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Corporate restructuring advisor Duff and Phelps has revealed that close to 16% of all UK retail and shop outlets remain empty, according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made to local councils.

Its research found that over 50,000 units in 418 councils remain closed, an average of 121 empty units per council.

There were 319,000 retail businesses in 2018 according to the ONS, with the advisors estimating the void rate is now at 15.9%. Business rates have been deemed to be a contributing factor for the increase in empty units, with rates being an estimated 2.3% of overall business costs for a traditional brick and mortar retailer, compared to just 0.6% for pure-play online retailers.

The retail market is one of the most important in the UK, with its economic output in 2017 estimated at £92.8bn, employing around 2.8 million people and comprising of 319,000 businesses.

Philip Duffy, managing director, restructuring advisory, Duff and Phelps, said: “The impact on local government cannot be underestimated either. FOI also identified that 91% of UK local authorities are retail landlords in their own right. Empty units mean lost rental and business rates income, all at a time when many local authorities are reporting increased financial pressures.

“The old financial model of the traditional brick and mortar retailer—based on a high street or shopping centre built around them in the post war era—was centred on regular increases in sales and 25-year leases with upward rent reviews only.”

He added: “As a result, it has meant high rents and occupancy costs. This has blown apart as a result of both the discounters and the dramatic uptick in online sales. The remaining question is whether this picture continues throughout 2019 and if so, at what speed?”

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A pair of emerald and diamond earrings made by London jewellers, Graff, is to feature at Cheffins’ Jewellery, Silver and Watches Sale on Thursday 1 August.

Described as “a pair of asymmetric double clusters featuring 12.5cts of diamonds and 5cts of emeralds”, the earrings have been given an estimated price of £10,000 – £15,000.

Cheffins said Graff is “well established as a world leader” in the diamond market and  added that jewellery made by Graff “rarely makes an appearance at auction”.

Steven Collins, head of jewellery, silver and watches at Cheffins, said: “I am thrilled at having these beautiful pair of earrings in the sale and when it comes to diamonds and fabulous jewellery, the name Graff is right at the top of the list.

“Taking into account how rarely Graff jewellery comes on the market at auction as well as the quality and beauty of these earrings, I am expecting them to attract a lot of interest, not just here in the UK, but also internationally.”

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Footfall declined by 2.9% in June, attributed to the “exceptional and ongoing disruptive political and economic period”, according to retail intelligence firm Springboard.

On a three-month basis, footfall decreased by 2.4%, and the six and 12–month averages were found to be -1.3% and -1.7% respectively. High street footfall also declined by 4.5%, following from the increase of 0.1% in June last year.

Additionally, retail park footfall increased by 0.1%, compared with June 2018 when footfall decreased by 0.4%, and shopping centre footfall declined by 2.4%, following the decline of 3.4% seen last year.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said: “Given the exceptional and ongoing disruptive political and economic period we are facing coupled with unprecedented structural changes in the retail sector, we might actually expect consumer activity to have taken an even greater hit.

“However, whilst footfall in high streets across the UK dropped by -4.5% in June, the continuing and growing demand from consumers for experience meant that in regional cities – which by virtue of the sheer breadth and depth of their offer means they can deliver on experience – footfall was far more resilient, declining only very marginally by -0.6%.”

She added: “So it is clear that consumer demand is polarised between convenience and accessibility provided so effectively by retail parks, and consumers’ craving for experience, driving them towards larger retail destinations.”

Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Poor footfall this June led to a significant fall in the sales figures for the month. High streets were worst hit by the relatively poor June weather, with shopping centres also performing badly, however, retail parks managed to buck the trend.

“Last year’s World Cup and glorious sunshine set a high bar, which 2019’s slow consumer spending and Brexit uncertainty failed to live up to.”

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There’s no denying that the shopping experience has truly transformed over time. However, it’s also important to appreciate that the in-store shopping experience is irreplaceable to any online alternatives.

A change in shopping habits

More of us know what we want when we walk into a shop. In fact, 98% of Gen-Z shoppers walk into shops and find what they’re looking for by themselves. We no longer start the buying process by window shopping. Instead, we’ve probably seen something on social media, scanned the reviews and made a purchase decision before we head out the door. Of course, this doesn’t mean that retailers should be giving up or becoming less competitive, they can still grab the attention of their audience through in-store engagement and customer relationship building — two things that an e-commerce site would find difficult to achieve.

