Professional Jeweler Archive: Can Gemstones Be Branded?

March 2001

Gemstones & Pearls/News

Can Gemstones Be Branded?

Fantasy cuts can help gem cutters develop brand names that set them apart. Retailers can benefit too

America’s gem cutters are on the horns of a dilemma. They fashion superb, one-of-a-kind works of art. But they also want to enlarge their customer base and gain greater recognition among consumers.

Branded fantasy cuts could be one answer, though some say it would be difficult. “Uniformity is a problem because of the limited availability of fine rough gemstones, and that makes branding tougher,” says Jeff Ketay, a retail jeweler in Peoria, IL.

But even rare rough acquires a “name” sometimes. Consider that Burma ruby, Kashmir sapphire and Colombian emerald all denote particular pedigrees among connoisseurs. Not all pedigrees are geographical. Bernd Munsteiner, a pioneer of lapidary art, is a brand name known around the world for fantasy cut gems.

In fact, branding has become a buzz word in the jewelry industry in the past few years as designers vie for consumers’ attention in a crowded marketplace. David Yurman and Lagos are just two of the jewelry designers who have joined Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and Harry Winston at the apex of the jewelry world thanks to increasing consumer recognition.

Making the Leap

Many of America’s gem cutters hope consumers will learn their names also. For you, carrying the creations of fantasy cutters will help you differentiate yourself from competing jewelers and achieve greater profit margins because prices can’t be comparison-shopped.

But first you have to convince yourself to give fantasy cuts a fair chance. “Many retailers assume customers are so conservative they won’t buy specialty cuts,” says Glenn Lehrer, a fantasy gem artist in Larkspur, CA. Lehrer recently had samples of his work published in Departures magazine and immediately started to get calls from all around the U.S. “Apparently people who read also buy,” he says.

Lehrer, who has opened a small jewelry store, says his biggest challenge now is making enough product to supply demand. “The challenges are calibration, repeatability and quantity,” he says. His solution: “We’re beginning to mass-produce our products by preforming and cutting them here, then having the polishing done in China.”

Steady Progression

Changes in production or style should be well thought out. “Some cutters make too many rapid changes,” says Michael M. Dyber, a lapidary artist in Rumney, NH. “Consumers need reassurance there’s a conscious progression in a design sense,” he says. “People come to my booth [at the Tucson gem and mineral shows] year after year, and even with changes I develop, they still have a sense of where the design came from.”

Successful gemstone artists such as Lehrer and Dyber, as well as retail jewelers who carry their work, list several steps cutters should consider as they move toward branding their products. Review the list when choosing which artists to carry:

  • Pieces should be signed by laser inscription (not always possible because of a gem’s durability) or by etching or diamond scribing.
  • Design techniques unique to a cutter should be copyrighted.
  • Design names should be simple and linked to the cutter’s name. The cutter’s name, not the cut name, should be foremost in jewelers’ and consumers’ minds.
  • Cutters should seek publicity. Journalists are eager to cover new items and techniques, particularly if there’s an interesting story involved. The history of the cutter, including design awards, should be included in a press kit that retailers can use in promotion.
  • Gem artists should develop a recognition among retail jewelers before marketing to consumers.
  • Cutters should develop an infrastructure to feed and supply demand. If the cutter can’t supply increasing demand, major buyers will go to someone who can.
  • Cutters should seek jewelers who appreciate and understand their designs and communicate them to consumers.

The Jeweler’s Role

Jewelers who decide to sell branded fantasy cuts must be willing to educate customers about them. This includes everything from collecting articles about cutters to offering certificates. “It’s all about differentiation and creating a mix your competition doesn’t have,” says James Alger of Alger Co., Bedford, NH. “You also can create a synergy by matching a terrific jewelry designer with a terrific fantasy cut. That really creates a powerful piece.”

Here are several actions you can take to develop a reputation as a specialist in fantasy cut gemstones. They should contribute to creating a brand awareness of your store name too.

  • Like it first. There’s no reason to own a fantasy gem if you don’t have a passion for its beauty and possibilities.
  • Commit to owning the gem. Be willing to devote the necessary time to develop a clientele. This can’t be done effectively on a memo basis.
  • Carefully match fantasy cuts with jewelry designers. Several gem artists and jewelry designers collaborate to make stunning, salable jewelry. Examples are gem artist Glenn Lehrer and designer Conni Mainne or gem artist Bernd Munsteiner and designer Jean François Albert.
  • Ensure the jewel is wearable. It often helps if sales associates wear the jewelry in the store. The power of suggestion is strong.
  • Assign the right price. Undervaluing a one-of-a-kind piece is a common mistake, say jewelers. Art carries a high value, so don’t be shy. Customers generally understand price tags, and a higher price often attaches more intrinsic value to the piece.
  • Educate your staff. Fantasy pieces are often easy to sell because there’s so much you can impart about the pieces and the designers. Sales associates should know this information so they can share it with consumers.
  • Create selling opportunities. Invite the gem artist and the jewelry designer to the store to meet your best customers.
  • Distribute literature about the artists. Maintain a portfolio of articles about the artists whose work you carry. Consumers want to know about artists when they buy art. Offer a certificate of authenticity with each gem sold.

Remember that even though the market is small, there’s ample room for cutters and jewelers to develop their own niche. A brand name follows naturally.

– Robert Weldon, G.G.

Gem artist Michael Dyber recently developed new cutting techniques, such as these hollow channels in citrine he calls Luminaires,™ while still maintaining a recognizable uniformity of design. Michael M. Dyber, Rumney, NH; (603) 744-2161. Photo by Robert Weldon.
Bernd Munsteiner created a brand name with his pioneering fantasy cuts, such as with this pink tourmaline. Gem courtesy of James Alger Co., Bedford, NH; (800) 446-1556 or (603) 625-5947. Photo by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications