The Star Malaysia - Star2
Getting their sheen back
Business has been challenging for fine jewellery brands but those able to adapt to the uncertainties and leverage on the demand for affordable luxury have been able to keep the shine on.
With no events, weddings or celebrations to attend, dressing up isn’t at the forefront of anyone’s mind at the moment.
A big part of putting a look together, whether it’s for a lowkey tea party or a swanky soiree, is accessorising, and with the pandemic keeping people at home for months on end with many cutting back on spending, buying jewellery has taken a back seat. While revenue was affected by the pandemic, the silver lining is that this has brought on innovation through digital adoption and changing consumer priorities. Despite the challenges, fine jewellery brands have been able to navigate the current landscape, and are emerging stronger.
Ethon Low, founder of tailored Jewel, a brand that caters primarily to the wedding industry, says that the brand was affected by the pandemic.
“Due to our unique approach in selling, our market is primarily within the wedding industry, for clients between the age of 21 to 35 years old,” says Low. “the pandemic has definitely affected the wedding industry as many proposals and weddings plans are postponed or put on hold.”
Despite this, several customers decided to go ahead with their plans, albeit on a smaller scale.
“however we did see a good number of customers who chose to proceed with ring purchase or alter the wedding plans to a smaller scale for a more intimate wedding celebration,” says Low.
Founders of the Straits Finery Amira Yahaya and Foo Chia Chern said the difficult part of running the business during the pandemic was staying positive.
“the hardest thing is to remain creative and stay motivated in the various rounds of lockdowns we have been going through. it’s been a trying time for everyone emotionally and many of our plans had to be put on hold. the mental load has sometimes made it challenging to get into a headspace that will allow for creativity,” expresses Amira.
Many moving parts were beyond their control, according to Foo.
“For example, our production partners in ho Chi Minh City were on lockdown due to surges in cases in Vietnam which heavily impacted our production schedule,” explains Foo. “But at the end of the day, what matters most is that our partners and their employees remain safe and healthy.”
MYJN co-founders Tan May Juin and Ooi Jun Wen had to reassign their staff to take on various extra tasks as they tried to carry out their business with a smaller number of workers.
“For example, Jun had to work in customer support, as a fulfilling crew, content creator, as well as handle advertising, production, quality and control,” says Tan.
“Throughout all the movement control orders, the workload was so heavy for us, we found ourselves working until 2am every day, including replying to queries from our customers,” she adds.
Adapting to the situation
Much like most businesses affected by the pandemic, jewellers have been forced to rethink their business approach and strategy.
The acts of browsing through racks and shelves in a physical store and trying on accessories had to somehow be replicated as an online experience, or replaced with something else altogether, pushing brands into brainstorming different ways to connect with customers digitally.
“For us, we are an omni-channel business and are well equipped on both physical store and online channel hence we are able adapt to these changes as quick as possible to suit the new norm,” explains Low.
“We want to ensure all our customers that purchases and services can still be done virtually and hassle-free regardless of any situation during these unprecedented times.”
Two screens are set up to showcase rings from two angles: close-up and 360 degrees, and a hand model is present to show customers how the rings look while worn.
At The Straits Finery, that has always been an online business, there wasn’t that much to adapt to, however social distancing measures needed to be implemented.
“Only one person is in charge of any packing for shipments that needs to be done. All our jewellery, being solid gold or silver can fortunately be thoroughly cleaned before shipment. The courier picks everything up from a basket we have placed outside and the entire procedure is contactless,” said Foo.
“We have also managed to provide a new way for customers to pay for their pieces. We have partnered with Split to offer a gentler way to make payments via their buy now pay later offering. Split offers the option to pay in interest-free instalments,” she said, adding that shifting the main sales channel online brought them closer to their community of customers and followers like never before.
Brands began offering special deals and discounts to entice their customers to shop when the pandemic first broke out.
“We didn’t before the pandemic, but when it happened we began giving higher discounts,” recalls Ooi.
“For example, we are selling the stainless steel and vermeil pieces for a lower price, and in addition there’s a discount, and we only have a small margin to survive.”
Also included along with purchases were deals like free silk scarves, free gift wrapping with gift cards thrown in, and leather jewellery trays, all given away with no extra charge.
Low explains that all their online orders include free insured shipment within Malaysia, GIA certificates for diamonds at 0.3 carat and above, money-back guarantees and free ring resizing within 12 months.
Amira and Foo were just in the midst of incorporating more people and planet-friendly elements into their brand when the pandemic hit, and wanted to stay true to this path.
“Instead of heavy discounting in order to maintain a steady flow of sales, we found a way to still be able to keep the business running yet make small changes that hopefully have a more lasting impact,” said Amira.
