Grace Cook MARCH 21, 2018
Sitting in her studio in central Berlin, the fine jeweller Lilian Von Trapp is poring over sketches for her new collection. On her desk, she is surrounded by multi-chain diamond necklaces and stackable bangles — new designs for spring/summer 2018. Prices for individual pieces reach €2,500 and, perhaps surprisingly, half of Von Trapp’s customers are millennials.
Millennials are said to be the experience generation — 78 per cent prefer to spend on experiences rather than possessions, according to a 2017 survey conducted by the Harris Group. But new research by MVI Marketing has found that luxury brands like Cartier and Tiffany & Co are among a millennials’ favourite when buying jewellery. And in a 2017 report, miner De Beers attributed a surge in diamonds’ popularity to the millennial, self-gifting consumer. (Demand exceeded $40bn for the first time in America — an increase of 4.4 per cent.) In fact, across important markets including the US, China and India, millennials represent 45 per cent of all diamond purchases, according to De Beers.
Heritage brands are adopting strategies to harness millennial interest. Tiffany & Co and Chopard have appointed actress Elle Fanning and singer Rihanna as brand ambassadors, and both brands have launched on Net-a-Porter to broaden the customer base from the traditional boutique shopper. De Grisogono unveiled social media campaigns with chatbots that gave purchasing advice via Facebook. And after observing spikes in sales of its Love bracelet among young consumers, Cartier re-released its Panthère watch on Net-a-Porter. Millennials presumably bought the entry-level pieces (from £3,600), rather than the priciest item (£140,000).
But if millennials prefer experiences, why are they spending so much on fine jewellery? “It comes down to investing in quality over quantity,” says Ms Von Trapp, 30. “We grew up with an overflow of cheap products. Millennials are conscious about sustainability and buying products that last longer than their mass-produced counterparts.” In its 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report, Nielsen found that 73 per cent of millennials would spend more on a product if it came from an ethical brand.
We are regularly asked about the provenance of the pieces and the meaning of the stones they are buying
Maria Lemos, Mouki Mou boutique owner
Jeweller Noor Fares, who uses conflict-free gemstones and has a “butterfly mark” from sustainable consumption organisation Positive Luxury, agrees. “Today the consumer considers the craftsmanship behind the piece,” she says. “Millennials are buying with a conscience.” They are also buying fun pieces: the designer makes talismanic baubles and rainbow-coloured jewels that sell for more than £1,000.
Today, “it’s normal to wear diamonds every day,” says jeweller Valérie Messika. “More women are buying for themselves and are being more adventurous in their purchases. Ten years ago, our clients would never have bought a diamond triple-finger ring.” The brand’s most popular styles are from the Move range, which model Bella Hadid promotes. “Pieces have three moving diamonds — for millennials, the jewellery is playful and a talking point . . . which is what it should be.”
Fine jewellery is now a “rich and lively” market, says Raphaele Canot, who worked at Cartier before launching her own brand in 2014. “Millennials are curious and knowledgeable customers.” Ms Canot’s designs, which include “OMG!” pavé rings and smiley-face earrings, are stocked in the Mouki Mou boutique in London. Millennials “research brands on social media”, says owner Maria Lemos. “We are regularly asked about the provenance of the pieces and the meaning of the stones they are buying.”
Lilian Von Trapp has millennial clients, who also like Raphaele Canot’s OMG! ring
Stories sell too. Ms Von Trapp’s brand resonates because she uses only recycled gold in her collections. The designer inherited her mother’s jewellery and, not knowing how to style it, melted down the gold to create new pieces. This year, she will work with gold miners in Uganda to create a piece of jewellery for auction. Proceeds will go towards helping build a sustainable industry in the local area.
Experience and ethics are excellent marketing tools. “It makes me feel good to not only treat myself, but to buy something that I know has been produced ethically,” says 29-year old lawyer Kati Li, who bought a diamond choker from Ms Von Trapp. “Call it retail therapy with a purpose.”
Like de Beers! Joking obviously.
I am technically a millenial, as I graduated high school in 2000. I am admittedly one of the shameful diamond buyers. Never thought I would, but there's something satisfying about the self-sacrifice of spending a puke-inducing sum on a ring for a person whom you believe deserves it. I wouldn't try to explain myself, because I'm not sure I could. However, I bought a custom piece from a local jeweler who happens to be an old friend of mine, and it felt good (even if >60% of the price was for the center diamond that probably has a resale value of half what I paid for it).