For decades, if you wanted to buy an engagement ring and weren’t looking to pay Cartier or Tiffany prices, there were two main options.
First, you can head to your local jeweler – perhaps the very one where your parents or even your grandparents bought their rings. The store may be named after the family that has run it for generations.
You can also head to the mall and check out the selection from Zales, Kay or Jared (all now owned by Signet Jewelers). The brand mattered less than the personalized shopping experience at the local jeweler or the accessible price offered by the chains.
Today, as Gen Z and Millennials look to put a ring on it, they’re embracing a new choice: jewelry brands that cater directly to consumers who have built their reputations on Instagram.
The past half-decade has seen the growth of a new kind of jewelry, with a new generation at the center. A cohort of mostly millennial, mostly female founders are breaking away from industry traditions by bringing the customer relationship online. More radically still, they place themselves at the center of their marketing.
These founder-influencers share photos of their kids’ Halloween costumes alongside snaps of the biggest diamonds they sell. They answer questions about fit and clarity in their Instagram stories, while showing how they style items from their assortment for their own parties. They not only sell engagement rings, but other classic pieces like diamond studs or tennis necklaces, as well as new designs.
Although these players are still small compared to luxury giants and mass-market chains, they have captured the attention of consumers: Ring Concierge, founded in 2013, for example, has more than 536,000 Instagram followers, more than Kay and Zales combined. They have also brought a new level of accessibility to an industry that has always been synonymous with opacity and where men have long dominated.
“The best selling tool for our business is for me to be myself,” said Madison Snider, founder of fine jewelry brand DTC Fewer Finer. “There are a lot of people who also like to wear a white t-shirt and jeans and a nice piece of jewelry or live in a walk-up apartment with three roommates and also want to have a really cool ring.”
Mainly operating at a higher price than mall chains but well below luxury brands, these start-ups have room to grow: online fine jewelry sales are expected to reach 18-21% of total jewelry sales. by 2025, up from 13% in 2019. , and outpacing the overall market by three times, according to the 2021 Watches and Jewelry report from BoF and McKinsey.
Changing industry dynamics
Historically, the jewelry industry has been fragmented, especially in comparison with other luxury sectors, such as bags or shoes. While industry powerhouses like Harry Winston and Cartier have always played an outsized role, much of the industry has been dominated by local family businesses, with supplier relationships often closely watched by these incumbents. .
“In this industry, the most important thing is the relationships you have with your suppliers,” said Thomai Serdari, professor and director of the fashion and luxury MBA program at NYU’s Stern School of Business. “Really knowing the supply chain issues and who the reliable suppliers are is what has made brands more competitive.”
In many ways, new jewelry influencers mirror their target audience.
Women buy jewelry for themselves – and they may more easily connect with a young female founder than a man 20 years their senior, or brands whose ads focus on men giving diamonds to their wives or their girlfriend.
Just over half of millennial women buy jewelry for themselves, according to a survey by market research firm MVI Marketing. These founders see this trend reflected in their own sales: Nicole Wegman, founder and CEO of Ring Concierge, said that 70% of Ring Concierge’s fine jewelry purchases are made by women. Stephanie Gottlieb, owner of an eponymous fine jewelry brand DTC, said the majority of her sales were also personal purchases.
As the price of other luxury goods, from Rolex watches to Chanel bags, soar, jewelers are promoting themselves as luxury at their fingertips, rather than a one-time purchase.
“A huge misconception is that fine jewelry should be formal, something you’ll pass down from generation to generation,” said Amanda Gizzi, director of the Jewelers of America business organization. “It becomes less formal and more fun.”
New brands have successfully marketed women as both the person who will wear the item and the person who will buy it. The growing popularity of mined diamond alternatives also marks a change. Meg Strachan, founder and CEO of Dorsey, a 2019-founded DTC jewelry brand that sells pieces featuring diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds and more, said changing attitudes around lab-grown stones , for both consumers and industry, have made it much easier to position them as a valid alternative to their mined counterparts.
Founders as influencers
Because fine jewelry carries a higher price tag and added emotion (especially in bridal jewelry), consumers are eager to get those answers before making a purchase. Deciphering the meaning of these terms and their impact on your purchase often requires an expert.
“We sell such important and expensive pieces, we want our customers to feel like we’re looking for them, we have good intentions and there’s a sense of authenticity and transparency in there,” Olivia Landau said. , founder and CEO of The Clear Cut, a DTC fine jewelry and bridal company.
This new generation of jewelry founders also approaches the educational aspect from the perspective of what today’s jewelry shopper is looking for, especially when it comes to the all-important engagement ring. Gottlieb, for example, has highlights on her Instagram page for each diamond shape, where she shares sample photos and tips on the intricacies of each shape. An oval, for example, is a stone that can hide imperfections more easily, so buyers may opt for lower clarity and a larger size. It will also show stones side by side to demonstrate the difference between carat sizes or styles, such as an elongated cushion cut versus a square cushion cut.
“Ninety-nine percent of women just want the biggest diamond their boyfriend can afford,” Wegman said. “And to get that, you have to go to other areas [like colour or clarity]. So a big part of my communication is guiding them towards that ultimate goal.
Social media is not only an educational tool for current customers, but also for future customers.
Besides personal posts, Gottlieb said the posts that receive the highest levels of engagement are those that dive into the jewelry-making process, such as before or after, previews of upcoming items, or information on how to make your own jewelry. the decisions.
“Any time you lose knowledge, people are thrilled about it,” Gottlieb said. “And that inevitably leads to a purchase because they’ll look back and say, ‘Stephanie taught me that, so I should buy it from her.'”