~ Posted by Isabel Lloyd, June 1st 2012
In Paris earlier this week, queues of traffic inched past building works on the Place Vendôme, the heart of the haute joaillerie quarter. Around the edges of the empty square, half-hidden behind scaffolding poles and fluttering red-and-white safety tape, diamond tiaras, cabuchon sapphires and tsavorite rings winked from the windows of Van Cleef & Arpels, Dior and Boucheron. There were far more stones to be seen than customers.
Yet at the high end of the jewellery market, the sleek salespeople behind their velvet-lined counters will tell you, it’s business as usual. Oil-rich buyers are, they say, unaffected by the woes of the Euro or lurching banks. Further down the ladder, it’s a different story. Consider Dover Street Market, an ice-cool, five-floor London boutique curated by Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garçons. Not only have the prices of its jewellery moved from the £5,000-20,000 range to closer to £1,000-£8,000, but the style of the pieces is quite different. The look now is small, delicate, feathery; little stones in little settings. Compared to the knuckle-duster cocktail rings of the past few years, these are mere suggestions of decoration.
This isn’t just about austere jewellery for an austere age: the new aesthetics are more practical than that. The price of gold—pushed up by frightened investors looking for a safe haven—is now so high that mid-market jewellers find themselves in a bind. The cost of the material to make their bulkier, blingier designs has rocketed; if they try to pass that cost on, their customers will walk away. Why pay twice as much for a gold cuff, pendant or ring as you would have done last year? Instead, they either turn out the same designs in cheaper metals, such as silver, or (as at Dover Street) create new designs that use less gold in the first place. Substance, it seems, has triumphed over style. Even if the results are quite, well, stylish.