F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Paula Knight, Model: Ayesha Adamo/Carmen Hand Model Management
While traditional shoppers feel they need to see and hold jewelry themselves before committing thousands of dollars for an item, many shoppers are now turning to the Internet to purchase high-end creations. AsThe Wall Street Journal reports in their recent article “Fine-Jewelry Shoppers Flock Online,” many people are now using smartphones, tablets and computers to purchase jewelry, rather than visiting physical locations.
Counterintuitive as it may be, the fastest-growing place to buy fine jewelry is online, via computers, tablets and even mobile phones.
by Lauren Sherman
THOUGH IT DOESN’T offer the same nostalgic rush as an in-store visit, it’s possible that a modern-day Holly Golightly might chase away her “mean reds” by visiting Tiffany & Co.’s website and purchasing an 18K gold Paloma Picasso cuff made to resemble a thicket of tiny olive leaves ($11,500) or a yellow-diamond-and-platinum key pendant ($21,900). Today’s fine jewelry buyer is increasingly turning to a computer or mobile phone and clicking to buy four- and five-figure pieces with nary a worry.
E-commerce site the Editorialist, which sells everything from Kimberly McDonald diamond earrings for $52,800 to Anita Ko’s $1,045 rose-gold diamond ear cuffs, reports that half its net sales come from fine jewelry. Earlier this year, website Moda Operandi hired its first director of fine jewelry and watches, Amalia Keramitsis, and has, in the past year, increased the frequency of its fine jewelry pre-sale “trunk shows” to between 10 and 15 a month, up from a few. And fashion e-commerce behemoth Net-A-Porter has seen a serious uptick of jewelry sales in the past couple of years, according to buying manager Sasha Sarokin. Accordingly the site has been adding to its jewelry roster, particularly by buying up “teeny-tiny, specialist” brands like Netherlands-based Bibi van der Velden.
“It has a lot to do with trust,” said Emerald Carroll, co-founder of the Stone Set, an editorial website dedicated to jewelry. “Once [a woman has] bought a dress for a few thousand dollars and 10 pairs of $700 shoes from a website and had a great experience, she feels secure buying an expensive piece of jewelry.”
She also has more options than ever. Along with monobrand sites like those of Tiffany & Co. and Cartier, she’ll find multibrand sites, that also sell clothes and accessories, like Matches Fashion—the web offshoot of UK-based luxury retailer Matches—which has sold fine jewelry since it launched in 2007, and Los Angeles-based Just One Eye. (In fact, the latter’s highest-grossing category is fine jewelry.)
In the past couple of years, smaller jewelry-only sites such as Latest Revival, which sells a mix of estate and contemporary pieces, and Stone & Strand, founded by a Wharton M.B.A. and former fashion editor, have also popped up. Even J.Crew last month debuted a fine jewelry section on its site, with pieces by BRVTVS and Monica Rich Kosann; in keeping with its ethos of affordable luxury, almost everything is under $3,000.
For most of these retailers, however, it isn’t uncommon to see single-item orders reaching $20,000 and higher. “We’ve been surprised at how quickly people will purchase a high price [item] online,” said Kate Davidson Hudson, co-founder of the Editorialist. “Someone will buy a $60,000 David Webb earring on an iPhone.” (The site’s biggest single sale—a three-piece suite of David Webb jewelry—was $78,000.)
That is a recent development, as Joanne Teichman can attest. The owner of 29-year-old Dallas jewelry store Ylang 23, which sells brands such as Cathy Waterman and Jennifer Meyer, launched e-commerce in 2000. “It was a really slow start,” Ms. Teichman said. “I remember when we got our first online order. I thought, ‘We just turned the spigot on!’ Wrong.” It wasn’t until 2008, she said, that business gained traction.
The main appeal of buying fine jewelry online isn’t so different from that of shopping for shoes or a coat: efficiency and ease of access no matter where you are in the world. “I’m a massive online shopper; fighting the crowds of tourists doesn’t appeal to me,” said Jasmin Farrag, 37, a Londoner who works in software sales and has bought a few pieces via Stone & Strand. “Obviously fine jewelry is a bit more difficult, but [with] Stone & Strand, I feel comfortable.”
What’s most important to Ms. Farrag is that a site offer enough information—both visual and factual. “I want to be able to see it close up and on somebody’s body,” she said. “That helps to give you scale.” She doesn’t visit sites that won’t offer specific ring sizes, for instance. Net-A-Porter’s Ms. Sarokin believes that its detailed descriptions, which include carat weight, give the site an advantage over those that don’t.
Even for shoppers in big cities, the array of brands available via the web is unmatched. Stone & Strand is about to introduce designs by edgy British designer Shaun Leane, whose work isn’t widely available in the U.S. Because of its trunk-show format, Moda Operandi can offer a wider selection of pieces from a designer than a department store might stock.
A lofty level of service is also crucial. Any of these retailers will coordinate with individual designers to create pieces specific to a VIP’s requirements. “We have a customer-care team,” said Moda Operandi’s Ms. Keramitsis. “If we do a Nina Runsdorf show and someone would love to see a different color or change a stone, [the team] takes care of any need.” For delivery, most brands use services like Ferrari Express (not related to the car) or Malca Amit, which specialize in high-value objects. That said, Stone & Strand founder Nadine McCarthy Kahane has been known to hand-deliver pieces personally.
There are still downsides to buying online. Even in high resolution, colorless jewels can read flat. And even when you know the dimensions and details, sometimes a piece just isn’t right. (Most sites allow returns of non-custom gems.) For most women, however, those little aggravations don’t make it any less worthwhile. “Jewelry has been bought sight unseen for decades,” said the Stone Set’s co-founder Jenna Fain, referring to the intimate relationship that big collectors often had with luxury jewelers. “In some ways, with the trusted payment methods and easy returns, it democratizes the practice.”