This article first appeared in the special edition of The State of Fashion: Watches and Jewellery, co-published by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company. To learn more and download a copy of the report, click here.
After rising to prominence as a close collaborator of fashion designer Alexander McQueen, Shaun Leane built a thriving jewellery business around his namesake brand in 1999 which launched with an accessible silver line from a workshop in London’s Hatton Garden jewellery quarter. The brand soon expanded to offer fine jewellery as well as bespoke creations that marry traditional craftsmanship with edgy aesthetics, attracting the attention of collaborators as diverse as Boucheron and the artist Damien Hirst.
Though his spikey, organic designs are sought after by fashion insiders and high jewellery collectors alike, the market is now changing fast around him. From clients’ expectations for ethically sourced materials and growing interest in hard-to-find gemstones to changes in the wedding jewellery market, Leane explains how complex industry shifts will transform the way designers, artisans and goldsmiths create and market their products.
BoF: How has your online business evolved since the pandemic hit? Which of those changes do you think will stick?
Shaun Leane: I’ve had e-commerce up for years because a big part of my early collections was silver. It seemed like a perfect platform for that price point. We had a lot of work geared towards the fashionista client who was used to buying online. [Since the pandemic], what I found really interesting about technology and online is how it allowed my bespoke business to flourish. I’ve attracted new clients whom I’d work with through Skype, then email them the design or FedEx them 3D printed models.
How are you planning to expand the bespoke business when your brand is still known for selling more accessible silver jewellery?
The entry point for silver is still around £70 ($99). Then there’s our fine jewellery, starting from £1,000 ($1,410) whereas high jewellery starts above £50,000 ($70,500) and then for bespoke, it’s endless what we can do. But we’re opening up that bespoke experience to a wider audience. I’ll use materials such as silver and aluminium, sometimes even mixing aluminium with precious stones. That allows me to have a starting point for bespoke around £10,000 ($14,100), whereas for the big jewellery houses it’s much higher.
Diamonds are so symbolically charged. Are changes in the market for wedding jewellery linked to the rise of coloured gemstones?
The diamond is still the go-to stone for an engagement ring. But it used to be 70 percent of that market was about someone, usually the gentleman, surprising their partner. Now, around half of the time, maybe a bit more it’s a shared experience.
This includes a lot of same-sex marriages as well. The journey can be really lovely because the couple comes in and we’re designing together. That’s when the question of the stone comes up because customers are becoming more aware of the value of gemstones. A lady might question it, and say, “I’m not sure I want a diamond, maybe I should have an emerald or a ruby.” For a pigeon blood-red ruby, finding a beautiful clean stone of a certain carat is near impossible nowadays. As [coloured] gemstones become rarer, I think there’ll be more demand.
You’ve been incorporating more non-virgin materials in light of growing concerns around sustainability and ethics. Does the jewellery industry need to challenge the assumption that new, mined materials are the default?
There’s a lot we can do with recycling and remodelling. A lot of my gemstones come from a dealer who uses antique stones that come out of vintage pieces so I know where they’re coming from, and what’s beautiful about it is they can be Burma rubies, Colombian emeralds. They are the best of the best, because they were mined so long ago. We also use recycled gold sourced from bullion dealers in London.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The inaugural edition of The State of Fashion: Watches and Jewellery report co-published by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company forecasts a shake-up in priorities for hard luxury as well as different recovery scenarios across geographies and consumer segments. To learn more and download a copy of the report, click here.
BoF Professionals are invited to join us on July 13, 2021 for a special live event in which we'll unpack findings from the report. Register now to reserve your spot. If you are not a member, you can take advantage of our 30-day trial to experience all of the benefits of a BoF Professional membership.
Explore the six seismic shifts from the report:
The Future of Watches:
- A High Stakes DTC Shake-Up
- The Mid-Market Squeeze
- The Pre-Owned Market Will Be Worth Up to $32 Billion
The Future of Jewellery:
- Brands Battle for Buyers of Unbranded Jewellery
- Creating Sparkle Online
- Demand for Sustainably Made Jewellery Will See Explosive Growth
Click here to explore more from this special edition report, including executive interviews.