Sarah Scheller O'Donnell July 26, 2012
Everything clicks … Brenda Briand has had an overwhelming response to her jewellery line. Photo: Steven Siewert
With its one-size-fits-all nature and gifting potential, distinctive Australian jewellery is finding huge success online.
When Brenda Briand was looking to buy a gift for her bridesmaids, she struggled to find a piece of jewellery that was well made, design forward and less than $500.
''It was really hard to find that unique, token kind of gift,'' she says.
The quandary has led Briand to add a gift-centric jewellery line to her already established accessories label, Benah. Crucial for Briand was that the range be well priced - everything costs less than $150 - and that the designs be simple enough that they could be worn with other significant jewellery pieces, such as engagement or signet rings.
The 40-piece collection features intertwining hearts and diamonds, and different knot shapes in plated metal rings, long fine necklaces, anklets and pendants. Having dabbled in jewellery with Benah cuffs, Briand wanted to offer something that could be easily gifted.
''I've actually got a waiting list for my cuffs so I thought, 'This is a great business add-on,''' she says. ''Offering something that is easy, that boyfriends and best friends can buy.''
Benah Be Mine will be launched exclusively online later this month, following a social media market test. Once she'd finalised the designs and made her samples, Briand uploaded simple snaps to Instagram and was swamped with inquiries. The overwhelming response inspired her to build a new e-store for her website.
The designer has experienced the benefits of social media firsthand - when prolific blogger Jessica Stein uploaded a Benah bag to her Instagram site, hungry customers joined a long waiting list.
The benefits of e-commerce are proving irresistible to accessories designers, who are being increasingly seduced by the quick and easy upfront payments. The ''one size fits all'' nature of jewellery means it is less risky to buy online than apparel and for businesses often crippled by cash-flow problems, not having to wait three months for payment is a key benefit.
Elke Kramer, who launched her epony-mous jewellery brand in 2004, credits online shopping with keeping her label above water through tough economic times. Retail has become an almost token form of marketing, while the real numbers come via online.
''I feel really grateful that we have the opportunity to sell online because without it we would be another failing business,'' Kramer says. ''Every week, our online sales go up and we can barely keep up with orders.''
The designer also enjoys the direct contact with her customers. ''In the past, you give [a piece] to your agent, who shows it to the buyer, who passes it to the retail manager, who gives it to the store assistant and then, finally, the customer,'' she says.
Indeed, when Kramer and I meet, she and her team are busily packaging jewellery following a successful online shopping event the evening before. As she places the jewellery in her hand-painted paper boxes (the result of almost three weeks of work) you get the sense the packaging is an important brand element when selling online.
''We put a lot of effort into the shipping and packing; we love to create an experience of receiving an Elke Kramer,'' she says.
This new breed of costume jewellers - who, incidentally, do not eschew the costume tag - steers clear of fashion trends, with designers instead taking their cues from visual references such as art, photography or literature.
Kramer intentionally avoids following obvious trends, so that her influences remain fresh and original. She's the first to admit, though, that the few times she's ''accidentally stumbled'' on a trend, the business has reaped the benefits.
''There was a colour we did two seasons ago called 'blush' that I sort of threw in at the last moment but after a fashion mag hailed it the colour of the season, my pieces were everywhere and sold out.''
Another young jewellery designer making waves here and overseas is Lucy Folk, whose irreverent work is influenced by food. With her latest collection, Feast, the epicurean designer features crocheted grapes and tangerines along with oxidised-metal tacos and carrots.
A gold and silversmith background allows Folk to produce both costume and fine jewellery, enabling her clients to buy into either area of the business.
''I used to focus on precious metals only and my lowest price point was more than $400,'' she says.
''Today, I have changed the way I design and I focus on a variety of different materials and try to keep my price points varied. They start at $45 for my best-selling spice pepper chain bracelets and go up to $5000 for an 18-carat yellow-gold popcorn ring with diamonds.''
Like Briand's collection, Folk's jewellery line is also gift-centric: she says half of her clientele are buying pieces as presents. Her pieces are sold online, throughout Europe, in Indonesia and Korea, and also at the designer's flagship bricks-and-mortar boutique in Melbourne, where fine design sits alongside costume baubles.
''I prefer to challenge the notions of what is beautiful and make small pieces of art that are humorous and fun,'' she says.