Top 10 trends in luxury gifts

WGSN, December 11 2003

As Christmas approaches, WGSN looks at some of the major trends (and hot items) for 2004 that are shaping the luxury jewellery and watch industries – key sectors in this important gift-giving season.

Diamonds for her
Diamonds always have been and always will be a girl’s best friend. No longer the sole preserve of engagement and eternity rings or precious heirloom pieces, diamonds are now becoming accessible to all. The diamond jewellery market continues to expand, with everyone wanting a piece of it.

Leading the way is the De Beers-LV retail venture, targeting the fashion diamond jewellery market (and women) by pitching for the right hand with the appropriately named Right Hand Ring concept. It’s a smart move heralded by a US ad campaign that reads, “Your left hand says ‘we’. And your right hand says ‘me’.”

Diamonds are also being used in fashion-inspired collections. London jeweller Stephen Webster has just extended his first easy-wearing Diamond Focus collection, with its cheeky tagline, “This jewellery comes with commitment when necessary but with lashings of glamour as standard.”

Look out for niche diamond ranges, especially those with a sentimental tack, such as Vera Wang’s diamond bridal range launching in partnership with Rosy Blue.

At the other end of the scale, Wal-Mart-owned Asda is now branching out into high-priced jewellery. Since November, customers across the UK have been able to pick up a £779, three-quarter carat “certified” diamond solitaire ring with their doughnuts.

As Tiffany launches a dedicated pearl jewellery retail concept in the US, watch the pearl market receive a similar diamond-sized boost….

Self-purchase
Linked to the burgeoning diamond market is the increasing amount of women buying their own jewellery.

“We’re probably at the beginning of a new era,” says De Beers’ CEO Alain Lorenzo, commenting on the growth of “self-purchasing”. “We’d like the consumer to consider buying jewellery like they would buy a new handbag.”

“It’s women who buy our jewellery and when they do, they’re far more adventurous than men,” says Stephen Webster, adding that the self-purchase phenomenon is a sign of the times.

De Beers’ latest collections, designed specifically for the fashion-led first-time female buyer. With kinetic, interchangeable parts, pavé-set stones and clever branding, the So DB and Butterfly ranges are highly accessible and seriously collectible.

Jewellery (and diamonds) for him
Blame it on the persistent bling-bling factor, but high-octane, decorative watches and jewellery are not solely for female consumers. Look at soccer star David Beckham, who wore thousands of pounds worth of jewellery when receiving his MBE from the Queen in December 2003 and has helped popularise the rap- and hip hop-inspired gangsta culture with its flashy rocks and oodles of gold, as well as all the trappings of new money – Cristal champagne, Courvoisier and cigars.

Now watch men’s jewellery hit the mainstream in 2004. In the US, sports products specialist Everlast Worldwide entered into a licensing agreement in November with Miles Bernard for the development of a line of men’s fine jewellery to be launched early 2004. In the UK, men’s jewellery brand Fred Bennett upped its profile by launching an October ad campaign seeing beautiful models fawning over elderly men wearing Fred Bennett jewellery. Meanwhile, UK high street retailer Topman is working with Freedom to create dedicated men’s jewellery collections.

Unisex looks are also key, from Bulgari’s Optical range to Stephen Webster’s Touchstones collection for Guess.

Lifestyle
With luxury goods groups and designers helping to revive established names in fashion such as Yves Saint Laurent, the jewellery sector is receiving similar attention. “Luxury groups such as Gucci started buying up old names and reviving them, such as Boucheron. Tom Ford sexed up YSL, so why not look to jewellers too?” asks Stephen Webster.

Part of this revitalisation has been to create a lifestyle image for luxury jewellery. For example, the latest Garrard adverts, with hand-drawn Union Jacks and Carnaby Street images, focus on London’s street style history.

Also look to Asprey, the latest luxury design house to get a 21st century makeover as a lifestyle brand, focusing on its quintessentially British heritage. With the image, comes the celebrity face: for Asprey it’s actress and Pirates of the Caribbean star Keira Knightley.

