Can the jewellery market rise from the ashes of the pandemic to stage its own rebirth? Some industry players think so. Earlier this month, Bain & Company gave a grim assessment of the luxury market, predicting a contraction of between 20 to 35 per cent for the full year.
But in China, wild post-lockdown shopping sprees have given players reasons to believe a global rebound is just around the corner.
Jean-Christophe Babin, Bvlgari’s CEO, says: “We initially closed 50 per cent of Bvlgari stores in China’s peak, while the rest of the world went on. After the crisis had passed in China, we reopened everything and saw excellent results – greater than the previous year. At the same time, however, our business in other countries has had to stop while we wait for their peaks to pass.”
Whether China’s “revenge spending” spikes can make up for the global shortfall these past two months – or even possibly in the coming months – is another matter. Like Cartier, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels and other jewellery houses, Bvlgari played its cards carefully in China, offering donations and support in the country’s fight against the virus and earning Chinese consumers’ goodwill. It also converted its production of fragrances into hand sanitiser gel, distributing thousands of bottles across Europe.
For Babin, the pandemic is not just a chance to showcase his company’s mission and shared humanity, but also spur its own “rebirth”. He says: “The pandemic must help us accelerate (our connection with) the client’s inevitable new approach to luxury. We want to give more information on the product, the supply of raw materials and the various stages of production. We want to move ever closer to issues such as sustainability and the circular economy.”
Here in Singapore, a similar rethinking is also underway among jewellers during the circuit breaker. Michael Koh, founder of the award-winning Caratell, says: “I’m spending half my time revamping our website and creating bite-size articles on rare gemstones as a form of knowledge-building for our clients and beyond. I’m spending the other half gathering donations for affected migrant workers. The project is called ‘Apples from Our Hearts’ and we have raised money from our contacts and clients for 300 cartons of fruits – or a total of 32,700 apples and oranges. We want to show our foreign workers we care.”
“The pandemic must help us accelerate (our connection with) the client’s inevitable new approach to luxury.” – Jean-Christophe Babin, Bvlgari’s CEO
A rebound right after the circuit breaker might be harder for local companies as there’ll be competition for the supply of pure gold, gemstones and other materials. But Koh expects “business as usual” to return by August.
Veteran jeweller Marilyn Tan of Marilyn Tan Jewellery has weathered two economic crises before, the 2003 Sars outbreak and the 2008 Financial Crisis, and “each crisis pushed me to think of ways to do things differently, such as learning new jewellery-making techniques and dreaming up new designs, initiating more interaction with clients and becoming more aware of cultural and lifestyle changes.”
Like Caratell, Marilyn Tan is still getting commissions from longtime clients for upcoming occasions such as weddings and anniversaries. “It gives them something to discuss and look forward to,” she says. “And they’ve been very understanding about the challenges of the situation.”
“Each crisis pushed me to think of ways to do things differently, such as learning new jewellery-making techniques and dreaming up new designs, initiating more interaction with clients and becoming more aware of cultural and lifestyle changes.” – Marilyn Tan, jewellery designer
Meanwhile, Clarence Yee of Gioia Fine Jewellery, one of the scene’s younger players, says: “We’ve lost 50 per cent of our revenue in April and May, and the fixed operating costs are indeed a challenge – despite the existing government tax rebates and a 15 per cent rental reduction in the spread of three months by our landlord at International Plaza.”
“Unfortunately, bespoke services do require the client to actually view the gemstone in person, as well as personal interaction and discussions – all of which can’t be replaced by Zoom meetings. So we’re just trying to stay active on social media and posting images of new jewellery pieces we’ve completed based on existing commissions, and staying alert to online enquiries.”
This article first appeared on The Business Times.