National Jeweler asked 10 independent female designers to pick a piece from their collections ideal for the female self-purchasing customer.
New York--Two groups have risen concurrently in the fine jewelry industry over the past several years: the self-purchasing female customer and the female jewelry designer.

And their mutual ascent isn’t a coincidence.

“We don't necessarily target this consumer group, at least consciously,” jewelry designer Jennie Kwon said of the self-purchasing female consumer. “But I think it happens organically, as I myself am a self-purchasing woman and ultimately, my designs reflect what I think is beautiful and what I love to wear.”

Kwon said that self-purchasers make up the majority of her clientele, while designer Marla Aaron revealed that 95 percent of her customers are self-purchasing.

“I started the collection because there were pieces of jewelry that I wanted for myself and I couldn't find,” said Aaron, who has a made a name for herself with her unique fine jewelry locks combining precious metals with functional hardware.

“Jewelry is intimate and deeply personal, and it makes complete sense that women would like to reward themselves with pieces that they have especially chosen and that reflect who they are,” she explained.

There also are clear benefits in a consumer picking out a piece of jewelry according to their own specific taste: it eliminates the stress that comes with gifting, particularly at a luxury price point, and the letdown that comes with being on the receiving end of an unwanted present.

These are things many female designers have experienced from a consumer standpoint.

“I've always had a strong sense of what I love to wear in jewelry,” designer Elisa Solomon said. “My husband jokes that he can never buy me jewelry, and it really is true. I love that women know what they want and go for it.”

When consumers buy for themselves, it also significantly reduces the rate of return.

“I prefer for a purchase to be by a self-purchaser because it ensures that the customer will end up with a piece that they truly love,” designer Selin Kent confirmed.

Ann Ko, the designer of Liven Co. agreed, saying, “Satisfaction has a higher value than surprise.”

Female Buying Power
According to the United States Department of Labor’s “Women in the Labor Force in 2010” report, women made up 47 percent of the total American workforce that year.

With more women working than ever before, self-purchasing is on the rise.

In an article published last month on National Jeweler on the “midult”--Generation X females between the ages of 35 and 55--Jewelers of America’s Director of Public Relations and Events Amanda Gizzi said of the demographic, “She has been in the workforce for over fifteen years and is established in her career. She makes her own money and isn’t afraid to spend some of it on herself.”
“Satisfaction has a higher value than surprise.”--Ann Ko, Liven Co.
Designer Priyanka Kedia of Ayva Jewelry agreed.

“(Women) are transforming the marketplace,” she said. “They are no longer waiting for their men or partners to buy them jewelry. They now buy jewelry as tangible evidence of their successes and as a reward for their hard work.”

Part of this consumer trend is due to the availability of fine jewelry at non-exorbitant price points.

Last month, Marty Hurwitz, CEO of MVI Marketing, told National Jeweler that the typical retail price range for jewelry self-purchasers was between $95 and $995, which aligned with the results of a survey National Jeweler and Jewelers of America conducted last year in which jewelers confirmed that outside of the bridal market, their average price per unit sold was under $1,000.

Delicate Jewelry
Attainability remains key in fueling the self-purchasing phenomenon, and the delicate jewelry trend has been instrumental in keeping costs low, proving itself a mainstay in the market.

Designer Wing Yau of fine jewelry brand Wwake has been a stand-out in the layering, delicate jewelry arena, carving out a distinct, minimalist aesthetic focused on tiny opals, diamonds and gemstones.



“It’s a new age of jewelry purchasing,” Yau said. “Our customers are independent and thoughtful--they’re not waiting for men to buy them nice things anymore. More than anything, they do it for themselves.”

Kwon’s jewelry also is of a delicate, stacking nature, with plenty of options that retail for under $1,000.

“We've found that the pricing and aesthetic of our pieces are at sort of a sweet spot for the self-purchasing woman,” she said. “The unique-yet-wearable design of our pieces, as well as the luxurious feel of them despite their somewhat dainty scale, really resonates with this particular demographic.”

Brands today are relying on the exact opposite mentality of the “keep-it-in-the-safe” attitude of generations past, creating pieces that function as an effortless uniform, appropriate to wear in any situation.

“Everyday, flexible pieces are a priority for busy modern women,” Ko emphasized. “A fine piece that goes with everything, can be dressed up or down, and still offers great style is worth buying.”

A Cultural Shift
As more women and men delay marriage or put it off altogether, several designers stressed that fine jewelry no longer needs to be a purchase relegated to engagements and anniversaries, saying that instead, women are marking any number of life events with a self-purchase.

“Our core customer is a self-purchasing woman who buys herself jewelry in honor of her own milestones--usually little earrings or rings that they can wear every day as a sweet reminder of their achievements,” Yau said.

Meanwhile Page Neal, the co-founder and one half of the design duo behind fine jewelry brand Bario Neal, is looking far beyond her brand's bridal customer, hoping to engage with their audience through all aspects of life.

“We believe that our lives are rich with experiences of all kinds: triumphs and sadness and joy,” Neal said. “Monumental events and rites of passage that invoke our humanity are not limited to engagements, weddings and anniversaries. Jewelry has the power to mark these moments with a reminder that you can both wear throughout your life and pass on later as a token of strength, resilience and fortitude. This is the time to treat and celebrate yourself.”
“It’s a new age of jewelry purchasing. Our customers are independent and thoughtful--they’re not waiting for men to buy them nice things anymore." -- Wing Yau, Wwake
Designer Ariel Gordon also feels that fine jewelry is the ideal product to sate the self-purchasing need for an ever-evolving consumer.

“There is a new, more mindful shopper who places a premium on products that offer craftsmanship, usefulness and versatility,” she said.

But Ayva Jewelry’s Kedia adheres to an even more democratic philosophy when it comes to buying oneself jewelry.

“The best part about self-purchasing is that you don’t need a reason to treat yourself,” she said.

Connecting with the Female Self-Purchaser
When asked how brands were directly targeting the self-purchaser, designers’ answers all had something in common: an emphasis on social media.

“On Bario Neal social media, we have a weekly post titled ‘More to Celebrate,’” said Bario Neal's Manager and Design Administrator Sarah Maltais. “Our hashtag #moretocelebrate is our call to remember that rites of passage extend beyond weddings, engagements, and anniversaries. We think we should honor our own personal struggles and accomplishments.

“We engage our customers with the question, what do you want to celebrate? And what ring stack would you choose as a physical reminder? (Examples of) past customer commemorations have included finishing graduate school, submitting a first film to a festival, paying off consumer debt, quitting a job to travel and write, finishing a dissertation and PhD program, and buying a first house,” she said.

Brands specifically noted the visual appeal of Instagram and how showing their jewelry worn or photographed in an aesthetically pleasing way helped customers relate to the product.

“We use inspiring images and realistic photographs on Instagram to ensure that our brand is both relatable and accessible,” Yau said. “My goal is to be with our customers every step of the way.”

Ultimately, independent female designers have the direct advantage of understanding the self-purchasing demographic because they are a part of it.

Kent emphasized, “My collection is not only designed by a woman for woman, but inspired by them.”

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Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.