On a smaller scale, luxury brands are expanding their ranges to include lifestyle accessories. At Swarovski, it’s high-end homewares; at Bond Street stationer Smythson in the UK, it’s a fashion-oriented range of women’s bags. For watch brand TechnoMarine, it’s a lifestyle collection of jewellery and knives inspired by its Maori watch. At Boucheron, the lifestyle image is taking shape under owner Gucci with the promise of a sunglasses range and new perfumes from next spring.

Personalisation and exclusivity
Today’s consumer searches for individualism and uniqueness – whether it’s a one-off vintage necklace or a limited edition watch. The importance of vintage designs are still key; looking at November 2003’s Sotheby’s Passion For Fashion catalogue, it’s jewellery (especially art deco pieces) that covers the opening pages, not clothes. British designer Paul Smith is also stocking vintage jewellery in his stores, while UK Vogue points readers in the direction of London’s Gray’s Antiques Market to hunt out their own costume jewellery treasures. Meanwhile, romantic engravings remain a simple but effective way of personalising jewellery.(See Trends Info jewellery fast track, Hidden Treasures)

Just as the watch sector has continually offered limited editions, many traditional jewellers have always offered a bespoke service – it’s an intrinsic part of the industry and just as important as ever.

The individual personalities of independent boutique jewellers are also providing an attractive alternative to some of the larger names in the industry. Look to the Westbourne Grove area in London with its bohemian village appeal and where a rash of jewellery boutiques are opening: there’s funky diamond specialist Wynt & Kidd and EC One, offering “fashion-led and precious jewellery”, both joining neighbour Dinny Hall and just around the corner from Boucheron designer Solange Azagury-Partridge’s unique boutique. The latest additions are Fiona Knapp’s boudoir-like store and body jewellery specialist J Maskrey’s shop.

Technology
One of the most interesting trends for luxury accessories is the merger with technology, especially MP3 players and mobile phones – after all, gadgets such as the iPod and Xelibri phones are proving to be the new accessories, no longer designed according to mere functionality but embracing fashion and style.

The latest report from retail consulting firm NPD Group says that if retailers want to know how to reach out to teenagers, they should start thinking about how their fashions can enhance the technological gadgets that teens love so much: indeed, teenagers are becoming more interested in the latest digital device than they are over the latest pair of jeans.

British fashion designer Luella Bartley has teamed up with Sony Electronics for the creation of a limited edition range of Luella accessories that complements Sony’s new Net MD Walkman Recorder.

Nokia is also launching its innovative 7600 in Europe in collaboration with seven exclusive retailers: Conran Shop (London), Corso Como 10 (Milan), Colette (Paris), Vincon (Barcelona & Madrid), Wittgenstein (Munich) and Asplunds (Stockholm). Following this and “incorporating a ‘total experience’ design philosophy” is the Nokia 7200, which offers consumers the chance to dress up their mobile. These inbox items include ornamental textile covers in fashionable colours and designs, a wrist strap and matching pouch. To complete their coordinated mobile ensemble, users can download matching wallpapers and screensaver graphics from www.nokia.com.

At the high end of the scale, phone company Vertu has carved its own luxurious niche. Purposefully weighty and carried in their own spectacle-like cases, the vertu handsets utilise all the traditional materials associated with watchmaking; ceramic, ruby components and leather.

Versatility and dual-purpose
Whether it’s a pair of shoes that can be turned into boots using fastened-on components or a ring that doubles as a pill case, consumers are increasingly wanting products that are not simply ornamental, but also have added functions and purposes (see WGSN News report on Luxury briefing’s November conference).
These can be a multifunctional chronograph watch, jewellery with twisting or interchangeable kinetic parts, a watch with multiple straps or day-to-night reversible earrings.

Versatility is key, as is the knowledge that women don’t want to be pigeonholed.

