Given that the global industry has a history stretching back literally to the origins of human civilisation, it is surprising to see how little understanding there is of the very idea of jewellery and what it is that people value in it.
The vast majority of those involved in the jewellery business, stretching all the way from those who cut and polish diamonds and gemstones, through those who fabricate jewellery, distribute it to markets all around the world, and finally sell it to consumers, seem to see jewellery simply as a way of transferring the intrinsic value of the materials it is fabricated from to the end consumer — with a business mark-up for themselves included.
Very few understand and appreciate the idea that design is one of the key elements that add value to jewellery as a product category. In jewellery, design is much more than just the final appearance of the product. It is about a kind of story-telling, a statement that the wearer of the jewellery makes to the world around. It matters more than the value of the gold, diamonds and gemstones in the piece.
When I see much of the debate today about how difficult it is for jewellery to compete for the consumer’s attention alongside a whole range of other luxury products that offer a dazzling array of attributes — from technological wonders to unique experiences and emphatic style statements — I wonder why no one in the industry brings up the topic of design.
Design is an attribute that adds value to everything from dustbins to the most exclusive luxury products. Design visually says something about the product that has nothing to do with its use, the materials it is made from and how much it costs. That statement about the product in turn envelops its owner, user or wearer and consequentially makes a specific statement about the person, some attribute of his or her life, and most importantly, his or her personality.
Literally anybody can buy gold, diamonds or gemstones. One might be able to afford the purchase easily, while another might have to scrimp and save in order to buy a product with high intrinsic value. On their own, these materials say nothing about the purchaser or help set them apart in today’s crowded, noisy society. On their own, these materials have to compete with the likes of stocks, bank deposits and a variety of other investment vehicles for the consumer’s attention.
Jewellery, on the other hand, says so many things about the wearer and why he or she is wearing something. Jewellery competes with luxury products and services. Jewellery is created when a designer takes gold, diamonds and gemstones and ties them all together with a design that has a visual narrative of its own.
Jewellery design and jewellery designers are among the keys to the future well-being of the gem and jewellery industry all around the world.
The gem and jewellery industry inflicts great harm on itself when it indulges in or condones design piracy and doesn’t value its designers. Designers are the people who actually create the product that has to compete with the latest in consumer technology, travel and customised holidays, fine wine and dining as well as a variety of other products and services.
Stone-age humans appreciated design and designers. The concept of intrinsic value hadn’t been invented in their time. They etched and tied together bone, shells and shiny stones and wore the first jewellery with delight.
That delight has endured tens of thousands of years. Today’s tech-savvy consumer also experiences the same delight when presented with a product that celebrates design.
The gem and jewellery industry shouldn’t worry so much about the price of gold, diamonds or gemstones as it should about figuring out how to give today’s consumer that same delight. To begin with, the industry itself should delight in design.