Jewelry Consumers Talk About Self-Purchase, Synthetic Diamonds, and Price Thresholds

April 13, 2016 (0 comments)

By Hedda Schupak, Editor, The Centurion

New York, NY—At the recent WJA In The Know conference, marketing expert Ben Smithee of The Smithee Group, moderated a discussion with three female jewelry consumers, each of whom has a different lifestyle and relationship with fine jewelry. Smithee’s goal was to uncover the drivers behind each woman’s jewelry consumption patterns.

The three consumers—Holly, Kia, and Elizabeth (no last names were used)--all talked openly about how they buy jewelry and its place in their lives. Holly, who is Asian, is married and has a young baby. She described herself as “obsessed with jewelry, it’s my most favorite thing in world.” Her father bought her a jade bracelet when she was a child—traditional in Asian culture—and she wore it constantly. “I feel naked without jewelry,” she says.

Elizabeth is white, married, and living in Brooklyn. She used to work on Wall Street but hasn’t worked in 12. She and her husband don’t have children. Her first and fondest jewelry memory was when she was in elementary school, she and her sister got tiny little gold bracelets with their names engraved on them. “It’s the first piece of jewelry I ever got,” she said.

Kia is African American, originally from Los Angeles but currently lives in Tribeca in lower Manhattan. She works as a risk manager on Wall Street, and describes herself as a frequent self-purchase. “I get jewelry for my birthday, lots of emerald! My mother was a jewelry connoisseur,” she says.

Ben Smithee: “What does jewelry mean to you?”

  • Kia: It makes me feel pretty. It goes with anything. You can have a plain outfit but having a beautiful pair of diamond studs and bracelet enhances it.
  • Holly: Jewelry is like clothes to me, I feel naked without it. My taste has evolved and changed as I grew up. I’m really into Art Deco. I love Ivanka Trump's line as she's into Art Deco, and I look at other websites to see other designs coming up.
  • Elizabeth: It could be to accessorize an outfit, change it up and make it look different. There’s a range of different things it means. 

Smithee: Out of last five piece of jewelry acquired, how many were purchased by yourself? 

  • Kia: Five
  • Holly: Two
  • Elizabeth: Three

Smithee: Why did you buy jewelry for yourself?

  • Kia: I’m big self-purchaser. Why? I could get them as gifts, but I just got my bonus, I work really hard and I don't want to wait for someone to treat me.  It's great if they do, but I work really hard. My life's hard, so I like to reward myself. I buy it for my mom, too.
  • Elizabeth: I bought my niece earrings, and I bought myself something as well.
  • Holly: My husband buys most of my jewelry, but I pick it out. I buy [pieces costing] $1000 or less on own, but my husband buys [my] expensive jewelry. I don't want lots of little pieces; I save up my "credit" to buy something nice.

Smithee: How do you ladies classify jewelry?  Fine or fake?

  • Elizabeth: Yes, I consider is it real gold and real gems, or costume jewelry with crystals or glass?
  • Holly: I don't have a lot of fake jewelry because I like high-end jewelry but I like a lot of different types of jewelry. 
  • Kia: I break out from the fake stuff, so I have to wear real jewelry.

Smithee: What about mixing fashion and fine together? 

  • Kia: I have to be really careful about that. I like really bold necklaces so those tend to be on the costume side.
  • Holly: I will mix them once in a while; it depends on the outfit. 
  • Elizabeth: I will mix them once in a while but I usually stick to one or the other.

Smithee: What about jewelry shopping?  On a scale of one (low) to five (high), averaging together your last five shopping experiences, what is the score?

  • Elizabeth: Three.  There wee good things and bad things. I'm not a big shopper. To go into crowds makes me crazy. If a store is crowded and I can't see what I want, I get annoyed and I leave.
  • Kia: Four. It was high-pressure sales. I really liked the pieces but ended up spending more than wanted to. But I haven’t had any really bad encounters.
  • Holly: Five. I always have a great experience when I go jewelry shopping.  Not only do I get to see everything on (vs. online shopping), because it doesn't always look good, but in the store the salesperson recommends things you wouldn't have thought of and they kind of help you out. 

Smithee: How much sales help do you want?

  • Kia: I actually like when they help. Don't be too pushy and aggressive, but share your expertise. I want to know what retains value. 

Smithee: What brands do you like?

  • Kia and Elizabeth: We love Cartier.
  • Holly: Temple St. Clair, Mimi So, and Ivanka Trump.

