Don’t fall behind: Lessons from high jewelry’s new era of storytelling

Fine jewelry and it’s even more extravagant adjacent, high jewelry, are segments that have long been considered the pinnacle of timeless elegance and exclusivity. But now they are undergoing a metamorphosis, reflecting what I have been communicating relentlessly over the last years: The speed of change in luxury is unprecedented and complacent brands will fall behind and disappear.

What we are witnessing is the redefinition of a luxury category — a change driven not merely by demand but by the larger strategic visions of iconic brands. Fine jewelry is soaring with high double-digit growth rates, outpacing even most fashion and watch categories in both revenue and, importantly, profitability.

In the past, a high jewelry client would instinctively go to brands like Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Graff, or Tiffany & Co. when on the hunt for an extraordinary piece that would serve as a lifetime investment. These brands have been the keepers of the high jewelry domain, often positioning themselves with decades or even centuries of craftsmanship, heritage, and storytelling.

Suddenly, times are changing and brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Gucci are rapidly entering and expanding their footprint in the competitive set, with significant investment in capabilities and distribution. Even Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga, traditionally rooted in accessories and fashion, are exploring this lucrative avenue, albeit at lower price points.

This push into fine jewelry by challenger brands is compounded by the strategic diversification of Rolex, expressed in the recent acquisition of Bucherer, the world’s largest watch retailer. The acquisition enables Rolex, a synonym for luxurious timekeeping, to expand into the jewelry segment, in addition to controlling the largest watch distributor. It’s a move not just to capitalize on a rapidly expanding and highly lucrative market, but to also add another gem (quite literally) to its portfolio.

For fashion and leather goods brands, this venture into fine jewelry is a calculated gamble. Fashion trends, due to their dynamic and fluctuating nature, always carry the risk of unsold inventory and waning relevance. Jewelry, with its enduring allure, offers brands a more stable avenue for revenue, an opportunity to pivot without losing their inherent brand equity. The acquisition of Bucherer, for instance, gives Rolex an opportunity to strategically recalibrate if watch demand should cool off in the future. 

Fashion trends, due to their dynamic and fluctuating nature, always carry the risk of unsold inventory and waning relevance. Jewelry, with its enduring allure, offers brands a more stable avenue for revenue, an opportunity to pivot without losing their inherent brand equity.

The result: What was for decades a highly predictable and stable business model with few players has now become an incredibly contested space. After LVMH acquired Tiffany & Co. in 2021, the brand quickly pivoted from a once-in-a-lifetime engagement ring positioning towards being a brand that creates cultural capital and does not shy away from collaborations with the likes of Nike. This scared competitors and brought the New York-based jewelry brand back into the spotlight after decades of neglect and complacency. 

Tiffany Nike shoes collab

Since being acquired by LVMH, Tiffany & Co. has expanded beyond the jewelry category through collaborations. Photo: Tiffany & Co.

Tiffany’s transformation underscores how brand storytelling and digital mastery for jewelry brands is more important than ever before. The times where brands could just replicate the same business model over years, sometimes decades, are over. Brands like Louis Vuitton are excellent storytellers and have mastered a channel-agnostic client relationship. Most traditional jewelry brands can’t compete without a dramatic recalibration of storytelling beyond heritage, quality, and craftsmanship and without a reinvention of the client experience, both digital and in-store.

As the battle lines are drawn, storytelling becomes the most critical asset for brand differentiation. High jewelry is no longer just about carats and cuts; it’s about the narrative of the brand and of each piece. Similarly, as newcomers like Gucci enter, they’ll need more than just exquisite designs; they’ll need compelling narratives that can create a competitive advantage. Otherwise many brands will have a rude awakening and perform below expectation with a bloated portfolio.

Gucci presented its latest high jewelry collection, Allegoria, in June 2023. Photo: Gucci

This is why we see a surge in limited editions, celebrity partnerships, and elaborate marketing campaigns around high jewelry collections. Brands are investing in storytelling as a mechanism to gain both credibility and emotional engagement, factors that are becoming increasingly critical as consumers are flooded with choices.

The entry of such a diverse portfolio of brands into the high jewelry sector is not just a pivot; it’s a revolution. The decision for Rolex, Louis Vuitton, and others to step into this space is less about the product and more about the brand’s positioning and reaching a client that is less predictable and more discerning in a multi-dimensional luxury landscape.

As we look to the future, the essence of high jewelry is likely to transcend from being a product to becoming an experience, complemented by unique brand storytelling. Brands that manage to seamlessly integrate these elements will not only capture market share but redefine what high jewelry means in this new age of luxury.

One thing is for certain: The stakes have never been higher, and neither have the rewards. Luxury brands willing to step into this domain must not only bring their A-game in design and craftsmanship but also in the narrative they choose to build. And this is where many brands have significant weaknesses. After all, in today’s luxury market, a gem without a story has no value at all.

This is an opinion piece where all views expressed belong to the author.

Named one of the “Global Top Five Luxury Key Opinion Leaders to Watch,” Daniel Langer is the CEO of the luxury, lifestyle and consumer brand strategy firm Équité, and the executive professor of luxury strategy and pricing at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He consults many of the leading luxury brands in the world, is the author of several best-selling luxury management books, a global keynote speaker, and holds luxury masterclasses on the future of luxury, disruption, and the luxury metaverse in Europe, the USA, and Asia.

Follow him: LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drlanger, Instagram: @equitebrands /@thedaniellanger

Categories

Hard Luxury, The Future of Luxury