My latest story for the August issue of Rapaport magazine, takes a look at the current bridal jewellery shopping scenario in India and how the leading jewellers are coping, upgrading and going digital according to their understanding of the scenario and their clientele. Along with featuring inputs from four jewellers from across India- Rohan Narang of Hazoorilal Legacy (Delhi), Yash Agarwal of Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas (Jaipur), Ashraf Motiwala of A.S. Motiwala (MUmbai) and Pratap Kamath of Abaran Timeless Jewels (Bengaluru); the story also gives you an insight into some of the bridal jewellery trends in India. Enjoy!
Shopping for the country’s wedding season has begun under a partial lockdown, and it’s keeping retailers busy as they find new ways to sell in this changed environment.
What happens when one of the largest bridal jewelry markets does through a long lockdown that lifts just before the season starts? India entered lockdown with the rest of the world in March, and although most restrictions are no longer officially in place, a voluntary partial shutdown still grips the country. After postponing most weddings that had been scheduled for the last few months, Indian families are now itching to get the ceremony done, even if most of the guests can only attend virtually.
Having the lockdown occur in the summer months (April to June in India), with the wedding season yet to come, has been a blessing in disguise for jewelers.
“The peak wedding season from September 19 to April 2020 had already passed before the lockdown was implemented. Hence, bridal jewelry sales were good for the 2019/20 wedding season,” explains Rohan Narang, managing director of fine jewelry brand Hazoorilal Legacy in Delhi.
Whereas northern India showed few if any sales in May and June, the south did a small but respectable amount of business.
“The first two weeks of May, we had fairly decent sales for weddings and engagements, as April-May is the wedding season in southern India,” says Pratap Kamath, director at Abaran Timeless Jewels in Bangalore.
THE BEST-LAID PLANS
To present a trendy and diverse collection to brides-to-be and families seeking wedding jewelry, preparations start almost six months in advance. That means shows like IIJS Signature play an important role. This past February, orders were placed as usual, designers were working in full force, and samples of new pieces were being manufactured, as per the annual cycle.
However, all plans came to a halt when Covid-19 hit in mid-March. For over two months, no design studios operated, no manufacturing took place, and only a fraction of the jewelry in stores gold sold. Now, it’s like a giant wheel beginning to turn again after coming to a stop: Bringing it back up to speed will require patience, strength and optimism from all parties involved.
Yet given Indians’ deep love for jewelry, the situation has not been all gloomy.
“This pandemic has made people realize the importance of life and its celebration,” says Ashraf Motiwala, managing director of A S Motiwala Fine Jewellery in Mumbai. “We saw a steady number of small intimate affairs for brides who, instead of postponing, stuck to the decided dates. They came to shop with high enthusiasm after months of being at home.”
Even with many events taking place virtually, brides still want to look their best.
“Guests, friends and relatives are all privy to the gathering online,” notes Yash Agarwal, creative director and design head of luxury jeweler Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas in Jaipur. “Hence brides and their families still [made a great effort when it came to] their jewelry while balancing aesthetics and budgets.”
However, Kamath notes a downside: “Normally, besides the bride-to-be, other relatives and friends also used to buy jewelry, and these [purchases] have dropped drastically.”
In addition, he says, “the price of gold has risen by 20% in the last quarter, and we have to now look at weight reduction while maintaining the same aesthetics [for] all jewelry.”
TURNING TO TECHNOLOGY
Most jewelers have swiftly adapted to using digital media. Agarwal, for instance who took a traditional in-person approach before Covid-19, is now fully prepared to do business through other channels.
“We quickly shifted our inventory to virtual look books and video consultations. Our expert sales and stylist teams are now focusing on jewelry trials at clients’ homes, garnering a positive response, as it is convenient and clients can discuss and consult their family members in the privacy of their home,’ he explains. Those who could not do in-home trials put pieces on hold so they could sample them in the showroom once stores reopened, he adds.
Engaging with customers through digital tools has also been a top priority for Hazoorilal Legacy. “We’re ushering in an era of contactless buying experiences even for high-value items,” says Narang. “The use of augmented reality on our website for virtual try-on experience, where you literally see yourself wearing the jewelry, is a new idea which we’ve successfully implemented. Creating quality video content, a presence [in] e-commerce, customer-safety communication, live interactions and virtual showroom tours complete our multi-pronged approach.”
