China’s new luxury marketing frontier: Mystic jewelry

    Stressed young Chinese white collar workers are buying hard luxury items they believe bestow good luck.
    Image: Tiffany
      Published   in Hard Luxury

    Consumers in China are increasingly ascribing luxury goods like Vivienne Westwood’s Saturn and Tiffany’s Smile necklaces with fantastical powers thanks to a growing interest in astrology, divination, superstition and other esoteric beliefs.

    One netizen shared online that she was able to get rid of her bullying boss by wearing a Tiffany’s Smile necklace. Others commented that they had had the same experience.

    Last year, Vivienne Westwood’s Saturn necklace went viral on social media – netizens believed it had the power to help graduates succeed in exams for postgraduate study or public roles.

    Earlier this year, some folk mystics said the newly installed huge butterfly on a Dior boutique’s facade created an energy field that brings wealth. And Van Cleef & Arpels’ classic four-leaf clover was designed to convey the idea of bringing good luck.

    An item from Vivienne Westwood's Saturn collection. Image: Vivienne Westwood
    An item from Vivienne Westwood's Saturn collection. Image: Vivienne Westwood

    Inviting good fortune#

    “Metaphysical theories are not new to the fashion and luxury industry, and are not limited to Chinese culture. Brands like Vivienne Westwood, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Tiffany have long used concepts such as constellations, tarot, and divination. These ideas have become popular culture, especially online, in the last two years,” says Chen Liang, managing director of pre-owned fashion tech firm DejaWooo.

    Over the past year, more than 30 million posts discussing esoteric beliefs have been shared on Weibo, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu. Topics range from Western superstitions such as horoscopes and tarot to Chinese ones, such as “purple star astrology” (紫微命盘) — a system originating in ancient China that is used to predict the future — to The Four Pillars of Destiny (八字), an intricate code that purports to contain crucial information on believers’ fates.According to a 2021 survey released by the China Association for Science and Technology, one in four Chinese citizens believes in superstitions.

    “An association with metaphysical theories is linked to both the rising anti-work counterculture among the young … Fostering luck and hope in external things is important for a generation coming to terms with a post-Covid world, and a slowdown in key sectors. Add into the mix a revival of traditional Chinese beliefs and practices as part of the cultural zeitgeist, and you’ve got a perfect environment for ‘metaphysical’ marketing to catch on,” says Jack Porteous, commercial director at Chinese marketing agency Tong.

    A necklace from Tiffany's Smile series. Image: Tiffany & Co
    A necklace from Tiffany's Smile series. Image: Tiffany & Co

    Chen concurs: “The economic downturn could be one reason, as young people search for ways to cope with stress, pressure, and uncertainty. The influence of social media might be another factor. These platforms provide a space for like-minded individuals to share, connect, and validate the effects of the products. Much of the pleasure stems from this sharing process.”

    Mystical marketing#

    Whatever the veracity of these beliefs, consumers like them and are willing to pay for goods that align with these interests.

    “The benefits are clear for brands,” says Porteous. “It’s an automatic association with something positive happening, and creates a potential lifetime adherence to the pursuit of luck through the brand. And for hard luxury brands like Van Cleef, there is no better marketing than people wearing your products day in, day out.”

    As early as April 2020, Gucci began to publish monthly Western horoscopes on its WeChat account and push related products. The first article was read more than 100,000 times.

    The large-scale butterfly decorations on Dior’s boutiques has prompted the proliferation of related folk theories. In feng shui (风水), it is believed the butterfly can bring wealth and good fortune.

    A huge butterfly installation is seen on the facade of a Dior boutique. Image: Dior/Weibo
    A huge butterfly installation is seen on the facade of a Dior boutique. Image: Dior/Weibo

    In the first quarter of 2024, sales of gold jewelry with a butterfly element on Taobao increased 45.4 percent year-on-year to over 200 million units, outperforming the overall gold jewelry market.

    Notably, Van Cleef's Alhambra (four-leaf clover) pendant and bracelets topped China's 520 Day best selling products on Tmall from April 17th to May 18th, claiming the first, second and fourth spot, as per Digital Luxury Group's findings.

    But brands trend a fine line between touting a products’ attributes and making unsubstantiated marketing claims.

    A journalist from the Chinese media outlet TMT shared that he asked Tiffany’s sales associate whether the jewelry brand could help workers get rid of problematic bosses. The answer was a clear “no.”

    Although the brand may not officially endorse these beliefs, some of its sales assistants are deploying closely related words and phrases, such as “jinx your boss,” to boost their sales performance.

    Does mystic marketing work?#

    “While it’s an opportunity to create buzz, I expect a lot of luxury brands will let this trend pass them by. Part of the beauty of some of these associations is that they have been heavily driven by consumers – and then amplified by brands when the mythology has become embedded. Attaching yourself to a trend, which may lose its luster quickly, is a risk that the majority of traditional brands will likely not take,” says Porteous.

    Not everyone is superstitious, or has a nasty boss, and Tiffany’s high price points will dissuade many people who hold folk beliefs from purchasing its products. Financial status is always the top determinant of consumption choices.

    However, the mystical trend will likely endure in the short term as employees face a rocky year ahead because of layoffs and economic volatility.

    “Brands should also balance the intensity of their marketing, steering it towards promoting inner peace, tranquility, and healthiness,” concludes Chen.

    • Platforms like Weibo, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu have seen an uptick in posts discussing folk beliefs, driving the popularity of brands like Dior, Van Cleef, Vivienne Westwood, and Tiffany.
    • Brands are using these beliefs to boost sales through tactics like Gucci’s monthly horoscopes and Dior’s butterfly decorations, resulting in rising demand.
    • Brands can incorporate elements like horoscopes, feng shui, and folklore into their marketing to create a positive association with their products and attract domestic shoppers.
    • Marketers can tap into the trend of consumers finding comfort in traditional beliefs by promoting inner peace, tranquility, and healthiness.
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