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