LONDON, United Kingdom — “The demi-fine customer is looking to accessorise, whilst the fine-jewellery customer is looking to make a significant purchase,” said Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at women’s fashion e-tailer Net-a-Porter, which expanded into demi-fine jewellery in late 2016 and has since grown the number of demi-fine brands on the site by 250 percent.
Demi-fine jewellery blurs the lines between fine jewellery and costume jewellery. While fine jewellery is typically crafted from precious metals and stones and sold at high prices, often as a gift to mark a special occasion, costume jewellery is usually made of pleated alloys and crystal, sold at lower prices as fashion accessories. Demi-fine jewellery sits somewhere in between, borrowing aspects of both, a segment that grew by 6 percent year-on-year, according to NPD.
“The demi-fine market has been evolving for the past few years,” said Emily Gordon-Smith, head of fashion at Stylus, a trend research firm. “It’s for women in their 20s and 30s, who we call the "luxury hunter" and it’s definitely part the whole trend around self-gifting. Whereas the traditional consumer may have been about the it-bag or the statement shoe, it has now shifted to the area of semi-luxury jewellery.”
One of Net-a-Porter’s top-selling demi-fine jewellery lines is Wwake, launched by Wing Yau in 2013. The brand’s minimalist pieces, crafted in gold with precious gemstones like opals and diamonds, are aimed at a customer who “wants to invest in quality, heirloom materials, but does not want something that looks ostentatious,” said Yau. “This is where her jewellery choices differ from her mother’s — it’s much more personal in style and in scale.” Prices start at under $300.
There’s also Anissa Kermiche’s namesake jewllery line, launched in 2014 and stocked at Net-a-Porter and Lane Crawford. According to Kermiche, the brand has grown revenue by 25 percent year-on-year. While some of her pieces are classic, including a singlet ring and pearl earrings, others are more risqué, including gold pleated necklaces featuring a bare bottom or bust — “Le derrière dorée” or “Rubies boobies doré” — priced at £284 and £390, respectively. “My consumer likes my brand because it’s trendy and sold at established retail channels, but it’s also quality they can keep for a while. It doesn’t make them think of high-end jewellery because the design is quirky, but it’s also not the high street,” Kermiche explained.
Uniqueness, personalisation and the ability to mix and match are key to the rise of the category.
Uniqueness, personalisation and the ability to mix and match are key to the rise of the category. “This type of jewellery allows the consumer to make something more personalised, layer up and make it into everyday jewellery,” said Gordon-Smith. “The buyer can often build their own piece or add engraving,” echoed Beth Goldstein, executive director at the NPD group. “This gives them the personalisation they are looking for at a price that is more affordable than fine jewellery.”
London department store Selfridges has significantly increased investment in the demi-fine category for Spring/Summer 2018, expanding its jewellery offering to include mid-priced brands such as Alighieri, Annalise Michelson and Charlotte Chesnais. “The category is emerging due to brands often creating two tiers of collections, one demi-fine and one fine, offering jewellery pieces at an aspirational price point; £300 to £400 is a new sweet spot for jewellery brands," said accessories buying manager Josie Gardner. “The demi-fine customer discovers brands through Instagram and often buys niche labels and jewellery pieces in unusual shapes and materials."
Barneys New York also features a large segment of mid-priced jewellery brands alongside fine jewellery lines priced in the thousands. “We’re seeing this segment grow with impressive comparisons to last year; it’s an opportunity for all doors,” said Sarah Blair, Barneys senior vice president of women's accessories. “These designers reach a broad demographic and scope. They are a great introduction to fine jewelry for the younger clients who are just beginning to collect.”
An early entrant was Maria Black, whose launched her brand in 2010, filling the gap in the market with what she called “fun and playful jewellery in precious metal and affordable prices,” She believes that “consumers want a story, values and a brand look — something they can relate to." Black has always seen her brand as a fashion brand, not a jewellery brand. In 2017, the business grew 15 percent year-on-year and is projected to expand by 25 percent in 2018.
Alighieri, another demi-fine line, produces gold-plated pieces based on cantos from Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Founder Rosh Mahtani has grown the brand from £40,000 in turnover in 2016 to over £500,000 this year, since getting picked up by e-tailers Net-a-Porter and MatchesFashion, where the brand has a 70 percent sell-through rate. The price point — pieces range from £160 ($213) to £1200 ($1600) — felt natural, she said, for “remaining aspirational while not alienating customers.”
Mahtani aims to build a community around the brand’s Lion necklace. Rather than a physical store, “my dream is a library where the ‘Lion Club’ can come for readings and book clubs, in a relaxed environment,” she said. “It’s about creating a brand that builds a community around it through the pieces. Many high-priced jewellery pieces don’t feel unique or individual. But jewellery is so personal and tells so much about you that it needs to be a forever piece.”