Gems at the click of a but­ton

In­ter­net shop­ping may have be­come sec­ond na­ture for many of us, but Sarah Maisey asks if you would spend hun­dreds of thou­sands of dirhams to ac­quire a piece of jew­ellery on­line

The National - News - Luxury - - SMART SPEND -

I n the old days, if a woman wanted to buy some­thing (a hand­bag, per­haps, or a beau­ti­ful dress), she had to visit a shop. If she was a reg­u­lar or pre­ferred cus­tomer, the store might call her when some­thing spe­cific came in and hold it un­til she ar­rived. Im­por­tant (read: big-spend­ing) cus­tomers, mean­while, might have choice items sent to their homes or work­places, to pe­ruse at their leisure.

Th­ese days, things hap­pen a lit­tle dif­fer­ently, thanks in part to the fore­sight of for­mer fash­ion jour­nal­ist Natalie Massenet. See­ing the po­ten­tial of the then fairly mis­un­der­stood in­ter­net, in 2000, she launched Net-a-Porter, the first lux­ury shop­ping site. The rest, as they say, is his­tory.

Fast-for­ward 17 years, and on­line shop­ping is now an ac­cepted norm – one em­ployed by an es­ti­mated 1.66 bil­lion peo­ple last year. Ac­cord­ing to Bain & Com­pany’s global lux­ury study, lux­ury goods alone ac­counted for US$1.2 tril­lion (Dh4.41tn) of sales, with shoes, bags and jew­ellery listed as the ar­eas of fastest growth. Cater­ing to that de­mand is big busi­ness, and a plethora of new com­pa­nies have stepped into the fray, in­clud­ing Far­fetch in 2007 and Moda Operandi in 2010. Th­ese por­tals of­fer fab­u­lous clothes, seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble-to-get shoes and im­pec­ca­ble ser­vice, all via the in­ter­net.

And now, the e-lux­ury of­fer­ing has been di­alled up a cou­ple of notches, with news that both Net-a-Porter and Far­fetch have launched ded­i­cated fine-jew­ellery sec­tions. This means that cus­tomers can browse for and buy an 18K gold Tal­is­man neck­lace by De Beers (Dh66,655 on Far­fetch) or a Yeprem di­a­mond neck­lace (Dh123,775 on Net-a-Porter) as eas­ily as a pair of shoes or new hand­bag. With a few clicks of a mouse, th­ese pre­cious pieces can be pur­chased and, just as with the shoes or bag, will be hand-de­liv­ered to your doorstep.

We are al­ready au fait with the sheer con­ve­nience that on­line lux­ury shop­ping of­fers – of not hav­ing to go out when it’s too hot, of not be­ing sub­ject to shop open­ing hours and, most im­por­tantly, of be­ing able to try things on in peace and quiet at home. We are no longer at the mercy of un­flat­ter­ing shop lights, cruel mir­rors or overzeal­ous sales­peo­ple both­er­ing us, and are free to ex­per­i­ment with how to wear some­thing that works with the rest of our wardrobe. And while some may baulk at the thought of spend­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dirhams via an on­line trans­ac­tion, there is a growing seg­ment of the mar­ket that is more than com­fort­able with this new way of ac­quir­ing pre­cious jew­els.

For those un­fa­mil­iar with the term, fine jew­ellery de­notes items made from met­als such as gold, sil­ver and plat­inum, and pre­cious or semi-pre­cious stones. Made in lim­ited quan­ti­ties, th­ese o en sell for tens of thou­sands of dirhams or more, but are not to be con­fused with high jew­ellery, which are one-off items that can be worth mil­lions. Fash­ion jew­ellery,

mean­while, is trend-driven and changes from sea­son to sea­son. Made from base met­als, such as brass and cop­per, it is akin to what used to be called cos­tume jew­ellery. In ad­di­tion, there is an en­tirely new cat­e­gory, called demi-fine, which still uses gold and sil­ver, but of a lower grade (14K gold, not 18K, for ex­am­ple). Demi-fine pieces are cheaper to pro­duce and thus cheaper to buy.

While Net-a-Porter may have been the first to coax Chanel to put its jew­ellery on­line in 2010, and Cartier last year (which in­ci­den­tally led to the site’s largest sin­gle trans­ac­tion, when it sold a Pan­thère de Cartier watch for Dh534,000), what is new is that th­ese e-tail­ers now have sec­tions ded­i­cated to this seg­ment.

