Brief Baubles: Jewelry & the Sharing Economy

Millennial. Startup. “Uber of X.” Viral. Cord Cutter. Experiential. Influencer. Gamification. Hacking.

Today’s colloquialisms provide a unique challenge for content producers, forcing us to navigate a tightrope strung high over a cavernous hole of hashtags, hits, and SEO-driven buzzwords. It sure does grate on you, after a while.

So please grin and bear it as I throw another one out for your consideration: the sharing economy. Defined by others as “collaborative consumption” in direct opposition to Veblen’s original “conspicuous consumption,” the concept applies to anything you make use of but do not own. Big-ticket items like cars and houses were the first aboard this bandwagon, and predictably other 1status items have followed suit.

The latest to join the game is the jewelry and watch world, following in the footsteps of successful concepts like Rent the Runway for designer clothing and BagBorroworSteal for, you guessed it, high-end pocketbooks. These companies allow their clients to order items online to be shipped to their homes, worn for a limited time, and shipped straight back. Talk about fast fashion.

The obvious issues do come up from time to time: theft, accidental destruction, genuine loss. But rental-based organizations often forge strong relationships with the designers they carry, and many offer or require various premiums that amount to insurance for just these situations.

I have been asked on more than one occasion my opinion of this type of consumerism, mainly in regards to its impact on the future of the luxury industry as defined by its success with younger generations. My response may surprise you, though certainly not my mother, whose special designer duds I’ve been trying to steal borrow for years: I’m all for it.

Taken in the short term, it’s true that renting and returning merchandise offers little gain for luxury sellers who are strapped for cash and customers. But by allowing these online (read: no overhead) entities to handle the logistics for them, both major and emerging designers can build a larger following based on exposure and experience. It’s this magical combination that gains the trust of today’s HENRYs, and will turn them into more education (and therefore more satisfied) purchasers later on.

Try it, then buy it… when you can afford it. Or when you love it and don’t want to return it because you have to have it for yourself (or for someone else).

A number of luxury accessory companies have entered this new market. I was most impressed by a startup called Eleven James, as they currently focus solely on mid to high-level timepieces. Watches are not a fading fad as some might claim, but their role in our daily lives has shifted from necessary time-telling device to pure fashion (or status) statement. Eleven James capitalizes on this concept, and provides a concierge experience with multiple tiers that aim to match a range of budgets and tastes.

Flont is another newcomer, providing temporary access to a swath of designer jewels. A recent news release from Rapaport’s Diamond.Net says:

“Flont, which offers a jewelry-renting service, has raised $5 million from investors to grow its inventory and staff and help fund an expansion into the Chinese market.
The company describes itself as a pioneer of the “Jewelry as a Service” model, in which it lets consumers wear jewelry for a fee for a fixed period, or take out membership for unlimited rental.”

So that pair of Bvlgari earrings you can’t currently afford, but would go perfectly with your cocktail dress at that wedding this weekend? Rent them. Want to wear a diamond necklace that’s the real deal for your wedding? (Do I even have to say it?) Hello, something borrowed.

“’Borrowing incredible jewelry, and experiencing it first-hand, is the best way to discover brands and designers, while developing a lifelong affinity,’ said Cormac Kinney, founder and CEO of Flont, in a statement last week.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Readers, what do you think? Would you rent a watch of piece of otherwise unattainable jewelry, either for a special occasion or just because you could? And equally importantly, would it influence a future decision to buy it (or something like it)?

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