Professional Jeweler Archive: Cultivating a Brand

March 2000

Gemstones & Pearls/News


Cultivating a Brand

Pearl wholesalers want consumers to ask for their products by name


Ask Kleenex about the importance of branding. Synonymous with facial tissue, Kleenex has become a household word. Look at Frisbee and Band-Aid – their trademarked names are more commonly used to describe their products than “flying disk” and “adhesive bandage.” They’re even in the dictionary.

The concept of branding is gaining importance in the jewelry industry also. Designers, suppliers of Ideal cut diamonds and now pearl specialists are cultivating sought-after brand names on the consumer market.

The concept of pearl branding is the newest trend. Until now, Mikimoto was the only recognizable pearl brand. It’s no wonder: the company’s founder was an avid promoter as well as part of the pioneering group that developed the art of pearl cultivation a century ago. Through aggressive consumer marketing, especially in the past two decades, Mikimoto built a reputation synonymous with quality pearls, particularly Japanese akoyas.

“Customers ask for Mikimoto,” says Mark Moeller, president of R.F. Moeller, a two-store jeweler based in St. Paul, MN. “I’ve tried to sell non-branded pearls and can’t do it. Before I had Mikimoto, I used to tell customers who asked for Mikimoto that the company’s pearls constitute only 5% of the market. I’d show them beautiful, top-quality non-branded pearls and they’d smile, say ‘thank you’ and leave.”

Moeller just started selling Mikimoto eight months ago. “It’s the fastest-selling item, aside from Rolex, in terms of consumer recognition,” he says. “I can’t afford not to have them.”

Avoid Generic Clutter

Pearls are a mystery to consumers who understand color, cut, clarity and carat weight in diamonds. Pearls have no universally accepted grading system and aren’t as cut and dried as diamonds, so consumers seek comfort in a name such as Mikimoto, say jewelers.

Honora, a 50-year-old pearl wholesaler/manufacturer in New York City, hopes consumers will seek out its name for Chinese freshwater pearls. About five years ago, Honora seized the up-and-coming Chinese freshwater as its signature pearl and has been building brand recognition ever since, cleverly filling a niche in a diverse product category.

“This is the most exciting thing in the pearl market,” says Honora President Joel Schechter. “These pearls come in fashion-forward colors, interesting shapes and affordable prices that have opened the pearl market to the mainstream.”

Just as the little blue box is synonymous with Tiffany, Honora hopes its black and gold nametag – nationally advertised in such magazines as Town & Country, Mirabella and Vogue – will inspire consumer recognition. “Consumers want to feel connected to a product, and it takes a big investment in marketing and time to build that trust,” says Schechter. “We believe brands help remove jewelers from the generic clutter. They also let consumers relax their guard.”

To prove its point to a chain jeweler it was courting, Honora placed its pearls – some branded, some not – in 30 of the retailer’s stores for three months. It was a small test, but the results were clear: Sales of the branded pearls were more than double those without the Honora nametag.

It’s All in the Name

In the South Sea cultured pearl arena, Gaia, a 50-year-old gem and pearl wholesaler/manufacturer in Milan, Italy, is making inroads with its Perle Utopia® brand. The company researched the branding of South Sea white and golden cultured pearls two years ago, launched its brand in Italy in 1998 and expanded to the U.S. and Germany last year. Plans call for expansion this year in Europe, Spain, Asia and the United Arab Emirates.

“We opted for the name Utopia because it is an international word,” says Stephano Marrazato, international sales manager. “You can say utopia in any language and know it means the ultimate.” The company marks its loose pearls and the two pearls closest to the clasp in strands with a minuscule alphanumeric code vacuumed-sealed on the surface in gold dust. “We provide a matching certificate to further the guarantee,” he says.

Internationally acclaimed jewelry designer Henry Dunay features Perle Utopia pearls in a collection he recently launched at Neiman Marcus, the exclusive retailer of Perle Utopia strands in the U.S. “Customers look to Neiman Marcus as the source for recognized brands,” says Tim Braun, associate divisional merchandise manager in New York City. “This is the first pearl brand we are going forward with and, since its launch, sales have been phenomenal.” Adds Dunay, “I feel as if I am helping to elevate pearls to another level of wearability.”

The branding of fine quality pearls is becoming an important trend. “A lot of good pearl companies do big volume, but consumers don’t know about them,” says Schechter. Some companies plan to change that. One important example is D’Elia & Tasaki, New York City and Japan, which plans to promote the Tasaki brand name on all its products this year. (The name Tasaki is already well-known in the Asian market.) “We are interested in establishing a comprehensive pearl program for retailers,” says Writer D’Elia, vice president. “We’ve built our name and company reputation on an element of trust we wish to share with consumers. It’s a natural progression for us – a meaningful way for our business to grow.”

– by Deborah Yonick

Mikimoto has long promoted its brand. Now Honora is doing the same. Both companies want consumers to think of them when they think of pearls. Here are examples of their consumer ads.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications