If you search the keyword “niche jewelry” on Red, over 50,000 posts sharing smaller jewelry brands will pop up. The jewelry in these posts, which average between $100 and $147 (700 to 1,000 yuan) in price, still often come in gold or silver, but pearls and other gemstones have been growing in demand. Aside from this shift in tastes, we have also seen a heightened rivalry between large brands like Richemont and LVMH and more agile and affordable brands. But what is behind this change?
China’s younger shoppers perceive jewelry more as a personal statement than a token of love and commitment, and this shifting demographic has led to booming e-commerce gains for China’s mid-end jewelry market. That has nourished a host of homegrown jewelry designer brands that are now taking market shares from international brands like Swarovski and Pandora, which are favored by millennials shoppers.
Boasting gender-fluid designs that align with younger consumers’ preferences for inclusivity and diversity, these niche jewelry brands are building their brand awareness through extensive social followings on Tmall, Red, and Weibo. Here, Jing Daily goes through five homegrown jewelry brands that are most wanted by Gen-Z consumers.
Founded by award-winning designer Sun Hefang (孙何方) in 2012, this brand works with materials like 18K gold, Swarovski crystals, and platinum. The brand developed partnerships with leading multi-brand retailers such as Colette in Paris and the department store chain David Jones in Australia, as well as domestic big names like Dong Liang. Over the past eight years, the brand has received endorsements from A-list celebrities like Fan Bingbing and Yang Mi. In addition to owning a strong offline presence, the brand leverages digital opportunities on Tmall and JD.com, thanks to a large total following of 910,000.
YVMIN takes an artistic and innovative approach toward redefining modern jewelry, and the brand’s design duo Xiaoyu Zhang and Min Li describe their output as a “body accessory laboratory.” They gave birth to the brand’s first collection in 2013 after graduating from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2012, and have since been featured in established local fashion media outlets such as Harper’s Bazaar China and The Outlook Magazine. Now the brand’s reach extends from fashionistas to the wider consumer through offline retail partners as well as online shoppers. Its most iconic design, which reimagines eyeglass frames as a jewelry accessory, has helped the brand achieve a wider reach while still sticking to its avant-garde DNA.
OOAK, which stands for “one-of-a-kind,” was established as a multi-brand jewelry retailer in 2012, when founder Alice Xu saw that China’s jewelry market was flooded with traditional gold jewelry, big-name luxury brands, and “fast fashion” accessories. Drawing inspiration from expanding consumer demands, the brand developed its in-house jewelry label in 2017 with a focus on niche and affordable pieces. To date, OOAK has built up an extensive global presence in Asia, Europe, and the US, as well as international e-commerce platforms such as YOOX.
Cough in Vain
Cough in Vain’s unisex designs tap into China’s fast-growing male jewelry market by intertwining masculinity and feminity with a combination of materials like pearl and silver. As such, it has grown a large following among Gen-Z consumers. According to the curiously-named brand’s founder, Liu Shuyu, the word “cough” stands for an irreversible physiological response from the body due to the surroundings, while “in vain” symbolizes endless meaninglessness — a reference to jewelry’s lack of functionality. Liu said in an interview with Dazed China that this description explains the brand’s DNA, which consistently questions the relationship between the body and jewelry by empowering customers to define it.
The full-fledged designer brand’s jewelry line is not only a complement to its ready-to-wear collections but also the main driver of awareness in the China market. Featured by female celebrities including Wang Feifei and Lan Yinying on the hit reality show “Sisters Who Make Waves,” the brand has created a precise target of independent modern women. Founded by London College of Fashion graduate Yirantian Guo, the label explores a balance between nostalgia and newness, distancing itself from the usual hype and trends. Aside from finding an ever-growing presence online, the brand has developed an outstanding stocking network through retailers like LABELHOOD, Galeries Lafayette, The Beast Shop (野兽派), and Lane Crawford.