Not only this, but personalisation is becoming more important to buyers. Customers want something that’s tailored to their own needs, not the masses, and what better way to find out what these are than with a face-to-face conversation? Yes, customers can fill in an online form with their customisation requirements, but they don’t get to see the product until it has arrived. With an in-store experience, customers can tell the retailer their requirements and feel more confident that they’ll be carried out — this type of engagement is non-comparable to a form or live chat feature.

‘Retailtainment’ is another trend that taking over the industry, and customers are expecting it too. It’s all about offering in-store entertainment — not necessarily to lead to direct sales but to encourage visitors to the store. This could be real-life mannequins, a performance, or an interactive competition that grabs attention. It’s all about thinking outside the box and offering experiences that aren’t available online. An example of this would be at the Apple Store, which often hosts different activities for customers: from learning how to make music on GarageBand to creating your own emojis!

In-store technology

Whether it’s mobile banking, contactless payments or intelligent personal assistants (such as Alexa) or queue management, we’ve become accustomed to having the help of technology throughout our day-to-day life. So, why should it be any different when we step inside a store? In fact, it’s somewhat expected. Some companies are being innovative when it comes to their in-store technology — after all, more time in-store can lead to better customer relationships and hopefully, sales.

Tiffany and Co. opened a store in London’s Covent Garden to engage with customers who may have previously found their brand too expensive or inaccessible. In this store, visitors are able to personalise jewellery and there is even a Tiffany perfume vending machine. These concepts have driven customers to the store and encouraged social media conversation in a way that an online experience may have struggled.

Other companies such as Made.com and IKEA encourage customers to spend more time in store with cafes and restaurants. Made.com also attaches QR codes to their products around their store to encourage users to find and make a purchase online if this is the payment channel they prefer.

Fashion retailer, QUIZ Clothing encourages the use of an in-store kiosk. This enables visitors to browse the full collection of products even if they aren’t available in store and get them delivered to their home address. It also presents a wider range of products to the customer including different colours and sizes that may not be in stock in store. When we consider that 66% of Gen-Z surveyed said product availability is important, in-store technologies such as the above are a necessity for retailers.

A holistic experience

It’s clear to see that what customers are after more than anything is a holistic experience.

Something that brings together the physical aspects of store visits with digital aspects from online shopping. For example, 51% of respondents who use retail mobile apps use them while shopping in-store, and this is mainly to redeem in-store discounts, compare prices, view product ratings and find products. By being able to offer this all-round experience, businesses can be part of the entire customer buying journey.

Understandably, brands should be focusing on their digital presence but not at the expense of their in-store offering. What a customer can gain from visiting a store in person can build relationships and shape opinions in a way that an online-only brand couldn’t. With the “death of the high street” playing over many retailers minds, it’s important to bear all of this in mind when planning ahead.

Contributed by Mediaworks

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The Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council (GC&DC) has appointed Peter Crump, the MD of UK jewellery design and manufacturing company Vipa Designs, as its new chairman for the next two years.

Taking over from retiring chairman Andy Putland, Crump said he is “excited” to commence his new role and put plans into place to develop the Council’s work and ambitions further.

Crump said: “What an honour [it is] to be chairman of the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council. This is a fabulous industry, and to be asked to lead an organisation that consistently supports, promotes, rewards and celebrates the very best of creative design, fine craftsmanship and talent is a rare privilege indeed. I look forward to building on the great work done by past chairmen, leading the Council to even greater heights.”

The Council, whose members are drawn from the UK jewellery, silversmithing and allied trades, expressed its gratitude to Putland, who remains as a council member and trustee, for his “enthusiasm, vision and ambition” over the past two years.

Crump’s appointment coincides with his celebration of 40 years’ since founding Vipa Designs, based in Melton Mowbray. Vipa manufactures, supports and offers services to other jewellery businesses including both designer makers and retailers, and has been involved with the ethical making movement for over 15 years.

As part of his appointment, Crump has asked fellow Council member and GC&DC Trustee Kathryn Bishop as his vice chair for the next two years.

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Alex Monroe Jewellery was founded by its eponymous owner over 30 years ago after training at the Sir John Cass School of Art in London, launching his first collection in 1987.

All of Monroe’s work is handmade in England from metals that are 60% recycled and 40% virgin, the virgin metals are all mined in Germany. All the stones are ethically sourced and the repairs and reconditioning service the company offers means the pieces it produces are sustainable.

