As 2017 dawns many in the media and broader society at large are reflecting upon a tumultuous 2016 and pondering what may lie in store for the year ahead. For the gemstone and jewellery industry the past year has been a very mixed bag, in which there have been winners and losers, although the overall trends have been broadly positive. According to Jean Ghika, Director of Jewellery for UK & Europe at Bonhams, 2017 is set for continued growth in coloured gem sales. In 2016 Bonhams reported record sales of emeralds, rubies and sapphires, in London, New York and Hong Kong. In particular the finest unheated blue Kashmir sapphires hit astonishing prices under the hammer, due to their extreme rarity, exceptional quality and the fact they originate from now extinct mines. One such example was a 14.13 carat, cushion cut Kashmir sapphire which fetched almost £1.4 million in London (equivalent to $121,000 USD per carat). It is clear that the provenance of a gem or piece of jewellery is becoming an ever more prominent determiner of its value and those gemstones with a rich and colourful ownership history are fetching the highest prices.
It is anticipated that prices of coloured diamonds, most notably blue diamonds, will continue to soar in 2017. It is their sheer rarity that sets them apart from their colourless counterparts as they constitute a mere one carat in every thousand carats of polished diamonds that are produced. Recently Bonham’s auctioned an exquisite 3.81 carat, oval-cut fancy intense blue diamond for £2.32 million ($792,450 US per carat), a price almost twice that of its pre-sale estimate. Increasingly fine jewellery is being viewed as an art form in its own right, rather than simply a style of luxury fashion. In the year ahead jewellery designers’ creations will more closely resemble a collection of contemporary or classical art work. Period pieces are also forecast to increase in popularity over the coming 12 months, so much so that Bonhams are about to launch a campaign to raise awareness of the key jewellery makers and their associated eras. Art Deco is one of the principle eras of interest and in December 2016 Bonhams sold a Cartier emerald and diamond bracelet from this period for £257,000, two and a half to three times its pre-sale estimate.
(Digital channels, including social media, will be a huge driver of brand engagement in 2017)
Many predict that the key fine jewellery makers will continue to shed their inhibitions regarding the emerging digital and social media channels as they start of relax their tight grip over their brand identities and messaging. This is partly due to the shifting dynamics of consumer behaviour, which is being driven by the rise of mobile devices and a desire for more personalised brand experiences. At the end of 2016 print still accounted for a surprising 60% of advertising spend by the big luxury brands. Some experts have predicted that 97% of the total growth in advertising spending over 2017 will be within digital channels, as the industry slowly adapts to the broader commercial landscape. The main players are also starting to realise that the modern and future audience engage with multiple platforms and so called brand ‘touchpoints’ that must be covered in the main in order to successfully grow market share. The incorporation of these new channels to the marketing ecosystem of the luxury brands has increased the necessity for high quality, relatively high quantity but personalised content. Marketers refer to this as so called ‘content crunch’ and it represents both a challenge as well as an opportunity for the established participants.
(Established in 1996, eMarketer are one of the leading authorities on digital brand building strategy)
Failure to present consumers with appropriate content that is relevant and of interest to them can have a negative effect on the brand that produces it. Fierce competition between the providers and hosts of digital and social channels has lead to the rise in prevalence and uptake of ‘ad-blocking’ features and even specialised software. eMarketer, A leading digital marketing research company, have found that in the US alone almost 70 million consumers used ad-blockers in 2016, an increase of more than a third versus 2015 and the trend is set to continue throughout the coming year. This raises the fundamental question of how to create personalised content that engages with all (or at least most) of your target market en masse, without requiring a level of financial and other resources that are unattainable for most industry participants? One solution is to open up dialogue with the consumers themselves, involving them in the marketing strategy whilst maintaining a degree of control over the overall brand narrative. This is cost effective and it is being made all the more achievable with enhanced cameras on mobile devices, coupled with the proliferation of highly visual social media such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. These channels favour the use of authentic, user-generated content and encourage it to go viral with the “consumer as creator.”
The social media statistics are eye watering and show no sign of abating in 2017. Instagram alone has over half a billion subscribers, creating almost 100 million photos between them every day and almost 1 in 4 of the world’s population have a Facebook account. Recent research sponsored by Olapic has shown that 90% of leading luxury retail brands that employ consumer content strategies are experiencing “measurably positive results.” The purchasing power of women is also coming to the fore within the market and according to Bonhams they are now responsible for 28% of all jewellery bought at auction, up from 24% five years ago, and their average spend at auction has more than doubled over the same time frame. Bonhams have also illustrated the rise in online bidding at auction, up from 15% of lots purchased in 2013 to 24% in 2016, a continuing trend they are gearing up for in 2017. The above factors all point towards an increasingly globalised future for the gemstone and jewellery industry and once again this is borne out by data from Bonhams, illustrating a 25% increase in buyers from the Asia Pacific region and an 11% increase in those from the USA at their auctions over recent years.