“Diamonds are forever.” Or just for a few weeks if Millennials and Gen Z are asked.
The popular saying can be contradicted when it comes to young consumers’ opinions on owning and buying jewelry. They are increasingly likely to treat precious sapphire rings and almond-sized pavé diamond earrings like the latest it-bags and decide to rent rather than invest in a purchase.
Jewelry rental services have popped up here and there over the past few years – think Beekman NYC, Hurr, Rockbox, Snapper, Switch, HauteVault and more. They serve an audience of women – and some men – looking for pieces to wear one night or one day only, whether for charity galas or the wedding ceremony of their best friend.
Yet, compared to their fashion counterparts, which have become somewhat mainstream, the jewelry sector – particularly at the higher end of the product spectrum – has remained more niche.
The occasion-based model, emotional connection to jewelry, insurance nightmares, higher logistics costs and lower margins are some of the hurdles the category faces. But consumer appetite for more responsible business models and conscious spending is unlikely to wane.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of reinventing ownership and the sharing economy – why can’t we access amazing things for shorter periods of time?” interviewed Victoria Prew, Founder and Managing Director of Hurr, a UK-based rental platform focused on fashion and jewelry.
“As a millennial myself, I’ve witnessed the monumental rise of sharing platforms such as Uber and Airbnb – as consumers, we rent our cars, we rent our homes, so my moment”d ‘lightbulb’ came when I considered our wardrobes. Why can’t we rent them too? There’s no doubt in my mind that circular fashion is the opportunity that digital was 10 years ago years,” she said.
Still, the scalability of jewelry rental services and subscriptions remains mixed.
“The jewelry rental market continues to see its greatest success around events and occasions, where meaningful moments are enhanced by pieces typically outside of consumers’ price range,” said Brielle Saggese, strategist at consulting firm WGSN.
“I would say that customers who are looking for used pieces would be more likely to opt for jewelry rentals. This customer may not invest in a particular piece, but if it’s for an occasion, it may be worth it, again for that brief indulgence, a moment of excess, which is an extended cultural feeling , infiltrating heavily into fashion. and the jewelry industries,” echoed Anush Mirbegian, director of accessories at trend forecasting firm Fashion Snoops.
Wedding-related rentals are an established category – from venue to dresses and tuxedos – and the same increasingly applies to other formal or special events and even vacation wear, with pieces rented and packaged just for the duration of the getaways, as explained by Hurr’s Prew. .
But these are not enough to rely on a significant business. With scalability comes bigger audiences, more frequent rentals, and higher margins. This is all the more important as these platforms are backed by investors, who closely monitor and analyze the sales figures.
For example, Rocksbox was acquired by Signet Jewelers Ltd. Last year ; Vivrelle secured $35 million in Series B funding earlier this month which included the likes of Lily Collins, Nina Dobrev and entrepreneur Morgan Stewart McGraw; Hurr closed a £4m seed round last year led by Octopus Ventures, and Switch has found backing from angel investors and venture capitalists.
So how can the industry engage customers monthly and keep them coming back, beyond parties and ceremonies?
A solid offer in the right price range and fast, top-notch service all contribute to transforming the experience of a one-time rental into a monthly pleasure for yourself.
Saggese speculates, for example, that the jewelry rental market has potential as customers seek novelty in their jewelry collections, which are typically much smaller and unlikely to grow as rapidly as their fashion closets.
At Beekman NYC, affluent 30-somethings are turning to the platform because they “maybe starting to invest in their jewelry collection, and appreciate the quality of our collection, and also women with their own jewelry, looking for something special or unique to enhance a look for an important occasion,” said President Keith Rosen.
The jeweler launched its borrow-wear-return platform in 2020 at the start of the pandemic, leveraging its collection of fine jewelry dating as far back as 1870. Soon after, it introduced membership tiers allowing increasing levels of access.
“When we first launched Switch, we expected it to be primarily event-driven, but we quickly realized that wasn’t the case,” said Adriel Darvish, co-founder and CEO of Switch. Switch, based in the United States.
“Most members use Switch to borrow pieces for weeks or months at a time to complement their everyday wardrobe. In response, we’ve invested in more timeless, wearable and versatile pieces. That’s not to say there aren’t members using Switch for events – for a number of members, that’s the main purpose. These members tend to gravitate toward funkier statement tunes and change them up a lot more often,” he noted.
A data-driven approach to curation helped Switch put together the right selection of pieces – often drawing on social media, magazines and catwalk information to come up with high-end brands and high styles that could easily be a part of daily outfits.
Platforms with subscription models, such as Rocksbox, take advantage of this model, engaging customers tempted to make a big impression for as little as $21 per month.
Its selection of fashion and costume jewellery, which was enhanced last year with the addition of a demi-fine selection, is aimed at young people. These represent the age group most likely to opt for renting rather than owning.
“Most of our members are jewelry lovers who wear jewelry every day and want to keep their jewelry wardrobe fresh every day. They also turn to Rocksbox as an option for their special occasions,” said Rocksbox President Allison Vigil.
When it comes to more expensive pieces, the average population is also young, especially as headwinds in the global economy and recession change consumer buying behavior.
“With the recession looming, consumer mindsets are already changing in terms of value, luxury, ownership and access, where many will find genuine value in owning and renting for different purposes…they are more likely to have rented pieces and owned the same jewelry box,” Saggese said.
“We believe the macro factors are also in our favour,” Switch’s Darvish noted. “While we would never cause a recession, current economic conditions are making people think more about how they spend their money. Rather than splurging on a single item, Switch offers better value for money, unlocking a whole host of accessories at a fraction of the cost.
According to him, the platform’s core customers are between the ages of 22 and 40, live in metropolitan cities and appreciate the “convenience, efficiency and attentiveness” of the service.
“Although they are not bargain hunters, they are value hunters and they recognize the tremendous value they receive through a Switch membership,” Darvish said. He co-founded Switch in 2017 with his brother Elliott, Liana Kadisha Cohn joining the team soon after.
They now have a basic subscription priced at $45 per month and will introduce a premium tier, called Switch Select, which will allow customers to rent jewelry and handbags with an average value of $4,000. The waiting list for it, Darvish said, already numbers in the thousands.
But while convenience and the ability to experiment with different types of jewelry are attractions for potential customers, there’s a sentimental aspect to wearing — and owning — jewelry that could pose a challenge for rentals and boxes. ‘subscription.
“Consumers often attach a more personal meaning to their jewelry than to other items… Rental services can’t replicate that kind of backstory. For young consumers in particular, jewelry trends are often about celebrating their individuality.… The nature of renting does not allow for this type of relationship, so services will need to reconsider how rented pieces can still serve as collateral ID,” Saggese said. .
“Right now and in the near future, I’m not convinced that jewelry will be one of the precursors to replacing ownership. I think there’s too much personal investment for customers in the category, that whether it is the personal value, the value of the financial investment or the connection to personal expression,” noted Mirbegian.
Many players are experiencing a different consumer attitude, citing weddings and brides as strong sources of income, despite the often unique nature of renting.
But such events can be a way to attract new customers who will hopefully become regulars. Case in point: Rocksbox recently launched a bridal subscription for $35 a month, providing access to an assortment of fine jewelry.
“It allows members to experiment with new pieces before their big day or just rent styles to wear to any special events,” Vigil explained.