Meeting The Trend for Customization

Personalization is a roaring trend across all areas of retail and it’s no longer just for the top end of the market.

Consumers today want to personalize experiences and purchases. Retailers and manufacturers are catering to this new generation of shoppers by letting them modify and visualize their unique versions of what they’re purchasing — from clothing and sunglasses to furniture and wall tiles.

There have been huge changes in retail in the last decade, and the jewelry industry is experiencing major shifts in how consumers research, shop, and purchase fine jewelry.

“Selling engagement rings in particular is a completely different experience than it was just a few years ago,” says Jeff Levitt, vice president of merchandise at Cynergy Trading Corp in a recent Plumb Club podcast discussing the expectations of engagement ring shoppers and how to meet them. The leading diamond manufacturer and Plumb Club member specializes in private label design, product customization, and just-in-time manufacturing of special orders.

Not that long ago, a retailer, especially a multi-store, regional or national retailer — would show a particular ring style with one center shape and size. If it was very popular, they might show it as “Your Choice” with round, princess and marquise centers or even a series in two or three total weight options, tells Levitt.

“Basically, rings were stocked as shown, and consumers were not encouraged to request changes in center shape and size, or metal type, let alone the mounting design. Such requests would be considered customization, and were typically only available at better independent jewelers,” says Levitt, who attributes that type of customer service the reason why independent jewelers have held a substantial share of the bridal business.

Today’s Gen Y bridal consumers, often referred to as Generation Me, represent the largest number of brides and grooms today. It’s a generation that has grown up using the Internet for research, with the idea that an experience or product can be personalized to suit their desires and focused on celebrities and what they own. “Many feel that celebrity or celebrity-chosen items, such as larger or more exotic center shapes are within their grasp if they choose,” Levitt cites.

For many shoppers, choosing a complete ready-to-go engagement ring might feel too cookie cutter. They want to feel personally involved in the design process to whatever extent they’re comfortable. Some may want to start working from sketches; others might want to assemble the ring from parts, and still others may start with a style they like and see how it looks with different options applied.

Jonathan Goldman, CEO of Frederick Goldman concurs: “We are constantly listening to our retailers and analyzing market trends and the message is clear: today’s bridal consumer wants the ability to customize their jewelry in some way, and ‘custom’ can mean different things to different consumers.”

While some retailers may have an in-house designer, CAD person, or model maker, Levitt advocates jewelers’ partner with their jewelry and IT vendors to tap into all the tools available. Retailers who work with suppliers who provide these services are better poised to make a sale and build long-term loyal customers.

Visualizing the Possibilities
From a manufacturing and supplier perspective, Levitt mentions a few technological innovations that have made it easier to satisfy consumer desires in jewelry design — notably CAD modeling and rendering, try-on applications in sales presentations, and the development of builder or configurator applications.

“Just two decades ago, when the use of CAD for jewelry model making was in its infancy, the idea of using it to render lifelike 3D images of jewelry was not even a thought,” Levitt says. “Jewelry was shown on Internet sites using actual product photos, often in just one view and low resolution. But today, the capabilities exist for skilled CAD designers to create an item and render it to look better than a photograph, in multiple views, rotating 360°, and in different gem and metal options. To do this 20 years ago would’ve been phenomenally expensive.”

The Plumb Club includes leading diamond bridal and jewelry manufacturers that offer custom design services to their retail partners, including Cynergy Trading, Frederick Goldman, Novell Global, Original Design Inc (ODI), A.Jaffe, Ostbye, and Shah Luxury.

Jeff Weinman senior vice president of ODI/Original Designs in a recent Plumb Club podcast cheered CAD and 3D printing the most important technological advancements for the jewelry industry. “With CAD and 3D printing, one has the ability to make unlimited changes quickly and at minimal cost, even with the most complex of designs, resulting in precise and beautiful jewelry. The technology allows jewelers to say, ‘yes’ to their customers’ desires.”

Similarly, Shah Luxury’s “As You Wish” custom bridal program takes submitted ideas, pictures and sketches from customers and its inhouse designers translate them into CAD and 3D rendering within 24 to 48 hours. The manufacturer provides try-on technology for customers to take a picture of their hand and place the image of their designed piece to virtually view and instantly share with family and friends, with the ability to receive a 3D printed model before production. The company also cites that its high-tech 3D scanner can match any engagement ring to its perfectly paired wedding band or ring jacket.

 Builder Applications Bring Custom Mainstream
Configurator or builder applications make it possible to take all of these options, images and videos, and combine them in a user-friendly application that retailers can install on their website. Depending on the way the application was designed it might start by having customers pick a diamond then search for a ring. Or build a ring step-by-step, selecting a shank style, head style, center shape and size, side stones etc. Or start with a fully finished ring they can make changes to with available options, and instantly see HD images and pricing for each.

For its customers, Cynergy offers its Bespoke Bridal Creations® collection of engagement ring styles, each of which can be configured in a variety of options, including center shapes and sizes, and metal options. The manufacturer provides a complete configurator application usable on a jeweler’s web site or in-store on a tablet, and its developers help jewelers integrate it into their website.

Another example is found in Frederick Goldman’s TruCustom℠ ring customization service. Launched last fall, the application provides retailers with a simple, one-stop solution for customers looking to create custom-designed engagement rings, stackable rings, or anniversary bands. It offers three unique levels of service depending on the client’s request. Level 1 allows for the simple modification of an existing Frederick Goldman style, such as changing the center stone carat weight and/or shape. Level 2 allows for more customization of an existing style, from adjusting melee size or quantity, re-designing band or setting, or mixing design elements from two or more rings. Level 3 allows customers to build an engagement ring, anniversary band or stackable band from scratch.

Easy-to-use forms on the manufacturer’s B2B website guide retailers through the ordering process, with a TruCustom℠ Concierge Team member assigned to the order. “TruCustom℠ covers every possible scenario a retailer might encounter,” Cohen says. Within 48 hours of submission the retailer receives HD, multi-view CAD images of the ring design, and price quote.