Business Today

Gems & Jewellery, All Tomfoolery

How to get the young generation to buy jewellery is the million dollar question that the industry is grappling with
Rashmi Bansal   NA     Print Edition: May 7, 2017
Gems & Jewellery, All Tomfoolery
Rashmi Bansal (Photo: Bhaskar Paul)

Last week, I was invited to speak at the Gem & Jewellery Trade Fair regional networking meet. As I walked through the exhibition hall, it struck me that jewellery is an inherently female product. But the owners and exhibitors present were all men.

They had to come to Kolkata from as far as Bangalore and Indore, Udaipur and Akola. Demonetisation had hit them all hard but was now a done deed. What worried them even more was the future.

"These days if a man asks his wife what do you want for your birthday, she will say iPhone." 60,000 bucks which could have been spent on jewellery, diverted to an electronic item with a life of 24 months and little resale value.

How to get the young generation to buy jewellery is the million dollar question. The industry currently has no answer. The last successful jewellery campaign was probably by De Beers, which got folks to believe 'diamonds are forever'. But that is so 1990s. It's status quo.

Pick up any in-flight rag and you will see that 80 per cent ads are by jewellers. The funny thing is, the pieces they advertise are all Maharani of Mandore type. Humongous, ache-inducing chokers, half-kilogram earrings and impractical bajubands. Each item is priced not in thousands but in lakhs.

Who is this jewellery for? Not the woman -- she's going to wear it once, stoically, and put it into a State Bank of India locker. They say it's her stree dhan or financial security. But if you ask me, a flat worth `30 lakh is a better security than a tola of jewellery. Especially if the marriage fails.

What about jewellery that makes a woman feel beautiful? Well, of course. But who says it has to be real? The standards of imitation jewellery are so high today that a Rs 3,000 neck piece looks as good as a `3 lakh set. Unless you are a hawk-eyed aunty or a professional goldsmith.

"Madam wo feeeeeel nahin aati," a jeweller at the conference said to me. I agreed. The fake stuff is lighter, easier to carry, can be kept at home, and can be discarded when you get bored of it. If I am wearing jewellery for my own pleasure and not to show my status - that changes the whole paradigm, doesn't it?

This shift led to the rise of multiple new-age jewellery brands. Most notably Nakshatra by Gitanjali jewels (Gili) in the early 2000s. But sadly, the company has fallen on bad times, due to greed and mismanagement. Gili issued certificates for every piece of jewellery it sold. But the fine print said that if you ever return or exchange it you get 80 per cent of the price originally paid. So, after 10 years, the ring you bought for `10,000 is worth `8,000...never mind the fact that gold prices have doubled during the period.

In fact, all jewellers sell on the basis of trust, but that trust comes to nought when you take your mom's 40-year-old bangles to Tanishq and learn kitni milawat hai. In the old days they could get away with it, and let's face it, no one liked to pay high 'making' charges. So, the jeweller gave a discount, but cut corners by a carat or two.

So, what can jewellers do to reverse this downward trend? First of all, I believe the women in the family need to join the profession. The industry has to reinvent itself from users' point of view. A man who has never worn an earring can never know the pain of screwing on a 'pench'. Or the even greater pain of losing the bloody thing (made of gold for no good reason) and spending `2,000 for a replacement.

Innovation is not just about product, it is also about distribution. Caratlane was the first to sell solitaires online and people were sceptical. They were proven wrong. So, how about jewellers starting a portal for kitty parties. Sign up with your local jeweller and get a so-called free lunch if you commit the kitty to buying a nice piece from our shop.

Win-win for everybody.

Or, here's a really wild idea - for every extravagant wedding set you sell, provide a replica in imitation jewellery. So, while the asset lies in the locker, I can wear the lighter, travel-friendly nakli version -- and enjoy it. Will this work? Can it be a USP? I dont know. The point is you gotta keep trying. And something will click.

All over the world, women are getting married later. And some, not at all. In Seoul, South Korea, there is a wedding cafe. Here, you can dress up in a bridal gown and get your dream picture shot, in case you never actually walk the aisle. Well, such a day may eventually be upon us in India. By then I hope the jewellery industry sheds its patriarchal past and embraces an emancipated future where men don't buy women's loyalty with expensive rocks and women don't sit idle and 'get looked after'. They buy their own jewels, for freedom comes at a price.

Rashmi Bansal is a best-selling author

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