LONDON, United Kingdom — Monica Vinader, founder of the namesake British jewellery brand, always said her goal was to become a £50 million ($64 million) business by 2019. As it turns out, she should have aimed a lot higher.
Her unaudited sales for the financial year ending July 2018 were £43.2 million — or about $55.1 million — representing year-on-year growth of 21 percent. With plans to add to her 15 standalone stores across the UK, America and Asia-Pacific, she’s confident the business will surpass that next year. Having cornered the market for accessible fine jewellery and built a healthy, profitable supply chain, she now has her sights set on the next target: £200 million ($255 million).
“I don’t know by when,” she says from her office in London’s Victoria, "but I’m confident we’ve built something that can become a really big brand. My desire was always to reach a lot of people."
It’s an impressive trajectory for a business she and her sister Gabriela began from a converted forge at Monica’s home in Norfolk in 2007. Their aim was to “plug the gap between fine and fashion jewellery," and that remains her raison d’etre.
So-called "demi-fine" jewellery is a growing category in the industry; so much so that Net-a-Porter launched a subsection devoted to it in October 2016. While many jewellers use 14- or 10-karat gold and pavé diamonds, Monica Vinader jewellery is forged in sterling silver coated with 18-karat gold vermeil, using primarily semi-precious stones. Prices start at £35 ($45) for a mini sterling-silver pendant, and most pieces are priced between £65 and £495 ($83 to $631): a sweet spot for both gifting and self-purchasing.
“We are the ultimate accessible luxury brand. It’s the constant driver of everything we do,” Vinader says. Expanding into fine, solid-gold jewellery and larger diamonds is not on the cards. “We’ve helped people understand what a quality product vermeil can be and that’s what we want to focus on.”
That said, her upper price point has gradually increased, to £3,495 ($4,458) for a pair of cocktail earrings with 966 pavé-set diamonds totalling 2.62 carats. The use of vermeil means it offers customers far more bling for their buck than other demi-fine brands, which at Net-a-Porter range from plain 14-karat gold pieces at £40 ($51), to a choker dotted with four tiny stones by New York-based brand Wwake at £3,815 ($4866).
“Demi-fine jewellery sales are performing incredibly well — we’re constantly reordering as so many styles sell out,” says Elizabeth von der Goltz, Net-a-Porter's global buying director. “We still see a lot of opportunity within our demi-fine business and we are growing our investment in this sector.”
The popularity of accessibly priced jewellery is in part due to a loosening of formality in the industry, Vinader believes. “Across all categories, luxury is more approachable and instant. People no longer think about keeping jewellery in the safe or saving it for a special occasion. They want something that fits with their everyday life, and our lives nowadays are quite informal,” she says.
Self-gifting has been a huge driver of growth; women now buy jewellery as an accessory, in the same way as shoes or bags. Vinader capitalises on what she calls this “millennial mindset” by regularly introducing new, fashion-forward designs and engaging with customers via social media. The brand’s Instagram feed became shoppable this spring (it says sales driven through this channel are difficult to trace), and it works with influencers to raise brand awareness. Its customers also act as authentic advocates, tagging the brand in their own social-media posts.
Vinader isn’t the only jeweller to target millennials. Under new creative director Reed Krakoff, Tiffany has directed its attention towards a younger audience by enlisting 20-year-old actress Elle Fanning to advertise its dainty new Paper Flowers collection (starting at £2,325, or $2,966), and De Beers has launched a range of "starter" diamonds, priced from £700 ($893) for a single 0.07 ct diamond on a white gold bracelet. New diamond brand Vashi, meanwhile, has positioned itself as the engagement ring supplier of choice for millennials, thanks to its casual-seeming stores (walls are covered with graffiti from happy couples who #saidyes) and focus on easy customisation: customers can select a diamond and design their own ring from a set menu of options.
Vinader clocked the potential in personalisation early on — firstly through the ability to stack and style her jewellery (at £85, or $108, for a colourful cord friendship bracelet, why not buy two, or three?), and then via engraving. The company developed an app that allows every member of staff, not just a specialist engraver, in every store and shop-in-shop to fulfil any order. The trend isn’t going anywhere. “It’s more popular every day,” Vinader says, showing off a new charm bracelet that capitalises on this appetite for individuality.
“Monica Vinader continues to own the ‘everyday luxury’ trend of essential pieces that most women want to build into their jewellery wardrobe,” says Ruby Chadwick, accessories and jewellery buyer at Liberty. “The brand has continued to be a significant part of our jewellery business, so much so that later this year we are expanding its space in the jewellery hall and maximising the personalisation service to meet consumer demand.”
Having last received investment in 2016 (£14 million from Piper Private Equity, with £6 million from Winona Capital to fund the first US store), growth is now self-funded. Vinader’s workforce stands at 220 worldwide, with 48 staff in London and 54 in Norfolk – where she has taken over 16,000 square foot of converted farm buildings on the Holkham Estate – and the rest split between offices in Hong Kong and New York, plus the global network of sales associates. Hiring, coaching and retaining the right people has been one of her biggest challenges, as has the transition from start-up to larger corporation. “If you can foster that entrepreneurial instinct in the teams then they retain some of that [start-up] ethos,” she says.
It’s an ethos she also encourages with her workshops in Jaipur, Mumbai and Bangkok. Bringing them closer to the planning and giving them visibility on volumes and growth has been essential in ensuring the scalability of her supply chain. “The most important part has been driving the psychological alignment: we see them as partners. We understand them, they understand us, and we’re all going after the same goal.”
Her team sources rough stones, which are cut in Jaipur to fit designs, helping to keep costs down and improve scalability. Stones, she says, are “a real time drain, but something we invest a lot of time and energy in because they’re key to what we do.” She’s not interested in lab-grown diamonds, even though they would fit her accessible luxury ethos, priced from 30 percent to 80 percent below natural stones. “I’d never say never, but it’s not in our DNA. We’re obsessed with natural stones.”
She doesn’t rule out expanding beyond jewellery eventually, but for now, she’s focusing on growing within the UK and worldwide. Having recently opened a fifth London store in Bicester Village, she’s planning to expand outside of the capital in the near future, as well as adding more outlets in the US, UAE and Asia. The brand’s US presence has been bolstered by a partnership with Nordstrom which comprises 55 fully branded shop-in-shops across the country. Increasing e-commerce, which currently accounts for 50 percent of sales, is a huge driver towards that £200 million goal. “Our online business is growing tremendously and there’s still a lot we can do to capitalise on it. We’ve always been web first; that’s how people shop nowadays.”
Vinader’s creativity is matched by her sister’s Type A rigour. She talks a lot about the importance of data, analysis and planning. But the last decade is summed up best by the qualitative stories of the women who wear her jewellery.
“To celebrate the anniversary, we decided to use real customers in our digital marketing campaign. We did the casting over Instagram and had an overwhelming response from women telling us what the brand means to them. Sitting with my sister watching the videos was one of the most moving things I’ve ever done. We laughed, we cried – to hear that community advocate for us in such a generous, genuine, unscripted way has been truly humbling. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 10 years holds.”