“We took the approach of helping our customers make more mindful decisions, by keeping the conversation going with them. With every purchase we allow our customers to have a change of heart and we have a returns policy for local purchases. If they are not happy with their choice, or picked the wrong size ring, we have a drop-off centre for returns to offer convenience and a contactless way to do exchanges to keep everyone safe.”
“We are also aware that so many of us are apart from our loved ones,” she continued. “So we thought of how we can help our customers send gifts of love to those far apart from them. We offer free gift wrapping services and help to include personalised notes on our custom stationery to your loved ones. To us, it’s all about the personal touch and creating meaningful gifting moments for our customers.”
Today’s jewellery customers are more discerning, and lean towards personalisation and slow fashion when shopping.
MYJN, who make vermeil and stainless steel jewellery, discontinue every collection after 100 units are sold as they only manufacture small batches of their products.
They subscribe to a “less is just enough” philosophy, releasing their collections in limited-run batches which mean they are made with higher production standards.
“We have customers who wear their stainless steel pieces for two years and bring them in for repairs, and we are happy to help if we can,” says Tan. “We notice that the pieces are still in perfect condition, including its coating.”
Among The Straits Finery customers, the founders are seeing a movement towards slow fashion, mindful purchasing and an appreciation of the brand’s story.
“Our approach fits seamlessly into this ethos with practical everyday pieces that can be passed down generations, thus extending beyond any trend and era,” says Amira.
Foo notes that their minimalist pieces are popular among customers, who appreciate the versatility of their designs as they can be stacked and layered.
“This element of freedom to be creative with accessories is what our customers love as they can feel like the designer of their own style,” says Foo. “We aspire to create jewellery that can be a thoughtful part of the every day; to inspire every woman to have a little sparkle and creativity in her life. With ease and authenticity at the core of our design philosophy, the clean designs fit seamlessly into the personal style of every woman,” she adds. Tailored Jewel, which manufactures made-to-order pieces, uses materials that are sourced and handpicked directly from reliable suppliers around the world. “Customers today are big on injecting personality into their pieces as social media has made it more accessible for them to find inspiration and ideas,” opines Low. “With the personalisation factor as well, couples are able to truly feel the sense of belonging and that the rings are custom-made for them exclusively. “Customers these days are also more receptive to boutique-style jewellers who are able to provide the same level of quality without the hefty price tag. We are always innovating and moving with the trends in order to cater to the current needs of society, and we do customisation services as well should a customer wish to have a ring design of their own.”
He notes that the majority of their customers prefer designs that are simple, yet timeless and nothing too over the top. Currently, they are focusing on their Everyday Jewellery and Gifting collections. “We want to inject new life and modern interpretations into traditionally-perceived pieces like pearls or gemstones. Our goal is to combine refined quality materials with superior craftsmanship to make luxury accessible to everyone,” says Low.
Unisex jewellery is next on the list for MYJN, who are launching their Cuun collection this month.
“It’s inspired by nature, such as the moon’s surface, volcano eruptions, and is suitable for men and women. This fulfils our customers’ needs as we don’t have jewellery for men yet,” says Ooi.
The Straits Finery were inspired by imagery of the sea, with soft and organic designs. “Ebb & Flow is an embodiment of our ever-changing mood, feeling and facet of being. It is a reflection of the sea that is both calm and raging, humble yet ferocious,” explain Amira and Foo.
“The theme of Ebb and Flow is reflected in the coming parts by borrowing design elements from the sea, its world of creatures and life beneath the surface. Their subtle, unknown presence is depicted in the design approach that is distinctive to The Straits Finery; an understated elegance that permeates every piece.”
"Throughout all the movement control orders, the workload was so heavy for us, we found ourselves working until 2am every day" Tan May Juin
"We are also aware that many of us are apart from loved ones, so we thought we can help customers send gifts of love" Amira Yahya and Foo Chia Chern
"Customers today are big on injecting personality into their pieces." Ethon Low
IT may feel like time stood still for over a year and while many projects, events and launches were put on hold, designers haven’t stopped creating beautiful items.
Brands have been working in the background to introduce their latest offerings, and there are plenty of new collections to choose from. When it comes to bags, it’s important to own several different types to suit various occasions.
A large tote, like Versace’s La Greca Signature Tote is a must-have for days when you are running errands and need a lot of space. Crafted from coated La Greca canvas, the bag features a supple calf leather trim and is durable enough for all that running around. Many of us will be returning to working from the office, and Braun Buffel’s classic blue Ophelia bag is the right combination of style and serious.
Gucci’s Diana bag is a timeless piece which has seen several iterations over the years, and remains a classic bag for every day use.
For more casual outings when all you need is your phone, cards, keys and cash, Balenciaga’s classic La Cagole is ideal for those with bold and edgy style.
In preparation for when we can travel again, check out the Saint Laurent Rive Droite raffia bag, the perfect tote for a beach vacation or a pool session if you’re planning a staycation at a nearby resort or hotel.