The weather might have been cold and grey, and the economic climate even more hostile and depressing, but the atmosphere at the recent VicenzaOro Jewellery Fair in northern Italy was warm and inviting. In fact, the event has been busier than ever in the last few years with a vast expansion in the purpose-built facility planned for this autumn. Jewellers and jewellery buyers were complaining about exhausting schedules, but they were buying and selling as if the recession simply didn’t exist.
The manic activity is all the more surprising given the rise in the price of gold in recent years. Having doubled between 2005 and 2010, according to the London Bullion Market Association, it’s now up at $1,675 and analysts at Capital Economics forecast the price will hit $2,200 (£1,395) an ounce by the end of this year. Diamonds too are experiencing greater demand from the new markets of the Far East. In India, more brides from the fast-growing, newly affluent middle class, for instance, are expecting to have diamond and gold jewellery as part of their dowry and wedding services. Chinese demand for diamonds has tripled over the last decade and growth is set to expand.
“Chinese customers are increasingly interested in coloured diamonds,” says Jenny Jing, Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar Jewellery China. They’re also increasingly interested in home grown Chinese talent as well as the well-known Western designers, she reports.
So the demand and the activity is certainly there but the recession, the increasing price of raw materials and the current move away from ostentatious wealth is manifesting itself in a more subtle way. Designs are becoming lighter with finer, more detailed work. Less gold is being used but there is a greater focus on design and intricate cutting. As the amount of materials involved in each piece is reduced, more craftsmanship is being applied. Diamonds are smaller and are even being sliced. To put it bluntly, consumers are choosing rings, necklaces and bracelets with less of the raw material and more open space. There is an old joke in the jewellery trade about the billionaire who hands a jeweller a gold bar and asks him to make a ring out of it. “What kind of ring do you want?” asks the jeweller, looking the gold bar. “Just a drill a hole in it,” comes the reply. Not any more. These days, when it comes to materials the trend is towards quality not quantity.
“Over the last three to four years greater attention has been paid to materials,” says Paola de Luca, Forecaster & Creative Director at Trendvision Jewellery & Forecasting. “Because of the rise in the price of gold, among other factors, the new aesthetic is about fine jewellery.” Jewellers are also using a greater range of materials to reduce their reliance on gold and to create this new, lighter, finer look, she explains. “They might mix precious and non-precious materials together,” she says. Prompted by the need to use less gold and fewer diamonds, designers are looking to history and to other cultures for inspiration and to learn new techniques. “Polki is an Indian way of slicing diamonds which goes back to the days of the Mughals. This means that designs are becoming even more diverse and much more complex.”
Using few precious materials but working them more finely and adding other non-precious materials means that there is a great focus on the ingredients of the piece. This trend chimes in with the move towards greater customer knowledge, as luxury customers want to learn more about the products that they are wearing and using. Traceability is important, too, as customers want to know where the increasingly diverse materials used in their piece are coming from. “It also allows designers to become more creative,” says Paola de Lucca – and that’s always a good thing after all.