Ele­gance and af­ford­abil­ity (and Meghan Markle!) are the driv­ing forces be­hind demi-fine jew­ellery.

Fash­ion-for­ward jew­ellery that is nei­ther fine nor cos­tume sparkles for a new and younger clien­tele.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Joy Pec­knold

M eghan Markle’s en­gage­ment ring is un­doubt­edly grand, but I don’t think it’s her most in­ter­est­ing piece of jew­ellery. The three thin gold bands she wore in­di­vid­u­ally on her right hand this past Jan­uary in­spired news out­lets to con­sult palm­istry ex­perts on what the adorn­ments might mean. More com­pelling than the du­bi­ous con­nec­tion be­tween a thumb ring and con­trol­ling ten­den­cies is the fact that they’re more read­ily avail­able to the av­er­age woman, coupled up or not, and don’t re­quire the bankroll of a well-off fi­ancé, prince or oth­er­wise.

These diminu­tive every­day jew­ellery pieces of Markle’s—one of which is a 14-karat yel­low-gold pavé bar stack ring with .05-carat di­a­monds by Zofia Day—fit into a fast-grow­ing cat­e­gory dubbed “demifine.” Although not clearly de­fined, “demi-fine” is the term that Neta-Porter at­tached to a selection of lines it be­gan sell­ing in 2016 that fall be­tween fine jew­ellery and cos­tume jew­ellery; they use many of the same ma­te­ri­als as the for­mer yet are more af­ford­able and fash­ion-for­ward, like the lat­ter. One of the cat­e­gory’s best­sellers is New York-based Wwake, founded by Van­cou­ver­born de­signer Wing Yau. Only a hand­ful of Wwake’s pieces are avail­able in ster­ling sil­ver, while the ma­jor­ity of them are made from 14-karat gold. Yau also uses plenty of di­a­monds, but the opal is Wwake’s sig­na­ture stone, and with four mil­lime­tres as its stan­dard size, it’s more af­ford­able: The cost dif­fer­ence be­tween opals and di­a­monds is sig­nif­i­cant—$600 ver­sus $3,100. In 2012, Yau ini­tially launched Wwake with a sculp­tural col­lec­tion fea­tur­ing

Any­thing over $1,500 gives women pause. “Ev­ery­thing un­der that is ‘Well, it’s ex­pen­sive, but I can do it.’”

ma­te­ri­als like rope and thread as well as bronze, gold and sil­ver. A year later, she com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing fine jew­ellery, and Wwake’s sales more than dou­bled the fol­low­ing year.

Wwake’s core cus­tomer is Yau’s own de­mo­graphic: mil­len­ni­als. “I think our gen­er­a­tion wants to in­vest in some­thing that will last a life­time, es­pe­cially af­ter go­ing through the eco­nomic strug­gles of the re­ces­sion at the be­gin­ning of [our] ca­reers,” she says. “We’re look­ing for some­thing that is sta­ble in all forms.” The tiny scale of Wwake’s pieces is at­trac­tive both aes­thet­i­cally and fi­nan­cially. (Prices range from $46 to $9,600, with most items cost­ing $1,000 or less.) “Our cus­tomers can build their col­lec­tions faster than they can with higher-end fine jew­ellery,” says Yau. “Maybe it mir­rors how we use our phones, how our tim­ing is a lot faster with ev­ery­thing.” Pre­dom­i­nantly self-made women, the cus­tomers also aren’t wait­ing on other peo­ple or for mile­stone mo­ments. “They come up with great ex­cuses to buy them­selves jew­ellery,” chuck­les Yau.

A recent market sur­vey con­ducted by Birks con­firms this pur­chas­ing shift. “We buy our shoes, we buy our hand­bags and we def­i­nitely want to buy our own jew­ellery,” says Eva Hartling, vice-pres­i­dent and CMO of Birks. “We’re see­ing many more self­pur­chas­ing women choos­ing pieces for them­selves.” As a re­sult, the 139-yearold fine jew­eller is re­tool­ing how it de­signs its col­lec­tions and stores.

