrounded by beautiful and inspirational full-color photos from various charitable events. That her page about philanthropy looks as glossy and highly designed as the rest of her site communicates just how crucial those efforts are to the company’s mission.
Scott’s also famous for masterminding Oprah Winfrey–style “just because” gifting scenarios: In November 2017, the designer partnered with Southwest Airlines to hand out a small gift to each passenger flying out of Austin on a flight to Chicago (her hometown). When the passengers deplaned, they were greeted by a Santa Claus dressed in the brand’s signature yellow who collected five huge Kendra Scott boxes that rolled off the baggage carousel. Inside the boxes were dozens of tiny boxes of Kendra Scott jewelry, which Santa handed out to passengers.
The brand’s Instagram is peppered with philanthropic company news and ways to connect with consumers in that sphere. Leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, the company posted a call to its followers: “Tell us a cause dear to your heart.” All those who responded could potentially win a donation in their name. On V-Day, Kendra Scott selected 10 winners and donated a total of $2,500 to the causes of their choice.
By always saying yes to philanthropic requests, the brand, which is now valued at more than $1 billion, has gained loyalty and exposure quickly. “I always come back to the three words my stepfather, Rob, spoke to me before he passed away: ‘You do good,’ ” Scott says. “I look at every decision I make as a designer and business owner through that lens.”
Luxury industry marketer Lloyd stresses the importance of promoting “a story with purpose.” In Scott’s case, that purpose colors every facet of her brand, sharpening its identity in a marketplace riddled with competitors.
Lloyd also urges jewelry firms to ask themselves a single question when considering how to share their narratives. “Why does this brand exist in the world aside from making profits?” he says. “A good story emanates from a strong brand foundation. Without the latter, the former will have no real meaning.”
Mother-daughter duo Ladan Vahdat and Tania Shayan; Essentials Gemstone Orbit ring in 18k rose gold with 0.99 ct. t.w. white diamonds and 1.2 cts. t.w. pink and 1.45 cts. t.w. blue sapphires, $7,980, Essentials Rainbow Link bracelet with 8.2 cts. t.w. multicolored gemstones in 18k gold, $15,750, Shay, 646-745-6831, shayfinejewelry.com
Shay’s Family Affair
Jewelry designer Tania Shayan, cofounder of Los Angeles–based Shay, was still in high school when she asked her mother, lifelong jewelry lover and collector Ladan Vahdat, to help her make a leather-and-links bracelet she was coveting. The pair figured it out, and liked the design so much, they took it to a local boutique owner, who ordered up a batch of bracelets on the spot. Several retail accounts later, they were in business as a trend-driven costume jewelry company.
The mother-daughter team pivoted to fine jewelry roughly six years ago, and the collection has since become a go-to for stylists and starlets, and a favorite of jewelry fans who appreciate its stylish take on laid-back luxury.
Shay’s beginnings as a mother-daughter operation are a defining part of the brand’s identity: “Every piece we make, I love and my mom loves, and we’re both going to wear,” Shayan says. “That’s what we always think about, and what gives us the [wide] customer age range we have.”
The “About Us” section of Shay’s website features a large, professionally shot photo of Shayan and Vahdat, and shares the following: “Unlike other brands with a design team or single point of view, Shay is equal parts Ladan and Tania—two innately stylish women from different generations. While their aesthetic is remarkably similar, they enjoy working in tandem to ensure that every piece is perfectly wearable for women of all ages.”
Additionally, the brand uses Instagram to showcase the duo traveling, doing trunk shows, and generally enjoying life in each other’s orbits. Social media is “perfect for this type of storytelling,” Fruchtman notes. And the genuinely warm relationship between mother and daughter differentiates Shay from its competitors.
Appearing human, especially when you’re a luxury brand, can be a huge advantage in today’s marketplace. “A story about your family—there can be nothing more powerful to communicate in your marketing,” Fruchtman says. “It makes you real.”
Top: David and Sybil Yurman’s life in pictures
(Black-and-white photos: courtesy of Rizzoli from the book David Yurman Cable;
David & Sybil Yurman: Stephanie Keenan/Wireimage)