Smithee: Where do you go to shop?

  • Kia and Holly: Bloomies (Bloomingdales), Saks [Fifth Avenue]. 
  • Elizabeth: Sometimes I go to neighborhood shops or shop on vacation but I don't have a specific place. My husband is in the Navy Reserve so he buys high karat gold overseas in Bahrain. He's pretty good at it!

Smithee: Where do you shop online for jewelry?

  • Elizabeth: eBay and Gilt. I do more of the costume jewelry online; I can't see it, so I’m not going to buy 14k gold if I can’t see it. Maybe if it was a watch and I knew I could go to a store and see it, then I’d shop around and buy online.
  • Kia: Saks, Neiman Marcus, Blue Nile. I like to go to reputable places where I can visit a person if I have any problems. I’m not comfortable buying online unless know the designer already.
  • Holly: I bought a few things from David Yurman on his site. I also go to the RealReal for consignment jewelry.

Smithee: How do you find what you like? 

  • Kia:  Pinterest is really the best. You type in a keyword and all these pins come up. I also follow a lot of people on Instagram: Tiffany, Cartier, and Michelle Phan (the makeup artist) now blogs jewelry. A lot of friends on Facebook really love jewelry. I follow real people, as celebrity jewelry is really out of my price range.
  • Holly: I follow Kim Kardashian but I knew you wouldn't like it! But I follow a lot of jewelry and beauty bloggers. I also subscribe to David Yurman’s email newsletter.
  • Kia: I try to avoid a lot of trendy things; I don't want to spend thousands of dollars if a piece is going to be outdated by next year.

Smithee: If I’m a designer, what's the best way to reach you, to get you to see my line and possibly buy it?  

  • Kia (age 30): Social media. A lot of us communicate that way. I really don't read magazines anymore; I read them on my tablet. Twitter, believe it or not. Certain hashtags people follow. I will follow you on Twitter more than read a magazine.
  • Elizabeth: Maybe knock me over the head or something. I do have Facebook and maybe Pinterest, but in my age group (40s) I'm not a big social media person. I do read catalogs and magazines.
  • Holly (in her 30s): I’d definitely have to say social media. That's what I look at most. And magazines if they have well-placed ads.

Smithee: What about diamonds? What do you think about diamond jewelry?  Is it only for special occasions?

  • Elizabeth: I only own my engagement ring; I don't own other diamonds. 
  • Kia: Love diamonds!
  • Holly: Love, love diamonds! My engagement ring is my favorite piece of jewelry ever. I love bling!

Smithee: Have you heard of lab-grown diamonds? What do you think?

  • Elizabeth: A little mixed. Scientifically it's the same but I don't know if it has that same sentimental feeling because it’s manmade as opposed to nature-made.
  • Kia:  Mixed. I know man made diamonds won't be conflict diamonds, but it seems like it's less special.
  • Holly: It seems less valuable.

Next, members of the audience asked questions directly of the three panelists. The first two addressed synthetic diamonds.

"When you hear it call lab-created, it doesn't sound good, but would another name make a difference?"

Kia: “It might but at the end of the day. I have to do my research and see what it is.”

“If it's 20% less and looks great, would you consider it?”

  • Holly: 'Lab created’ sounds fake to me.
  • Elizabeth: People will come to accept synthetic diamonds in time.
  • Kia and Holly: The piece will have to look really nice and be really less: 50% or more below the price of natural.

Do Millennials really value experiences over things?

  • Kia: It depends. Sometimes I get tired of traveling, and I can carry the memory of the experience, but jewelry is really beautiful. My grandfather passed away, but I have his watch and it’s very sentimental. I have the memory of him, but I have tangible something to remember him by.

What's the price threshold between self-purchase and receiving jewelry as a gift?

  • Holly: $4,000 and under I’ll buy myself, above that it’s from my husband.
  • Kia: So I just had bonus season and splurged and bought a piece for myself that was $9,500. But usually, typically, I keep it around $3,000 for myself. The rest is all from my parents.
  • Elizabeth: I don't think more than $500 [for myself]. My husband is going to buy the expensive stuff.
  • Holly: Basically it was the same thing when I worked. I work hard, once a year in bonus season I should reward myself.

Smithee: Do ever buy custom jewelry?

  • Kia: Not for myself but my parents had something made for me. And I would consider it.
  • Holly: My husband custom made my engagement ring.
  • Elizabeth: My husband custom made a pair of earrings for me.

Human check:

What is day follows Thursday?

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