13 Jewelry Brands That Are Still Innovating & Thriving Amid the Pandemic
File under: making the best of a bad situation.
COVID-19 caused a world-at-large shift across much of the fashion industry, this we know; however, positive change has transpired for many direct-to-consumer jewelry brands. With business models built to thrive in a digitally focused market, the people behind some of the buzziest baubles were at an advantage, despite the unavoidable upheaval at the pandemic’s onset. Many are now successfully riding the new-normal wave, innovating and inspiring along the way, from reworking supply chains to designing unique virtual shopping experiences for customers. With change as an inevitable constant, it’s encouraging to witness transformation in a business seemingly rooted in frivolity, especially through the coronavirus haze.
From just-launched labels to well-known names, ahead, discover how 13 jewelry brands initially responded to COVID-19 and are now focusing their efforts on new shopping models, their sustainable impact, charitable initiatives, diversification, and more—all while delivering on a sought-after product that might be the perfect pick-me-up you need and deserve.
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Bouchra Ezzahraoui and Sophie Kahn, co-founders and co-CEOs of Aurate, immediately focused on their brand’s profitability and found that their diverse supply chain and founding ethos helped prepare them for the global crisis. “We didn't have to switch our strategy drastically in light of COVID-19, mainly because we already believed in the forces that were highlighted and accelerated through COVID,” Kahn tells Coveteur. “We always believed in the power of online, which stayed the same. We always believed in the power of sustainability—that stayed the same. And we always believed in the power of giving back—that stayed the same. The only difference is that we doubled down on what we believed in.”
By maintaining close communication with their customer base, Aurate’s charitable initiatives deepened as well. “We stayed very close to our customers via email, social, and texts,” Ezzahraoui says. “The direct feedback helped us discover and donate to many initiatives and nonprofits, including No Kid Hungry, the NYC COVID-19 Relief Fund, She Should Run, and the Equal Justice Initiative. We want to stand for something and not just stand out through the jewelry we offer.”
Jennie Yoon, founder and CEO of Kinn, says her business plan didn’t shift. Instead, team communication modifications and photo-shoot safety protocols, along with the rising price of gold, proved significant for the digitally native brand. “When the economy is uncertain, gold is considered a universal form of currency, [and] the demand for gold has exploded,” Yoon explains. “Though we felt uncertain where the industry was headed at the height of the pandemic, we were adamant about focusing on one thing: to be transparent both internally with my team and with our customers and community.”
When it comes to sales, interest in Yoon’s vintage collections has boomed. “Each drop has sold out within 48 hours, and our fourth drop is coming soon.” Kinn’s community encouraged Yoon to explore a new category, too: voter-themed jewelry. “This wasn’t originally in the plans for us, but we felt like we could do something more. We launched our Vote Necklaces, based off of our customizable Dear Kaia and Kaia II signature styles, with 100 percent of proceeds going to support the Black Voters Matter Fund.”
The pandemic also allowed for more foresight about opportunities for Kinn, including a seemingly backward move to brick-and-mortar stores. “With so many uncertainties today, considering the brick-and-mortar footprint might seem outrageous,” Yoon says. “But we’re looking at retail opportunities where the foot traffic is neighborhood-driven, rather than tourism-dependent retail locations.”
Though Serendipitous Project launched in 2019, founder Sydney Ziems felt wrong concentrating on sales and instead focused on her community’s well-being. “I didn’t want to be insensitive to the current climate. I’m New York–based, and I saw thousands of people lose their jobs, and I felt uncomfortable pushing products on people.”
With a cost-effective, made-to-order business model, Ziems says she feels lucky to be afloat but was clever to adapt in a couple of ways. “I decided to start producing our own mask, and it helped introduce me to a lot of new customers.” Her latest collection has also been a bit of a style departure for her young brand. “It’s a little less vintage-inspired and a little more modern. I really enjoyed experimenting with the shapes, colors, and lines that make up the work.”
Mona Akhavi, CEO of Vrai, says consistency and thoughtful interaction with customers is at the brand’s core—something the label has leaned into throughout COVID-19. “We wanted [our customers] to know they could trust we were doing everything in our power to maintain normalcy,” she says, including uninterrupted shipping and virtual appointments with brand specialists.
From deepened charitable initiatives to customer sweepstakes and the launch of its Iconic Shapes collection, Vrai continues to innovate while prioritizing community. “We offered giveaways where our customers could win Vrai pieces—one for themselves, and one to send to their best friend, family member, or other loved one—to help them feel close even though they were apart,” Akhavi says. “Additionally, as many weddings were delayed due to COVID, we ran a bridal sweepstake for those affected, partnering with other brands to provide bridal jewelry suites. This past season has definitely been more empathy-driven, with a focus on how to lift others up.”
With production halted in the Philippines and the skyrocketing price of gold, Limnia couldn’t launch a new collection as planned. “The initial reaction was to pause and figure out where we can get leaner costwise,” founder and CEO Annette Lasala Spillane explains. “We ran a promotion to sell off older styles and then decided to double down on our digital efforts to replace the planned in-person events.”
