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)?

Back in Time: An Evening with Vortic Watch Co.

When I first announced my transition from fine jewelry retail to 3D printing tech, the responses varied from a tentatively supportive “sounds… interesting” to something like “tech? But what about jewelry?!” and even “does that mean you’ll wear jeans and t-shirts and use words like ‘bandwidth’?” (yes, no, and yes, for the record).

The truth is, I’ve been even more involved with the jewelry industry since I took on this role, and it’s been the most amazing experience to have the privilege of meeting people like R.T. Custer, co-founder and CEO of Vortic Watch. He had the brilliant notion to take US-made, early-20th-century pocket watches that were sitting around unused and unloved, and convert them into chic, industrial wristwatches.

What does this have to do with me? Well, the original pieces he produced involved serious Solidworks CAD skills and some impressive wrangling of a little old 3D printer. R.T. and his business partner Tyler Wolfe (Vortic COO) have grown this original Kickstarter into a full-fledged business, producing custom casements and reviving an American watchmaking tradition many believed had died off in the post-industrial era.

Vortic Watch hosted a special event last weekend at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation, which houses an incredible collection of historic pieces from the American Industrial Revolution. They were kind enough to invite me as both a representative of the technology used to bring these magical devices to life, and as a jewelry and watch nerd who seriously can’t stop using their design tool to play with the custom watch builder options.

There are few things that appeal to me more than a seamless integration of old-world style and modern techniques, so this company truly hits it out of the park. From their tough-but-elegant styling to the significant history behind the movements, these timepieces absolutely belong both on the wrist and in the enthusiast’s collection.

Take a look at a few highlights from the event in the slideshow below!

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Welcome, spring!

As a native New Englander, I’ve grown up in a world that revolves very much around the seasons. We slog through tough winters, squelch through wet springs, sigh about humid summers, and stumble around the leaves of fall. Seasons also have nicknames — “mud” or “tourist” or “black fly” — that often describe the shared misery of the region in its respective states.

May typically brings with it the transition out of our winter boots and hats, and into shorter hemlines and brighter colors. It also brings another round of gift-giving occasions: Mother’s Day, graduations, weddings, showers, and of course birthdays (ahem, like mine!).

I’ve been asked more often than I can count to recommend a gift, and typically I’m happy to oblige. But lately it seems that my gentle questions — how old? style? hair length? current or dream profession? hobbies? — go unanswered, simply because the buyer is totally unprepared for them. One notable interaction ended when a customer realized she wasn’t entirely sure if this was for a high school or college graduation, and left to call her sister for more information.**

So if I may, a little advice from one who truly wants to help you select a perfect present, but needs a tad more information in order to do so:

1. Know the basics. Gender, age, and basic physical description help. Bonus points for hair & eye color; double bonus for skin tone.

2. Know (at least one of) the specifics. Favorite color, preferred metal type, ear piercings, lefty or righty, birth month, sports team, degree, hobby, pastime, career.

3. Know the occasion. While it doesn’t always dictate the gift, it can help with direction (and, to a certain degree, price point). Bonus points for details like wedding color(s), school colors or mascot, religious symbols, family traditions, etc.

4. Diamonds, pearls, watches. Repeat this, mantra-like, to yourself as you shop during this time of year. You’ll see these items placed front and center in advertising due to their immense popularity and widespread appeal, so you might as well consider them. Lockets, charm bracelets, and money clips are all great options as well, and often customizable to boot.

Friends and family (and perfect strangers), do you have a gift-giving conundrum? Ask away, free of charge! 🙂 Also, feel free to share a story of a memorable gift you’ve received — everyone loves a good tale for inspiration.

**As it turns out, it was neither: the giftee had been cast in the leading role of her school theatre production. The gifter returned just to tell me this and promptly left, saying she “didn’t feel it merited a gift” after all. Break a leg, kid!