"Every woman wants to be given a little box," says the London based jeweller Stephen Webster, "and the lure of something small and sparkly will never fade." Forget the Laduree macaroons, the Hermes handbag or even the Dyptique candle, when it comes to birthdays, anniversaries or even "just because," there is only one thing on top of everybody's wish list right now - and it's gold. Pure luxury and apparently recession-proof gold.
This report is the first in a quarterly series looking at the key trends in the US, UK, Italy, China and India, to examine why sales of gold are so relatively unaffected by the economic situation, unlike so many other commodities. "Gold is not just a foolproof investment but is also still seen as the ultimate adornment," says Edwina Ings-Chambers, Jewellery Editor of the UK's Sunday Times. "And the world in general is obsessed with designer labels. With the increase in fashion houses developing large jewellery ranges you've got the perfect combination. The most desirable thing to own right now is a bit of designer gold."
Whilst the East is the biggest consumer of luxury products, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Chanel have all reported worldwide growth in their sales of gold. Bulgari became part of the collective conscience in China with an exhibition at the National Museum of China in Beijing, this year's International Jewellery Show in India was the biggest ever, and Fabergé has just opened a boutique in Mayfair, London, and is doing a roaring trade in earrings priced upwards of £4200.
But surely the buoyancy of the market can't just be explained by a penchant for designer bling? "Jewellery is such a personal thing," says Olivia Richardson, jewellery buyer for iconic UK retailer Liberty of London. "It has an enduring meaning, and is something the owner will treasure forever." Which boils down to one immutable fact - in these troubled times, when there is so much uncertainty, we all want something which will stand the test of time, which will never lose its sparkle. And what else could that be but gold?
UPBEAT "Jewellery is an essential, not a luxury," said the British jewellery designer Solange Azagury-Partridge in an interview with The Sunday Times. And it seems consumers agree with her - Bain & Co confirm 18% growth in jewellery and watches, the largest increase across all luxury categories. Richemont, owners of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, reported 34% jewellery growth."
JEWELLERY IMITATING ART Jewellery, often viewed as a commodity tied to the value of a metal or gem or at most a decorative art, is gaining the status of investment art. Rare jewels are increasingly being installed in international art galleries, like Dior's jewels at the Gagosian Gallery in Paris.
Sometimes pieces are exhibited alongside blown-up sketches depicting the design process, as with top-flight British designer Shaun Leane and Robert Procop, who creates collections with Angelina Jolie.Jewellers sometimes commission artists to create viral videos showcasing their designs and craftsmanship – maverick jeweller Solange Azagury-Partridge had artist Sam Taylor-Wood create one for her yellow gold collection 24:7.
UP-CYCLING While supplies of gold are inherently finite and increasingly costly, designers are up-cycling existing jewellery into imaginative pieces. Sometimes, the starting point is precious antique jewels or heirlooms that are no longer fashionable, like Eliane Fattal's collaboration with London's Bond Street antique emporium S J Phillips, resulting in beautiful jewels subtly imbued with a contemporary aesthetic. Designers also re-purpose surprising, unexpected materials into jewellery combining them with gold - be it guns (as with Fonderie47 founded by activist Peter Thum) or found and 'pre-loved' objects - even a 1930s doorbell (Jessica de Lotz, UK new designer of the year), or antique watch keys (Jessica McCormack).
World Gold Council
The Liz Taylor effect - Everybody loves a touch of nostalgic glamour. There were queues at all of Christie's previews of jewellery owned by Hollywood's most bejewelled icon (jewellery sale 13-14 December, New York).
Say it with collars and chokers - The runways are less about necklaces and more about the fashion world's take on neck braces. As seen for the holiday season at Louis Vuitton, Lanvin, Bottega Veneta, Givenchy, Mawi, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent, Pucci, Etro and Beazie Roberts.
Jewellery behind closed doors - In an effort to attract high-end clientele, top-notch jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston, Cartier and Tiffany & Co fly elite international clients to intimate, invitation-only dinners in Rome, Shanghai, Beverly Hills and New York.
Rules of engagement - While engagement and bridal jewellery are an important source of income for all jewellers, American research shows gold remains the top choice, but white gold is far more popular than yellow - white gold remains the metal of choice for 73% of engagement rings and 70% of brides' wedding rings.* *Engagement & Jewelry Survey 2011, XO Group Inc, owners of TheKnot.com"
More is more - Stacking rings and bangles together has become an instant statement look. Brands can be mixed together too, from De Beers' Azulea collection, to Fei Liu's Dawn rings, and mix and match rings from Carolina Bucci, Chaumet, Wellendorff and Chelsea based jeweller to London royalty, Kiki McDonough.
Pure and simple - The key is to go for a simple gold band rather than a complicated cocktail ring. Match it to bracelets for a look that is more subtly elegant than overtly flashy.
Disco divas - The decade that taste forgot is back, and fashion magazines are encouraging their readers to have fun with watches. The 1970s disco era is the main inspiration, with high–carat gold straps, pearled champagne dials and leopard prints. Cartier, Rolex, Van Cleef and Arpels, Patek Phillipe and Chopard have all designed with this in mind.