In 2015, Birks cre­ated Rock & Pearl—its first full col­lec­tion of ster­ling-sil­ver pieces—as an in­ten­tional ef­fort to of­fer an en­try-level price point. With most of the pieces priced un­der $500, it was one of the brand’s most suc­cess­ful launches to date.

Draw­ing on the breadth of its de­sign mo­tifs and ma­te­ri­als, Birks launched Iconic in Novem­ber 2017. “Iconic is min­i­mal­ist de­sign—the weight in gold is not so great that it dic­tates a higher price point,” says Hartling. The line of mix-and-match stack­able rings ranges in price from $150 to $4,995, with most of the gold and di­a­mond pieces com­ing in at un­der $1,500. No stranger to Birks, Markle wore rings from the Iconic col­lec­tion dur­ing her recent vis­its to Wales and Scot­land.

Fo­cus groups and de­sign pan­els are the new norm for Birks’s all-fe­male cre­ative team, and the con­sen­sus is that women seek a balance be­tween trends and time­less­ness. Even the en­gage­ment ring market has changed. “Although women may have the budget to choose any­thing they want, they’ll still of­ten say ‘No, I don’t want my ring to be too big; I don’t want the big­gest di­a­mond. I just want some­thing that fits the style I like.’ It’s not about spend­ing the max­i­mum amount they can,” says Hartling.

Mo­ti­vated by both her own and her clients’ tran­si­tion­ing tastes, Van­cou­ver-based per­sonal stylist Michelle Ad­di­son col­lab­o­rated with jew­eller Ne­gar Khatami to launch Roque late last year. “I am at that age—al­most 40—where there is more in­ter­est in longevity. We’re not buy­ing tons of jew­ellery any­more, so it has to go with a lot of our wardrobe,” says Ad­di­son. “If we can’t wear it ev­ery day, it’s not good value.”

Clean and min­i­mal (Ad­di­son cites Phoebe Philo’s Cé­line as an in­spi­ra­tion), the jew­ellery line is fine in more ways than one (just like Wwake), with prices start­ing at $55 for a tiny, sin­gu­lar 14-karat gold stud and go­ing up to $3,700 for a triple di­a­mond neck­lace. “We’d never be able to do a huge, chunky neck­lace in real gold be­cause it would cost some­thing like $12,000, and we’re not sure peo­ple want a $12,000 heavy gold neck­lace any­way,” says Ad­di­son. “Our stuff is mod­ern but light.” She also thinks that any­thing over $1,500 gives women pause. “It seems ev­ery­thing un­der that is ‘Well, it’s ex­pen­sive, but I can do it.’”

Khatami sees a very prac­ti­cal side to own­ing higher-qual­ity pieces: “If you have a bunch of gold jew­ellery, it’s an in­vest­ment; you can al­ways turn it into dol­lars.” And, as Yau al­ludes to, be­yond demi-fine jew­ellery be­ing a fash­ion ac­ces­sory, per­haps its grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity is also due to a de­sire for more per­ma­nence. Pre­cious met­als are more sta­ble than most economies and re­la­tion­ships, and whether we’re be­trothed or not, the pieces we buy for our­selves serve as a sub­tle, stylish and en­dur­ing dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence.

FROM LEFT: MIN­I­MAL­IST HOOP EAR­RINGS BY ROQUE; DAINTY RINGS BY WWAKE FEA­TUR­ING OPALS, THE BRAND’S SIG­NA­TURE STONE

WWAKE’S STICK WISP AND DASH WISP EAR­RINGS (ABOVE); MEGHAN MARKLE WEAR­ING THE BIRKS ICONIC ROSE GOLD AND DI­A­MOND SNOWFLAKE RING AND STACK­ABLE YEL­LOW GOLD AND DI­A­MOND SPLASH RING (BE­LOW)

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