Jewellery designers interviewed by JNA discuss how upcoming collections could reflect the signs of the times. According to them, jewellery pieces with elements of positivity and hope as well as those that symbolise the importance of human connections are likely to resonate heavily with consumers in a post-crisis world.
This article first appeared in the JNA July/August 2020 issue.
The world gradually coped with the trials and tribulations that came with self-isolating during Covid-19. In the jewellery design space, creativity took a purer, more profound form – one that rises above trends and circles back to the origin of all things artistic: The human experience.
According to jewellery designers, seismic shifts in consumption patterns and preferences as well as a newfound appreciation for life brought about by the coronavirus outbreak will inevitably permeate upcoming collections.
Jewellery pieces that symbolise faith and optimism alongside clean, subdued design elements that honour relationships and connections are likely to emerge in a post-pandemic era. These changes and the increasingly innovative ways that jewellers respond to such developments also attest to the resilience of the jewellery industry.
On the flipside, business disruptions and living in seclusion from society gave birth to opportunities to come up with fresh designs; build and strengthen digital footprints; and discover modern, unorthodox techniques to engage with clients.
British jewellery designer Stephen Webster, who established his eponymous brand in 1989, described the shift from studio to home “unsettling,” but the initial apprehension faded upon realising that the world is facing a universal dilemma.
“We were all in this together,” he noted.
Evidently, creativity flowed freely despite the lockdown, with the team spending the last 10 weeks working on multiple projects, including jewellery collections and two non-industry-related initiatives.
The brand also embarked on an online campaign to produce digital content including broadcasts filmed in the family kitchen to reach out to and connect with consumers. The response was immensely positive, according to the jeweller.
News of flora and fauna slowly reclaiming urban spaces as a result of fewer activities on the streets meanwhile spawned ideas for new designs, according to Hong Kong-based jewellery designer and environmentalist Jeanine Hsu, founder and creative director of niin.
Nature has always been a fountain of inspiration and hope especially during a time of difficulty, she added.
For Belgian designer Audrey Savransky, staying put instead of incessantly travelling allowed her to “re-centre,” conduct more extensive research and create mood boards for her next collections. Savransky, who lives in Hong Kong, set up jewellery brand AS29 in 2008.
Design conceptualisation has become doubly challenging without fashion shows to help gauge trends, but the exercise has also morphed into something more fulfilling, testing a designer’s true mettle.
Trends and opportunities
Not all companies are suffering during these challenging times. Luxury jewellery brand Stefere opened four new retail locations in Hong Kong in June, revealed Corina Larpin, creative director and founder of Stefere. The company also managed to keep all its employees and even hire new talents.
According to the jeweller, business interruptions have slowed down activities in her workshop and retail outlets, including usual preparations for major annual events such as the Met Gala.
Creativity however ensues. Larpin developed a series of jewellery designs featuring emeralds, rubies and sapphires during the lockdown. She and her team are actively creating content for the brand’s digital platforms as well.
Stefere’s enigmatic jewellery designs have captivated high-profile clients such as Madonna, Janet Jackson and Lady Gaga, to name a few, but simpler designs may gain more traction this time around.
“The coronavirus crisis helped speed up the transition from conventional retail to online,” Larpin noted. The company lets clients try on its signature pieces, including a set of earrings worn by Lady Gaga, using an Instagram feature that places augmented-reality masks on people’s faces. “There are limitations to these apps, of course. Sophisticated designs don’t seem to work. As a result, simpler styles could integrate faster onto digital platforms and become trendsetters,” explained Larpin.
With people yearning to feel connected with others and their surroundings, jewellery will become an even more compelling emotional totem, revealed Webster.
“The lockdown will result in people wanting to show appreciation for loved ones, a scramble for engagement rings and postponed weddings being reconfirmed,” he noted.
A spike in creativity historically occurs in the face of adversity. Against a more contemporary backdrop, today’s entrepreneurs are looking to social media platforms to build and strengthen ties with colleagues and customers and do business.
For her part, Hsu of niin sees a rise in alternative jewellery designs that will go well with face masks such as earrings. Designers will surely keep this in mind when planning their upcoming lines, she added.
Germany-based Yana Nesper of her titular pearl jewellery brand meanwhile expects more restrained demand for luxury items over the next few months since people may have lower disposable incomes.
There are however a few jewellery design trends that could emerge in light of the crisis. Buyers are likely to gravitate towards minimalistic pieces with geometric designs as well as more versatile items that can be worn in multiple ways, according to Nesper.
Mismatched earrings that help wearers achieve a more personalised look will also be highly sought after alongside pearl-adorned pieces in yellow gold.
The lockdown was also an opportune time for brands to invest in research and become skilled at social media channels to reacquaint themselves with today’s fast evolving consumer, noted Nesper.
Savransky similarly highlighted the importance of a company’s digital presence. She started selling online almost a year ago before the pandemic hit – a decision that proved auspicious for the business. According to her, AS29 has been receiving hefty orders in the last five months, especially at the height of stay-at-home measures.
Buyers’ choice of products has likewise evolved since the Covid-19 outbreak erupted early this year. For instance, there is increased interest in modest, sentimental pieces that can be worn daily for any occasion as opposed to statement items. Designing entry-price pieces however requires more aesthetic effort, disclosed Savransky. “The market for price-point items is already saturated and in terms of creativity, everything has been done. The challenge lies in reinventing and adding a modern twist to existing designs,” she noted.
Resilience and sustainability
The jewellery sector could experience a rebound once the crisis abates, with the summer months ushering in a gradual reopening of some sectors. Expectations however should be managed since prolonged lockdowns have decimated sales, especially those of smaller, individual enterprises.
But while Covid-19 may have inadvertently altered the business landscape, it also shone a light on the jewellery industry’s resourcefulness and flexibility, stated Webster. This will also bring about a watershed moment for consumers.
“Jewellers need to be mindful of the fact that there will be less money in the system, but people will still find a need and place for jewellery,” he continued.
Amid the contagion, Stephen Webster launched new collections online – a testament to the fact that predicaments breed ingenuity. Amid difficulties and suffering, imperfections are likewise celebrated such as gems with inclusions and handcrafted metal work as opposed to machine-perfected finish, he noted.
The pandemic is also giving new meaning to luxury, which can no longer be defined by the brand name and price alone but by the product’s exceptionality.
Gold as a store of wealth will likewise be high on buyers’ shopping lists, which in turn will spark greater interest in luxury jewellery, according to Larpin of Stefere. “Ultimately, the symbolic value of high-end jewellery items is not going to change,” she remarked. “There will always be demand for refined, handmade items of premium quality.”
Changes are likely to pervade buying behaviours too. Customers may have skimped on their jewellery purchases during the outbreak, but this did not alter the emotional weight they attach to luxury jewellery pieces.
Goods that reflect family values and commemorate love, connection and interpersonal relationships will be more attractive to buyers, added Larpin.
Hsu of Hong Kong jewellery brand niin is hoping for more pragmatic changes in the industry that will instil a culture of sustainability among today’s younger generation. This shines a spotlight on the jeweller’s upcycling techniques and collaboration with like-minded brands and charitable institutions.
“I hope people will make conscious choices in the future and support businesses that strive for ‘greener’ footprints and production cycles. Consumers should realise that what they buy is essentially a ‘vote’ for how our future would look like,” said Hsu.
Nesper agreed, adding that buyers are likely to embrace more evocative pieces with a story to tell or those produced with love and passion for the craft.