As a workaround, the label re-engaged digitally through weekly emails, virtual styling sessions, home try-on boxes, and customer referrals. This led to the brand’s newest innovation: a digital care package, including playlists, books, and drink recipes to keep the brightness indoors with the turn of the season. “We sent roundups of all the things that were getting us through lockdown—poems, books, music, memes—which customers really responded to,” Lasala Spillane says. “The plan is to keep updating this to connect with our customers about what we are currently loving, listening to with the hope of opening it up, and crowdsourcing for input.”
Limnia still plans to launch new collections, but on a less conventional timeline. “We’re exploring what a bespoke business could look like to carry significantly less inventory, especially now, when it’s really challenging to gauge customer appetite for fine jewelry,” Lasala Spillane says. The new plan: move away from larger, bi-yearly collection drops and, instead, launch one to two pieces four to six times per year.
Emilie Nolan launched her direct-to-consumer brand, Oremme, in August 2019, but by January she realized the road to trademark would be highly contested, leading to a rebrand. “Unfortunately, the unveiling of what is now Oremme was slated for March 2020. It felt incredibly crude to be launching a brand in the midst of a global crisis,” Nolan tells Coveteur. “I tried my best to humbly announce the business decision while also highlighting that indie brands would not make it through the pandemic without our audience’s support.”
Rather than focus on trunk shows, which would typically be a large part of Oremme’s growth strategy, Nolan is working to build a virtual community and going bigger with advertising, public relations, and partnerships. Furthermore, because her business model allows her to keep prices fair, she’s banking on transparency in terms of future growth. “With the shift of women buying jewelry for themselves, there’s been a secondary movement toward purchasing at a higher frequency, which Oremme offers an alternative opinion to,” she says. “Fine jewelry has the power to carry memory and meaning within it and should be purchased with care and consideration. As we look forward past COVID, I’m hoping buying behavior will move in this direction.”
As for many, Omi Woods saw an increase in online sales throughout COVID-19, though unexpected delays in fulfillment proved challenging for the brand. “We tried manufacturing with an ethical manufacturer out of the country, but ended up working with the local ones at home that opened back up safely,” explains founder Ashley Alexis McFarlane. “We also stocked up on chains from Italy, the best we could from our North American suppliers before their factories shut down.”
One of the brand’s most significant advantages, however, was its ethical roots. “[Omni Woods] highlights the history of civilizations past and present. I spent the brand development and research portion of the early years exploring civilizations that collapsed or experienced downfalls, environmental issues pertaining to this, how people and businesses survived, what they purchased, and how they manufactured goods.” Most significantly, McFarlane’s research made her privy to the trend of precious metals, their retained value, and local production. “When COVID-19 hit, we saw this trend reemerge. Therefore the relevance of our business is built-in. We previously sold brass-based jewelry, but focused on precious metals, to instill that historically fine jewelry is not just a form of adornment; it retains its value.”
As for the plan for Omi Woods moving forward? Building out the inventory and preparing for a new collection that celebrates African and Caribbean independence. “A lot of countries in Africa and the Caribbean gained independence during the ’60s and ’70s,” McFarlane explains. “Our new collection highlights this and is in line with what’s happening politically around the world in terms of Black people’s ongoing realities around justice, safety, freedom, and independence.”
With the Layering Lab’s successful debut, among other new and exciting product launches, the UK-based brand Missoma is thriving amid the global pandemic. “Thankfully, our being 96 percent online direct-to-consumer meant that we could be incredibly nimble and were able to adjust to the ‘new norm’ relatively quickly,” Marisa Hordern, founder and creative director, tells Coveteur.
When COVID-19 hit, the brand focused on company-wide job security, cut back on marketing (including its first-ever billboard campaign), and shifted focus from selling to community sensitivity. “The creative team did a sterling job of keeping us relevant across all channels. We quickly launched a new IGTV series on Instagram in collaboration with really creative partners, from musicians to a resilience coach and flower arranging,” Hordern says. “We even had the team make this music video with Maya Delilah, which was a very emotional experience for all involved.”
Two give-back initiatives have become another priority for Missoma. The brand created a limited-edition necklace to support essential workers, with 100 percent of the profits donated to NHS Charities Together, and launched the 1 Order Two Meals campaign in partnership with the UK charity Magic Breakfast. “We aren’t us without our community, and as lockdown has impeded on all of our communities’ lives, we will continue to seek ways to support those who are struggling during this time,” Hordern tells Coveteur.
With a focus on engagement rings and wedding bands, Ceremony focuses on special-occasion pieces—a category that seemingly would have dissipated with the onset of COVID-19. With so many canceled events, including her own wedding, cofounder Chelsea Nicholson felt the uncertainty that struck many others. However, as a digitally native brand, she and cofounder Jess Hannah were confident in their business model’s ability to handle a completely virtual experience.
