Some years ago now, Jewellery Focus was alone among the British jewellery trade press in suggesting that the explosion of ‘affordable brands’ through the indies was, firstly, not going to last, secondly, a bad deal for jewellers, and therefore thirdly, not a cause for unalloyed celebration. Subsequently, many of these brands which had served as locomotives for the indies while the price of gold was sky high and punters were still reeling from the financial crisis, began to abandon their springboard retail partners in favour of opening own-brand stores in direct competition on Britain’s high streets.
Of course the savvier jewellers among our readership were already aware of this and foresaw it well before us humble journalists, but what we spotted was a complacency in certain quarters that what was very obviously a fad could somehow defy the laws of consumer-taste gravity. It seemed absurd to us and many in the industry even while it was trumpeted as a sort of golden age, by characters who entered the jewellery world as professional managers rather than people who had lived and breathed the market all their lives.
This month we learnt that an exemplar of the indie-incubated brands, Links of London, called in the administrators. True, Links foundering is hardly a sign the entire affordable segment is caving in, but it is important to recognise what is happening: consumers have changed tastes, just as they always have. What about the big beast, Pandora? There’s no doubting their business is still huge, but the most recent full-year results paint a picture of an uncertain future, away from its charm-based roots.
The statement showed like-for-like sales fell 4% in 2018 compared with 2017; EBITDA was down almost 5%. In particular, revenue from the firm’s trademark charms category declined by 4%. What’s telling is that in the same statement, the firm announced a programme containing objectives such as “commercial reset”, “reignite a passion for Pandora”, and “reduce costs”. If that’s not admission of the faddy nature of their own core product, I don’t know what is.
It’s never wise to try to predict the future in any detail. But thematically at least, it is now surely plausible to re-assert for the benefit of any would-be soothsayers or jewellery entryists: nothing lasts forever, and overexposure will always be risky.