“Most women are more than one personality,” says De Beers designer Reema Pachachi. “Women look in the mirror one day and say, ‘today I want to wear vampish clothes’, or another day they may want to project a different image.”

Investment and quality
According to Doug Benjamin, of Singapore-based luxury goods distributor FJ Benjamin, consumers are looking towards quality again. “People miss quality, they’d like to have it back,” he told WGSN. “Better quality products may be expensive, but consumers are willing to pay for this.”

And as much as fashion is playing a bigger part in fine jewellery design, it is not overruled by the timeless qualities associated with precious gems or a fine watch. In the current climate, where global economies are still wobbling precariously, damaged by war and terrorism, these items are still seen as an investment by consumers, embodying sentiment and enduring quality.

“The context we live in centres around fashion, but longevity and significance are always there, we cannot ignore them, ” says Boucheron designer Solange Azagury-Partridge.

Tradition and enduring sentiment
And then there’s the heirloom factor. “My clients still want jewellery that they can pass on to their daughters and granddaughters,” says Azagury-Partridge.

“The spectrum of jewellery customers is widening,” says Asprey jewellery designer Alessandra Gradi, noting that despite this new foray into fashion-inspired design and the self-purchase market, sentiment and quality are still essential factors. “There are many new social groups that are starting to buy into the luxury market. Whatever the motives, jewellery can still be defined as one of the most durable symbols of sentiment and status.”

Fashion influences and branding
Jewellery is becoming an important fashion accessory, like a must-have handbag. As fashion brands such as Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Chanel, Dior, Versace, Louis Vuitton and Prada (stocking vintage Fred Leighton in its New York SoHo store since November 2003) focus on jewellery, in turn, fine jewellers like Asprey and Garrard are taking a few strategy lessons from fashion companies by producing diffusion, branded ranges and culturing lifestyle images.

Branding jewellery is a key strategy. Boucheron’s latest and more accessible L’Eau a la Bouche collection, just like De Beers’ signature So DB and Butterfly ranges (and almost every must-have designer handbag for that matter), opts for those still-essential logos – a “B”-stamped chocolate chunk ring is Boucheron’s signature in this case. It’s all part of the house’s fashion-led revitalisation at the hands of Gucci.

Just as diffusion apparel ranges are important to the larger luxury brands, diffusion jewellery ranges are also appearing. Stephen Webster has launched his Touchstones range of jewellery for fashion label Guess, based on semi-precious stones and has extended his tongue-in-cheek range of cameo jewellery for homewares company Wedgwood. Another London jeweller, Theo Fennell, has launched a range for UK department store retailer Debenhams, titled Tomfoolery.

Jewellery trends to watch out for…

1. Red carpet
It started with shoulder-scraping chandelier earrings (pictured here by H Stern, worn by singer Jewel) and now the red carpet is one of the best place to see key jewellery trends emerging.

2. Luxury global traveller
“Travel is an integral part of our lives and products on the market are springing up around this concept,” according to Retail Jeweller and Gem company Signity. “Cross-cultural aspects give rise to the eclectic look, which will remain strong over the next few years.” (Pictured: Boucheron’s Talitha Roman ring).

3. Sensuality
Appealing to the female consumer are softly feminine shapes: think of items that caress and curve around the body and that feel good on the skin. (Pictured: Bulgari’s Theme collection)

4. Celebrities
The J.Lo range of fashion jewellery produced by Haskell Jewels in the US is a great example of celebrities – who may already have clothing ranges – branching out into jewellery.

5. Gold
“Big, bold and colourful” – these are Stephen Webster’s dictates for the spring 2004 season, as he looks to fashion and the catwalk for inspiration. “I haven’t used a lot of yellow gold in ages,” he says. “But there’s a lot of yellow appearing on the catwalks and gold has a more contemporary feel now.”

6. Tanzanite
Being heavily promoted by the Tanzanite Foundation as a “new gem on the block”, rarer than diamonds. With diamond jewellery becoming more accessible, high-end jewellery may be characterised by the search for stones that are rarer and more precious.

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