The open­ing up of the dig­i­tal fine-jew­ellery mar­ket sees Far­fetch of­fer pieces from De Beers, Chopard, Pomel­lato, David Yur­man and Tif­fany & Co, and watches from Gi­rard-Per­re­gaux, Tag Heuer, Ulysse Nardin and Zenith. It also has a vin­tage-jew­ellery sec­tion. Mean­while, on Net-a-Porter, cus­tomers will find pieces by Cartier, Pi­aget, Pomel­lato, JaegerLeCoul­tre, Chopard and Tif­fany & Co, with the most ex­pen­sive piece (at the time of writ­ing) be­ing a white gold, di­a­mond and emer­ald neck­lace by Am­ra­pali, which costs a cool Dh617,240. In­ter­est­ingly, as with other items on the sites, the jew­ellery comes with sug­ges­tions of what to pair it with.

“I thought if you were look­ing to buy a watch, you would go to a watch store, and while you would get great ex­per­tise, there would be no con­text,” says Ali­son Loeh­nis, pres­i­dent of Net-a-Porter. “There would be no: ‘Here is a great Cartier Tank, I see it dressed for evening, or with a sweater and jeans.’ The com­bi­na­tion of cus­tomer de­mand and the take-up that we had seen in the cat­e­gory gave us an op­por­tu­nity, so we put our foot on the gas.”

With 18 and 11 years of ex­pe­ri­ence re­spec­tively (and keep­ing in mind that a year is a long time on the in­ter­net), Net-a-Porter and Far­fetch have had am­ple time to fine-tune their busi­ness con­cepts and forge iron­clad re­la­tion­ships. This has been re­warded with a con­tin­ued number of cus­tomers who are con­fi­dent that what they have paid for will be de­liv­ered. Trust is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial if cus­tomers are go­ing to be tempted into mak­ing he y jew­ellery pur­chases via their elec­tronic de­vices.

As Fed­erico Marchetti, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Yoox Neta-Porter, ex­plained at the re­cent Condé Nast Lux­ury Con­fer­ence in Lisbon: “Fine jew­ellery and watches are the per­fect com­ple­ment to high fash­ion. This ex­plo­sion in fine jew­ellery and watches shows there’s no limit to what cus­tomers will buy on­line with us. And we are now get­ting a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into who th­ese hard lux­ury cus­tomers are and what they are pre­pared to buy.”

The ar­rival of fine jew­ellery at both sites is more than sheer co­in­ci­dence. Hav­ing flagged since the global re­ces­sion, jew­ellery sales are on their way up. This growth in pur­chases is be­ing driven by the huge (and seem­ingly in­sa­tiable) spend­ing power of Gen­er­a­tions Y and Z, with China alone hav­ing 176.2 mil­lion shop­ping-mad 15- to 24-year-olds. Buy­ing trends fit the pat­tern im­plied by the re­search of Har­vard Busi­ness School pro­fes­sor Ger­ald Zalt­man, who sug­gests that 95 per cent of all spend­ing de­ci­sions are made in cus­tomers’ sub­con­scious, mean­ing that it is our emo­tions and not our con­scious mind that is con­trol­ling ex­actly how and why we shop.

Of all items, jew­ellery is per­haps the most emo­tion­ally charged. A er all, it is worn right next to the skin. It is also loaded with mean­ing, linked as it is to re­la­tion­ships – through en­gage­ment and wed­ding rings, and even “push presents” (gi s given by a fa­ther to a new mother a er she gives birth). It is a marker of fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence, such as in­vest­ing in gold, or a woman buy­ing her first se­ri­ous di­a­mond, and is more likely to be handed down as a fam­ily heir­loom, com­pared to cloth­ing or bags. Aware that this makes for a com­pli­cated emo­tional jour­ney, Neta-Porter of­fers ac­cess to per­sonal shop­pers, trained by the Ge­mo­log­i­cal In­sti­tute of Amer­ica, to ad­vise con­sumers on those big-ticket pur­chases, while re­turn poli­cies are of­fered as stan­dard.

While a string of di­a­monds will not be a spon­ta­neous pur­chase for ev­ery­one, it is good to know that, should that time come, there are at least two on­line com­pa­nies that can make the process a lit­tle bit eas­ier.

Clock­wise from top le , di­a­mond and pearl ear­rings, Dh51,800, Am­ra­pali on Net-aPorter; white gold and di­a­mond bracelet, Dh120,380, Gemco on Far­fetch; Pos­ses­sion rose gold, al­li­ga­tor and di­a­mond watch, Dh59,770, Pi­aget on Net-a-Porter; yel­low gold Tif­fany City HardWear bracelet, Dh29,800, Tif­fany & Co on Far­fetch; Crys­tal Haze emer­ald and di­a­mond ring, Dh52,340, Stephen Web­ster on Far­fetch

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