Style / Jewellery

Is the Democratisation of High Jewellery a Dream We Can’t Reach?

The rise of technology and the desire for inspiration and self expression leads to the democratisation of High Jewellery.

Jul 02, 2022 | By Aurelli Lazuardi
Bvlgari Magnifica Baroque Spiral Necklace
Image: Bvlgari

Despite a climate of financial insecurity and fluctuating global markets, one tier of the jewellery industry is thriving: High Jewellery — or, in French, haute joaillerie. Essentially, High Jewellery is to jewellery what Haute Couture is to fashion: creating jewels by hand and custom-made by craftsmen with exceptional skills. Both exemplify the best in creativity and materials, and offer designs that drive the imagination beyond the impossible.

For more than 120 years, the world’s leading jewellers have courted the top 0.01 per cent with dazzling creations from luxury boutiques lining Paris’ Place Vendôme. Part of its appeal comes from the qualities that it offers: prestige, rarity and exclusivity. But as the world changes with time, so does the luxury industry. What was once a private affair is now a stark juxtaposition to how High Jewellery and luxury is perceived today. This is thanks to the innovation of technology and the young generation’s desire to be inspired and moved by fashion.

Beyonce Tiffany and Co high Jewellery line
Image: Tiffany and Co.

High Jewellery brands are becoming more experience-focused and digitally enhanced rather than just a “store” in the traditional sense. With celebrity collaborations, creative campaigns and more red carpet appearances, the amount of exposure that High Jewellery products are getting become more apparent to people of every demographic. Being immersed in the luxury world — once the permanent preserve of the elite — has in a single decade become part of an everyday occurrence, whether through red carpet coverages, pop culture news or social media.

Is it possible that the democratisation of High Jewellery is finally underway?

What Does It Mean to Democratise Luxury Goods?

Messika High Jewellery crafting
Image: Messika

The democratisation of fashion and luxury goods largely started when Vogue first pressed pages in 1892 and New York rolled out Press Week runways in 1943. Fast forward to 2013, when Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week announced that all 54 shows would be streamed online from Lincoln Center on their website, the once-exclusive world of fashion and beauty struts further from its exclusive realm. Not only are the designs and styles more accessible than ever, the entire industry — from inspiration to presentation — is exposed to anyone with a keen curiosity.

After the creation of social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Youtube, the constructed craving for minute, behind-the-scenes details and access grew as these institutions opened up for curious onlookers. Younger generations of fashion and luxury enthusiasts are hungry for information and inclusivity, and the High Jewellery industry has no choice but to follow suit. Luxury jewellery houses started experimenting with cross-genre collaborations, and many brands are seen putting more effort into showcasing their backstage scene and the inspirations behind their collections.

Kate Moss Messika High Jewellery Line
Image: Messika
Kate Moss Messika High Jewellery Line
Image: Messika

For example, Parisian jeweller Messika co-designed a collection with model Kate Moss, with a fashion show-style launch in Paris, complete with a front-row populated by models and influencers. The collection is also launching in the metaverse via fashion gaming app, Drest, creating hype and exposure that could never be achieved in the old days of the jewellery industry. Moreover, both Dior and Louis Vuitton invited fashion videographer and YouTuber Loïc Prigent — known for his irreverent, punchy, content — to film the launch of their collection, resulting in an energetic backstage reporting of the event to an audience of over 374,000 viewers.

The Clash of Dichotomies: Exclusivity and Inclusivity

Van Cleef and Arpel Boutique Store
Image: Van Cleef & Arpels

At first glance, it seems impossible for luxury brands to close the gap between exclusivity and inclusivity. The main philosophy of luxury is to appeal to the ultra-rich and provide scarce, rare and expensive items. How could luxury brands — especially High Jewellery ateliers, whose price range lies in the millions — engage buyers and grab attention from a majority without sacrificing its luxurious image and price point?

The term “Luxury”, in the 21st-century lexicon has become an empty word — a shorthand means to elevate something with the promise of superiority and exclusivity. The word has become one of its biggest weapon in a brand’s arsenal when positioning products, all in its relentless pursuit to sell a piece of that “dream” to the middle class. Illusions of grandeur in a culture of conspicuous consumption widen the wealth gap and creates a materialistic viewpoint to the meaning of High Jewellery. So in a fashion landscape where the supposed democratisation of luxury turned its perception into an empty word with false promises, what form does luxury take today?

In the past five years, we see high jewellery brands adapting by releasing diffusion lines that appeal to the younger clients with less purchasing power. Leading the way is Van Cleef & Arpels, who launched its Paris La Boutique range of “day jewellery”. Situated at 22 Place Vendôme, alongside its existing store, it is aimed at younger clients and stocking more affordable pieces than the precious gemstone-heavy sold next door. Following suit is Chaumet, who released both medium and entry-level versions of its Hortensia High Jewellery collection, allowing a larger consumer base to access its products and share the beauty.

Does Democratisation Only Refer to Ownership or Is There More to It?

RUby Louis Vuitton High Jewellery Collection, Destiny
Louis Vuitton High Jewellery Collection, Fantasy

The best practitioners of High Jewellery today are houses whose luxury is not only about the finest materials, but about creating an experience and forging a connection with its wearers. Brands immerse the consumers in fantastical stories and embed its Maison’s beliefs and core values into products. Not only are these brands selling an image, but it is also selling stories, aspirations and dreams.

Louis Vuitton’s latest High Jewellery collection does a great job at this with its jewellery pieces inspired by mythological creatures. The collection is meant to embody the contemporary Louis Vuitton women, who possess qualities like grace, radiance, strength and sensuality.

Celebrities and artistic individuals are also changing the meaning of High Jewellery. After the rise of individualism and expression, consumers are using jewellery as statement pieces to express themselves and to share a deeper meaning with society.

Tiffany and Co Sothesby Glasses DIamond
Image: Sothesby’s
Tiffany and Co Sothesby Glasses DIamond
Image: Sothesby’s

For NYC Jewellery Week’s co-founder, JB Jones, it was a moment at the Kenzo AW22 show in Paris that captured this new mood, when musician Pharrell arrived wearing sunglasses set with 25 carats of Tiffany diamonds. “It isn’t any more about the attainment of a luxury item; it’s about how people want to express themselves through jewellery,” says Jones.

Kendrick Lamar Thorned Crown Tifffany Diamond
Image: Tiffany and Co.
Kendrick Lamar Thorned Crown Tifffany Diamond
Image: Tiffany and Co.

The recent Glastonbury festival also sees an iconic moment for High Jewellery, with Kendrick Lamar donning a diamond-encrusted crown of thorns, custom made by Tiffany and Co. With the headpiece, the house has seamlessly blended art and representation. The crown — inspired by Jean Schlumberger’s iconic Thorns brooch in 1947 — acts as a godly representation of hood philosophies told from a digestible youth lens. To the jeweller, it represents “artistic prowess, humility, and perseverance” and acts as an ode to the struggle of all the artists who have come before Kendrick.

With the constant developments and progressions within society, technology and the world of luxury, we see ateliers and Maisons change what it means to consume High Jewellery — whether through indirect digital means or the expression of self that comes with wearing a rare piece of stone.

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