London, luxury epicentre - London saw £64 billion of retail sales and 15 million visitors
annually (compared with 10.8 million to New York). Despite having the most expensive rents in the world, there is not an empty shop in luxury district Mayfair.*
*All figures from Walpole British Luxury, November 2011
Retail revamp - Harrods, the majority of whose customers are international, rather than based in the UK, opened its redesigned and double-sized fine jewellery and watch rooms in November. The jewellery section at London department store Liberty is also planning to expand.
Rock n roll - Punk and rock are back. Eighties icons such as Madonna are cited as modern inspiration, and there is a luxe take on the goth look of retro, heavy metal bands, with skulls being ubiquitous.
Bizarre bazaar - The atmosphere of Marrakech is evoked by the young Italian designer Chiara Passa. Ancient designs and arabesque decorations are reinterpreted for a fresh take on modern, souk style. Bracelets, necklaces and earrings are made of gold and silver hammered alloys.
Hi-tech - Salvatore Ferragamo's first ever jewellery collection is designed by Gianni Bulgari using a spider web technique to mimic Ferragamo's grosgrain ribbon.
High contrast - Black onyx with yellow gold is an increasingly popular combination as seen at Bulgari, Pomellato, Gucci, Damiani, Giorgio Armani, Cartier, Tiffany and prolific Italian jeweller Roberto Coin.
Happy anniversary - 150 years of Italy's unity has inspired patriotic jewels, some bearing bejewelled Italian flags - a fitting tribute to the nation's enviable history in manufacturing fine jewellery - from Torinogioielli, Amore & Baci, Nardelli, and leBebé Lucebianca.
Younger generation - Chinese luxury consumers are markedly younger than their global counterparts and high-end jewellery product development and design teams may do well to take note. 73% of all Chinese luxury consumers are under 45, and 45% are under 35. In Japan and Britain, 37% and 28% of luxury consumers, respectively, are under 45.* *McKinsey
Less flash, more understatement - A proliferation of luxury stores, magazines and websites in China means consumers are becoming savvier. 41%* now see showing off luxury goods as poor taste, which seems to explain why refined, elegant and romantic jewellery styles are now proving popular. *McKinsey
Bulgari retrospective - With Western brands determined to assert their luxury authority and craftsmanship credentials in China, Bulgari exhibits 600 historical accessories and ornaments at the National Museum of China, Beijing.
Chinese expansion - Reflecting burgeoning Chinese demand for precious jewellery, top-flight jewellers are expanding significantly. Graff opened three Chinese stores in 2011 and will open two more in 2012. De Beers had three Chinese openings in 2011 and plans an additional five for 2012.
Animal magic - As jungle prints are big on Indian catwalks, so this is reflected in jewellery. Leading fashion magazine Marie Claire India points to animal-inspired designs such as rings with panther heads, or that look like snakes, as some of the most aspirational accessories.
Material girl - Jewellery isn't just about gold this year. One of the biggest trends in India was combining heritage with modern sparkle. Local fashion magazines advocated platinum and crystal weaved into traditional sari designs.
Gold jewellery increasingly about aesthetics - Ad agency JWT's first study on luxury brands in India confirmed that while investing in jewellery is still seen as a store of value, consumers increasingly consider aesthetics, design and expressing their personality when choosing new pieces.
Global focus - India's jewellery industry is now focused on global expansion, as evidenced by a star-studded runway show of key Indian brands which opened IIJS, Mumbai's annual jewellery show, where almost $1billion of deals were signed.
Growth - The Indian jewellery industry is heading for 16% growth, following 42% in 2010. Gold jewellery manufacturers blame soaring gold prices and stock market falls for more modest growth.* *Figures from IDEX
Try before you buy - Adopted as a sales tool by De Beers Forevermark, Boucheron and Louis Vuitton, Holition technology is catching on, and fast. Holition allows consumers to try on jewellery remotely via their computer webcam or even while window-shopping.
You name it, they're looking to jewellery for growth - Porcelain and glass manufacturers Meissen, Fabergé and Lalique; model Kate Moss; jeweller Ileanna Makri, inspired by socialite twins Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen; and fashion brands Salvatore Ferragamo and Dolce&Gabbana all launched jewellery collections incorporating gold in late 2011. It seems that designers think jewellery collections could bring the Midas touch to their businesses.
East West exchange - As the Chinese increasingly invest in high-end jewellery from top Western brands, Chinese designers are determined to make it in the West, in order to raise credibility and increase sales on their home turf. They include Qeelin, Fei Liu, SHO, Youmna, Sandrine Clayton, and Carnet by Michelle Ong. Meanwhile, Birmingham-based Fei Liu is showcasing hot British designers in his Beijing store.
Gold perceptions - Telltale signs yellow gold remains on a pedestal range from talk of gold as investment to magazine photo shoots swathed in gold accessories and lighting effects; London's Victoria and Albert Museum unveiling the first naturally golden textile – a silk scarf spun by one million spiders over five years; Goldsmith Hall's summer 2012 exhibit Gold, 4500 years of gold treasures from across Britain and Dior infusing its Les Rouges lipsticks with gold dust.