Under normal circumstances jewellery with electric hues might have only been found in very limited numbers within collections. But in the pandemic, consumers have demanded colourful, mood-lifting accessories — and designers have sought to cater to their changing tastes.
One of the designers leading the charge is Bea Bongiasca. The Milan-based jeweller works with eye-popping shades of enamel, which she uses to coat twisting fronds of silver that add cartoonish splashes of colour to bold gold jewels set with diamonds and coloured gemstones. Her signature You’re So Vine! collection, favoured by pop singers Dua Lipa and Miley Cyrus, launched in early 2018. In the past year sales have risen.
Bongiasca cites Japanese kawaii culture — or the cult of the cute — as a source of inspiration. The term emerged in the 1970s at a time of rising prosperity in Japan when sales of consumer goods and services expanded rapidly.
In the midst of a global pandemic are Bongiasca’s customers seeking escapism through her art? “Maybe subconsciously it is [a need for escapism] and that’s why it’s been so successful in the last year,” she says.
Harriet Hedges, a jewellery and watch brand partnership assistant at the luxury personal shopping service Threads Styling, has noticed the trend. “Last year we saw a real increase in [sales of] coloured fine jewellery,” she says, listing bestselling designers in this category as Bea Bongiasca, Eéra, Melissa Kaye, Anabela Chan and Kamyen. Hedges describes such pieces, which might use bright enamels, anodised titanium or nano-ceramic coatings alongside precious metals and gemstones, as “more risky” purchases. However, Thread’s Styling’s fine jewellery customers are, on average, in their early thirties and spend between £2 and £5k per item. They are willing to experiment, she says.
Usually, when buying a significantly priced piece of fine jewellery, reassurance about longevity and investment are key to a sale. It is hard to imagine a gold jewel obscured by a layer of neon-pink enamel holding the same value as the same style in plain gold, yet Ruby Beales, jewellery buying manager at London department store Liberty, says that such cynicism is not holding shoppers back. “A couple of years ago, neon was seen as fast fashion, more linked to costume jewellery or the high street, but now we are definitely seeing more neon mixed with precious stones,” she says.
In December, Liberty launched an exclusive collaboration with British jewellery designer Alice Cicolini. The line included 14ct gold rings decorated with clashing shades of enamel, such as orange and pink. The majority of the designs, some priced upwards of £2,000, sold out before Christmas. “I think people are looking for things to brighten up their day and make them feel optimistic and cheerful,” says Beales, who describes herself as a neon lover. She says neon colours are versatile in a counterintuitive way — they go with everything precisely because they stand out.
When New York-based jeweller Melissa Kaye first introduced her Neon collection of 18ct gold, diamond and luminous enamel jewels in 2019, she knew it “would be a risk”, with buyers and clients potentially writing it off as faddish. However, even at a time when most jewellery lovers have little to dress up for, it has been a commercial hit, despite prices as high as $22,950 for a clavicle-hugging neon necklace set with 2.6cts of diamonds. In fact, Kaye would go as far to say that more time indoors has helped sales.
“Our current lifestyles have had a parallel influence on both fashion and fine jewellery,” she says. “Now more than ever, when athleisure has become a mainstay in our wardrobes, jewellery is the ultimate way to elevate even the most casual of looks.”
There is also an undertone of nostalgia to the wild colours dominating fine jewellery. This has been felt most keenly in the revival of the classic bead bracelets that have been made and worn by children for generations. Fashion brands have recreated them faithfully, simply tagging on an inflated price, while fine jewellers have sought to add luxurious twists.
London-based jewellery brand Robinson Pelham’s offering swaps cheap wire for thick Fairtrade gold spiga chains and plastic beads for polished Murano glass. At £490 for its Arcadia bracelet — named after the idyll it wishes to transport wearers to — this is a nostalgia trip for women rather than girls. Co-founder and director Zoe Benyon says the majority of sales have been to people buying for themselves, driven by a desire to “feel happy”. “What people really want [right now] is simple nostalgic joy,” she says. “[In lockdown] you’re only wearing it for yourself — there’s no one to impress.”
With parties and events unlikely to return soon, it is likely fine jewellery shoppers will continue to seek solace in colour therapy this year — and jewellers are at the ready with new collections for 2021 that celebrate vibrancy rather than shy away from it, demonstrating that the current trend for all things bright and beautiful — and the optimism they inspire — is far from exhausted.