The fine jew­ellery busi­ness needs to go back to the draw­ing board to cater to fast-chang­ing con­sumer pref­er­ences

India Today - - LUXURY SPECIAL - POONAM SONI Jew­ellery De­signer

iwoke up to a near-cri­sis sit­u­a­tion in the jew­ellery in­dus­try about two months ago with two back-to­back calls—one from a prom­i­nent news agency headed by a me­dia group to start a trust cam­paign for the jew­ellery in­dus­try and the sec­ond from the mar­ket­ing group of WGC (World Gold Coun­cil), to help pro­mote gold and share ideas on how to re­vive in­ter­est in the pre­cious com­mod­ity. My mind reeled back to some 12 years ago when I was in­vited by the head of a mag­num opus jew­ellery cor­po­rate for busi­ness talks. Af­ter a back­ground check on him through other prom­i­nent play­ers in the jew­ellery in­dus­try, the over­whelm­ing con­sen­sus took me by sur­prise. I was told that Mr Me­hul Choksi was a ‘bub­ble wait­ing to burst’ and it would be in my in­ter­est to stay away.

The bub­ble has now burst, with two ma­jor scams send­ing the en­tire in­dus­try into a down­ward spi­ral. This at a time when fine jew­ellery is al­ready deal­ing with se­ri­ous ex­is­ten­tial ques­tions of its own. So what went wrong in a coun­try known for its glo­ri­ous her­itage of jew­ellery; a hot bed for mas­ter de­sign­ers like Louis Cartier who de­signed for In­dian roy­alty since the pre-Raj days.

In my ca­reer of three decades, as an in­de­pen­dent fine jew­ellery de­signer, nei­ther I nor my niche brand has seen a slide that is fa­mil­iar to the one we are wit­ness­ing to­day. In the past, we have worked on in­ter­na­tional plat­forms as well as within the coun­try with sell-out shows. Of course, with time, the sce­nario has changed some­what as the mar­ket opened up to new en­trepreneur­s; al­most ev­ery home had an en­ter­pris­ing mind, mostly un­trained and de­pen­dent en­tirely on their crafts­men. Di­a­monds, too, lost their sheen as a women’s prized pos­ses­sion with many op­tions avail­able. The re­cent ad­vent of the lab di­a­mond (di­a­monds syn­thet­i­cally pro­cessed in a lab­o­ra­tory)—sup­ported by De Beers—has af­fected the pres­tige value of the nat­u­ral di­a­mond and cre­ated con­fu­sion in the mar­ket.

Cul­tur­ally as well, we are fac­ing a huge change, with the mil­len­ni­als trav­el­ling abroad for ed­u­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and travel. They no longer feel drawn to pre­cious gold and fash­ion jew­ellery. Ac­ces­sories in­stead are more at­trac­tive. We in­tro­duced a new fash­ion jew­ellery brand, ‘MyGEMME’, in sil­ver and Swarovski dur­ing the GST slow­down pe­riod and were sur­prised that within 18 months, its prof­its were al­most run­ning par­al­lel to our fine jew­ellery brand, re­flect­ing a dras­tic change in trends. Ev­ery­thing con­sid­ered anti-trend ear­lier is now in trend, and this has been a rude awak­en­ing for the fine jew­els mar­ket in In­dia.

The in­flu­ence and in­tro­duc­tion of in­ter­na­tional fash­ion trends in In­dia proved to be yet an­other blow to the lo­cal jew­ellery busi­ness. So the fash­ion­ista, who ear­lier took pride in flaunt­ing big di­a­monds, was now opt­ing for branded ac­ces­sories, fash­ion jew­ellery and sil­ver jew­ellery—in­di­cat­ing loss of trust in pre­cious met­als and gems. The au­then­tic­ity of these high-priced in­vest­ments had be­come highly sus­pect. De­mon­eti­sa­tion has also crip­pled a mar­ket that hinges on mostly cash trans­ac­tions.

Does this sig­nal the end of fine jew­ellery? I am sure not, but it’s time for the lux­ury jew­ellery mar­ket to make big changes. The in­dus­try has to rein­vent de­sign and busi­ness tech­niques as well as look at build­ing legacy brands steadily by get­ting loyal cus­tomers back into the fold by earn­ing their trust and money.

Gold Stan­dard A bracelet in gold and di­a­monds from Poonam Soni’s vin­tage jew­ellery col­lec­tion; sil­ver Swarovski fash­ion jew­ellery from Soni’s brand MyGEMME

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