Los Angeles, CA—For years, retail experts have been touting premium direct-to-consumer sites such as Design Within Reach, Everlane, and Warby-Parker as a formidable new frontier in upscale and luxury retail. All three sites broke onto the scene as newcomers in their respective categories of furniture, apparel, and eyewear, with no brand recognition and a business model that seasoned executives said would never work. Image: 14k gold and diamond hoops retail for $575 on the new try-and-buy jewelry site Gemist.
Who would buy pricey ultramodern furniture online? Or luxury apparel without a designer name? Or of all things, prescription eyeglasses??
But all three brands are not only working, they’re working well enough to have opened brick-and-mortar locations after developing a solid online following. Now the model is coming to jewelry, and at least one seasoned industry player—De Beers—is betting it will work here as well.
De Beers Group Ventures has invested an undisclosed amount in online jeweler Gemist, a site that will sell both fine and fashion jewelry online with the option for customization and a chance to see it before buying it. And Stephen Lussier, De Beers’ executive vice president of consumer and brand, will be bringing his know-how to Gemist as a member of its board.
Perhaps the best way to describe Gemist’s model is like sort of a cross between Stuller and Warby Parker. Although Gemist has far (!!) fewer product options than Stuller, imagine Stuller’s digital customization program with three examples of finished product sent in sample form for the customer to road test àla Warby Parker before committing to the final version.
To date, the brand’s design offerings are limited to rings and earrings and both are very standard fare, despite the presence of former Elle magazine editor-in-chief Robbie Myers in an advisory role when the brand debuted last November. Price points for the line are modest as well: most start well under $1,000, although with the top selections in the engagement ring category it’s possible to rack up a little ka-ching. To wit: I mocked up a 14k gold GVS1, 9x7 carat emerald-cut pavé halo diamond ring with a half-pavé band for $29,130. Presumably the “9x7 carat” refers to face-up millimeter dimensions. And sorry, but for that price, I’d want an 18k or platinum setting, not 14k, which feels decidedly un-luxurious (although to be fair, the site doesn’t even mention "luxury" at all.)
Above: It's possible to rack up a hefty price tag on the Gemist site, but most of the offerings are quite modest. Below, the same ring in white sapphire.
But swap out diamonds for white sapphire and the same ring clocks in at $1,530—and we know that cash-strapped Millennials and Gen-Z are receptive to non-diamond engagement rings. Meanwhile, a similar style in the “statement ring” category with an emerald center retails for $1,660--not what a luxury jeweler might consider a huge statement. A pair of 15 mm diameter 14k white gold diamond hoops (top of page) sells for $575.
My take? It might not be your target customer or your biggest competitive worry yet, but don’t count out either this site or the concept, especially as current times are accelerating a whole lot of changing habits that will undoubtedly lead to new trends in retailing.