Along with rolling out digital campaigns, Motiwala is still maintaining a traditional retails experience, but taking measures to ensure it meets the highest standards.
“We have turned out flagship store into strictly by-appointment-only,” he says. “With a smaller team in place, we maintain all safety protocols and see one customer at a time, sanitizing the entire premises meticulously post the visit. Even the jewelry pieces that have had skin contact are sanitized with ultraviolet sanitizing machines.”
And Abaran launched its new bridal campaign, Parampara – meaning “traditions”-“using digital platforms that have been fairly cost-effective compared to traditional mediums.” says Kamath. The move has “given us a similar reach, saving us a lot [budget-wise].”
The general mood is optimistic, and jewelers are waiting for demand to return once larger gatherings are permissible.
“Every person has his or her dream wedding, and when the time is right, we will see bigger celebrations,” says Motiwala. “We recently had a bride who told us that she is getting formally married [and has] picked a small selection now but will buy more when they can celebrate at a larger scale.”
With lovers being apart for months and communicating only digitally, jewelers are anticipating new engagement announcements. They have already seen continued inquires about engagement rings during the lockdown.
“Weddings will become an even more personal affair going ahead, and a lot more focus will rest on the ultimate engagement ring,” predicts Agarwal, who also expects in-person retail to come back into fashion.
While it’s too early to know how soon the bridal market will bounce back, the rise in Covid-19 recovery rates is reassuring for consumer demand. As Narang asserts, “love is not in lockdown.”
OF TRENDS AND TRADITION (Special Edit)
The Indian bridal jewelry market goes far beyond the engagement ring. It includes the weeklong wedding celebrations that require the bride and her family to change jewelry almost twice a day. From lightweight pieces for intimate gatherings to massive diamonds for important events, jewelry plays a big role in setting the tone of the wedding and accounts for a large part of the budget.
The younger generation is now gradually entering the bridal space or participating in elder siblings’ weddings. Millennials believe in trends, love dressing up, and care a lot about brands. As with bridal couture, prominent jewelry names are in demand, fueled by celebrity wedding photos blasting details of each item across every digital platform.
It’s mostly 18-karat gold jewelry with diamonds and gemstones for the engagements, cocktails and receptions, while 22-karat gold with polki (uncut diamonds rules the main wedding day. Necklaces that weigh you down are no longer a popular choice; it’s all about everyday statement wear, lightweight and multi-functional pieces that brides can see themselves wearing later on, as a whole or in parts.
Diamond engagement rings still rule the roost, with a slow infusion of colored and fancy-shaped diamonds. Broad diamond bands with a large diamond on top are a common sight in the north, while the south prefers classic and subtle. High-value diamond jewelry with top-quality emeralds is much in demand as well.
Brides today also have a strong desire to personalize their wedding jewelry to match their aesthetic. They prefer to try on the whole wedding outfit, complete with the jewelry and makeup, before the big day. Many jewelers now boast tasteful bridal trial rooms equipped with everything the client might need to preview the final look.
Traditional Indian wedding wear comprises jewelry from head to toe: a maangtika (for the forehead), layers of necklaces, matching large earrings, rows of bangles- sometimes with arm bands – waistbands and even jewelry for the feet. For the receptions and cocktail evening, it’s largely a choice between a substantial choker or statement earrings, with some bold rings for the right hand; the left hand is busy showing off the engagement ring.
Colorful, contemporary jewelry with diamonds and pastel-hued stones such as pink sapphires, tourmalines and Russian emeralds make interesting choices for daytime weddings. Solitaires make up a substantial part of the bride’s trousseau. Ear studs, preferably 1 to 2 carats, as well as single-line diamond bangles or bracelets are some of the favorites for wearing on an everyday basis after the wedding. An integral part of the Indian community, jewelry is a matter of pride as well as an investment shared among generations of women.
Tags: #ARTechnology, #AugmentedReality, #Bride, #COVID-19, #IndianJewellery, #IndianMarket, #Polki, Abaran Timeless Jewels, AS Motiwala, Bengaluru, Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas, Delhi, Hazoorilal Legacy, Jaipur, Mumbai