“Lots of people want to invest in something that is going to last a lifetime but not break the bank, and that is where we fall in,” says Christie Wollenberg, co-founder of demi-fine jewellery brand Otiumberg. Fine jewellery, costume jewellery and fashion jewellery are all widely accepted categories of the jewellery market, however a newly emerging category has begun to make itself another household name.
Demi-fine jewellery blurs the lines between fine and costume jewellery. Fine jewellery is often created with precious metals and stones and sold at very high prices, while costume jewellery is made out of pleated alloys and crystals designed to be worn everyday as an accessory. Demi-fine combines the best elements of both to sit in a new “sweet spot” for jewellery consumers.
“At Otiumberg we use things such as gemstones, solid 9ct gold, 14ct yellow gold vermeil and solid silver stirling only. Our materials are very high quality and very luxurious but on the other side of that are very practical and personal pieces that can be worn every day – most importantly at a price point that allows people to indulge.
While demi-fine jewellery is seen as the newest trend, industry expert (and Jewellery Focus columnist) Janet Fitch believes that it has always been around – the only thing that has changed is it has finally been named. “I think demi fine jewellery has always been around,” she says, “it’s just been given a contemporary name and is gaining popularity because fine jewellery has gained interest over costume and non-precious jewellery.”
Interestingly Wollenberg agrees that the naming of the category has been very important to its popularity but argues that there was a gap in the market for such products when Otiumberg was established. “The word demi-fine is becoming a real trend word but when we first found what would become Otiumberg in 2014 we hadn’t come across the word demi-fine before. We just knew that there was a gap in the market for an affordable everyday hoop that you would want to spend a little bit of money so it didn’t break or discolour, but equally wouldn’t have to spend a thousand pounds.”
Samantha Dover, a retail analyst for market research company Mintel, remarks that the rise in popularity of demi-fine jewellery can be tied to the recent resurgence of precious metals in general. “There has been a resurgence in the popularity of precious metal jewellery in the UK and the rise of demi-fine jewellery goes hand-in-hand with this trend. Young women, in particular, are moving away from trend-driven costume jewellery towards fine jewellery, recognising the benefits of trading up as they seek timeless, long-lasting jewellery pieces that retain more value.”
Mintel’s consumer research found that 54% of women in the UK have bought precious metal jewellery in the last five years, rising to 61% of women aged 16-34. Meanwhile, mirroring precious metal purchasing, 53% of women overall and 61% of women aged 16-34 have bought costume jewellery in the last five years. As precious metal purchases tend to be higher in value, this shift towards relatively equal volumes of purchasing means that growth in the precious metal jewellery market continues to outpace that of the costume jewellery market.
To put this into context, Mintel estimates that sales of precious metal jewellery in the UK rose 10% in the last five years to 2017, with the market worth reaching £3.6bn, in comparison sales of costume jewellery rose just 3.3% in the same period to £750m.
However Dover does accept that demi-fine has its own particular advantages. “Consumers are being driven towards the demi-fine jewellery brands for a number of reasons,” she says. “The typically lower carat weight of demi-fine jewellery products makes them more accessible, so consumers can buy designer precious metal pieces with a more affordable price point. Meanwhile, a number of the demi-fine brands offer something a little more unique, which is increasingly what consumers are looking for when shopping for jewellery.”
Mintel’s research also found that more than half (51%) of women in the UK are willing to spend more on jewellery that has a unique design, rising to 62% of women aged 16-34 something that demi-fine jewellery lends itself to.
Wollenberg adds: “I think more and more people, especially women, have a disposable income that they want to invest into something they consider worthy. With demi-fine less people care about super super high-spec diamonds and high carat gold more people want to wear jewellery that they can wear day to day, people are in a rush they don’t have time to change their jewellery and it is all at an affordable price point. It has grown with the rise of self-gifting especially within women between the ages of 20-40 years old.”
Wollenberg explains that herself being the target audience of this type of jewellery gives her the perfect inspiration to meet the needs of the new ‘demi-consumer’. “We are our own customer as are our friends so we look at huge trends with our earrings with multi-piercings, layering and stacking so we know women want to wear jewellery everyday as a way of self-expression just like their clothes.
“We often work backwards by and look at what we want to price something and look at how we can make that work which is why we are predominately a direct to consumer brands as our products are well priced for that reason.”
She adds: “It allows people to want to invest it is modern classics, pieces you know you are always wanting to wear regardless if you are 20 or 50 years old. This is part of the reason people think that it is worth the money more so than fine jewellery which is slightly more limited.”
One of the biggest fears with the rise of demi-fine jewellery is the impact it will have on fine and costume jewellery sales – some are asking is there really enough room for another category in the industry? Ella Hudson, senior accessories editor at the trends forecaster WGSN, told the New York Times last year that the growth of demi-fine jewellery has definitely posed a threat to traditional fine jewellers.
Wollenberg muses that there might be some cannibalisation of the industry but doubts it will have a profound impact. “I am sure there is going to be some cannibalisation in each category but I think costume jewellery is very different.
“Some people will be very specific on that high designer brand but then there is also a huge market of millenials that don’t necessarily associate themselves with these bigger multi-million pound brands anymore. They want to position themselves with a cooler and more niche brand. If it is at all, it will be probably eating into fine jewellery a bit more than costume because of the lower price points.”
“I think it is replacing costume jewellery to an extent or at least costume jewellery that imitates the real thing It won’t replace fine jewellery, as it doesn’t have the value and exclusiveness of fine jewellery,” contradicts Fitch.
The exact impact demi-fine jewellery will have is up for debate and it is of course possible it will have no long term effect on the product categories of the jewellery landscape. But the continued growth at least for now puts it firmly outside the ‘passing trend’ box. The fact its success is even leading those to question the future of fine jewellery speaks to its significance.
“We only launched the Otiumberg brand in November 2016, previously we were a demi-fine jewellery boutique that stocked other brands, and our turnover has increased 500% on last financial year mainly because of this,” says Wollenberg. “Fortunately demi-fine jewellery has become so popular that we moved away from stocking other brands to focus on growing our own line.” There’s obviously money in it.