“Slowly, we started seeing people reach out to try our remote concierge process, many of whom might not have considered it before now,” Nicholson tells Coveteur. “Our customers have always been appreciative of this process as it’s remote but provides real, human, one-on-one interaction—truly imperative when you’re making a purchase to commemorate your love.”
Ceremony has leaned into its digital-first strategy throughout COVID-19, too. “We’ve only emphasized that our purchase process happens to operate naturally within the current socially distanced world,” Nicholson says. “We’ve always sought ways to connect with others and communicate our physical product without having to be physically in a space,” something the brand accomplishes through video calls, phone calls, sending samples, and CAD models with customizations. “We’re able to meet the customer where they are without sacrificing the personalized experience of purchasing a ring,” Nicholson adds.
The Clear Cut
Initially facing one of the worst economic quarters in US history, The Clear Cut surprisingly had one of its best quarters ever, with millions of dollars in sales and an even stronger third quarter. “COVID-19 sparked a once-in-a-lifetime migration to online sales,” CEO Olivia Landau tells Coveteur. “We recovered better than we could have expected.”
With an established virtual shopping process in place, Landau’s business was accustomed to working with clients worldwide, already selling 70 percent of their custom diamond engagement rings remotely. Then, as COVID-19 accelerated the need for remote engagement ring creation, The Clear Cut invested in a more robust platform to support the future of purchasing high-end jewelry virtually. “COVID-19 is moving the diamond industry online, and we’re building the technology to support that at scale,” Landau says. The new platform will connect clients to expert GIA graduate gemologists and facilitate the bespoke diamond jewelry process from anywhere in the world.
With transparency and ethics at its core, Kimaï’s co-founders Jessica Warch and Sidney Neuhaus set out to reimagine the world of fine jewelry when they launched their brand in 2018. As a London-based, Antwerp-made brand, COVID-19 disrupted their process, but without too negative an impact. “As a young brand, we were fortunate enough not to have too many fixed costs and managed to bring this down to almost zero, which helped us a lot,” Warch explains. The label has used this time to step back and reflect and refocus its strategy, too. “We want to ensure that we’re meeting the needs and demands of the modern consumer, and we’re now focusing more on being a digital-led brand,” Warch says. “We’ve recently launched our new Unity Necklace, a chain of gold links, inspired by the bond of communities during the lockdown—it’s one of our boldest pieces yet.”
Another core component of Kimaï is sustainability, leading to its made-to-order business model to reduce waste and excess inventory. “Fortunately, COVID-19 hasn’t impacted our model,” Neuhaus explains. The brand has also adapted through customer interaction, skipping on the hard sell, and asking for feedback instead.
Next for Kimaï: their first-ever engagement rings line, The Perfectly Imperfect Collection, launching at the end of October. “[It] features six made-to-order designs, each one designed to emphasize and enhance the diamond,” Warch says. “The collection was inspired by the modern woman, the real woman, and the authentic imperfections that make love (and us) so relatable.” As a next step, Kimaï has plans to offer a bespoke design service with virtual consultations.
Beloved for wardrobe-essential clothing and accessories, Cuyana planned to launch its first-ever jewelry collection for spring 2020. “When everything felt so uncertain, it didn’t feel appropriate to launch a product like jewelry that has the potential to feel frivolous,” co-founder Karla Gallardo tells Coveteur. After pushing the launch to fall, timing ultimately felt apropos. “We think now is a moment where, after spending months in their sweatpants, people are looking to dress again,” Gallardo says. “Jewelry is a fantastic vehicle for that in COVID-19, as you can still wear a very comfortable outfit but look and feel polished on your Zoom call.”
In keeping with the brand’s philosophy of creating fewer, better things, the introductory line of jewelry consists of modular earrings that allow for many different looks with a few key pieces. “Cuyana’s approach is designed to be a counterpoint to overconsumption in the fashion industry,” cofounder Shilpa Shah says. “Now more than ever, people are looking to simplify their lives.”
When COVID-19 hit, Starling’s employees’ health and safety outweighed sales and business. “Once we had a slight handle on how to keep everyone safe, we moved on to ‘What can we do remotely to stay afloat and keep everyone employed?’” explains Chelsey Bartrum, designer and CEO. “Our jewelry is mostly made-to-order, so we don’t have a huge inventory on hand. With the lockdown in California, our jewelers were not able to create new jewelry for almost a month, which meant that some customers had to wait two months to receive pieces they would normally get in less than two weeks.”
A new tactic for the brand: selling one-of-a-kind pieces and samples. “We had an online archive sale that was a big hit. We plan on doing that every year now!” Current best-sellers include the customizable Mother Daughter Bracelet Set, the newly launched Birth Flower Charm Collection, and the relaunched sustainable Vote Checkmark Earring (100 percent of the profits going to I am a voter.).
To create the feeling of person-to-person connection digitally, Starling is also working on a more personal social media presence. “We’re sharing more about who we are, so we can get to know you and you can get to know us,” Bartrum says. “I think having genuine moments of connection with friends and strangers, albeit online, is paramount these days.”
Top photo: Courtesy of Missoma
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