Alex Monroe is known for its main collections that are all made in sterling silver which are also available in gold-plated finishes. Its fine jewellery range is made in solid 18ct gold, and includes wedding bands and engagement rings and even a collection ‘one of a kind’ pieces described as a “constantly growing collection of necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets of which only one is made”. However the company is best known for its signature bumblebee design, with a majority of its jewellery inspired by nature and the British countryside.

The company states it is “proud to have a long-term commitment to local manufacturing and ethical practises”, working with long standing partners based in the UK for the casting and plating of its jewellery, and sources all of its stones from trusted and ethical suppliers.

The company’s London Boutique opened in 2012 and was the first Alex Monroe store with full-time office space. The site for the flagship building in London Bridge was found by Monroe while cycling around the area. Alex Monroe has also recently revealed plans to open a second boutique in London this summer.

The new store, set to launch this July, will be located on Floral Street in Covent Garden and will be the brand’s first store in a “high street hot spot”.

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Specialist insurance brokers for the jewellery trade TH March, has announced seven members of its staff will take part in the midnight March in order to raise funds for St Luke Hospice.

Team ‘March@Midnight’ consisting of; Jo Morgan, Debbie Lawson, Emily Conybeare, Jayde Bassett, Holly Baird, Jo Federico and Jade McDermott ,will be donning retro 80s gear, along with their St Luke’s Midnight Walk T-Shirts to march 13 miles through the night with hundreds of other women on Saturday 20 July.

The women, all work in various roles for TH March Insurance Brokers at the company’s National Service Centre in Yelverton, Devon and say they have each been touched in some way through family and friends by the work of the hospice and they want to “give something back” by raising as much money as possible.

Each year St Luke’s must raise at least £4m in order to continue with its work.

Team member, Jo Morgan, said: “As a company we try really hard to promote healthy living initiatives in a number of different ways and of course walking is very much central to that, although it doesn’t normally happen at midnight.”

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Goldsmith Jana Reinhardt has released her new Memento collection, inspired by “all of life’s milestones”.

It features 12 “special” pieces, which Reinhardt said allows jewellery lovers to wear a “beautiful reminder of the defining moments in their life”. Each pendant is handmade by a small team of goldsmiths in the UK, and uses old methods of wax carving and fabrication – forgoing machine manufacturing.

Reinhardt said this method ensures every piece of jewellery they make is “entirely unique” and of the very “highest quality”.

Reinhardt said: “Our memento collection is a unique way to mark a moment in life. I’ve always attached sentimental value to my jewellery and wanted to create a collection that people could build as they go through their life.

“The key necklace is a great choice for an 18th birthday gift, but one of my favourites is a little bird flying out of its cage, symbolising freedom. This could be a gift to someone (or oneself) to celebrate overcoming an addiction, or breaking free from a toxic relationship. It could just be a reminder that nothing can stop you from doing what you want to do.”

Prices start at £89, for a sterling silver pendant.

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  1. Give me a brief description of your business?

Atelier VM is an Italian contemporary fine jewellery brand which we, Marta Caffarelli and Viola Naj-Oleari launched back in 1998. The Atelier VM story initially began in NYC where we were creating pieces exclusively for the Barney’s customers. From there, we launched our line in Milan, designing jewellery that is simple and delicate with a sophisticated discretion, a meeting of a certain Milanese aesthetic with a minimalism which is rooted in the signature New York style. We like to challenge the conceptions of fine jewellery; marrying hard stones with plastics, gold with glass and paper etc. 

  1. What is your current e-commerce set-up?

We have an e-commerce site that is handled in-house, in addition to a presence on the Liberty e-commerce site.

  1. Why do you feel your ecommerce business has been a success?

We are fortunate to have great support internationally both editorially and via social media influencers too. So our brand awareness reaches far and wide. We also have flagship boutiques in some key international markets that are frequented not only by local Londoners, Parisians and Milanese, but we receive many international visitors at our boutiques. Therefore the combination of both these factors has resulted in a strong e-commerce business for us.

  1. What has been your ecommerce biggest accomplishment so far?

Perhaps the launch of the e-commerce site itself was one of the greatest accomplishments. As anyone who’s launched one will know, it takes a lot of time and effort on both the design side as well as the back end to ensure it runs smoothly whilst staying true to the brand ethos. Given we’re also selling fine jewellery, the quality of the imagery itself is paramount to properly convey the quality of the stones and craftsmanship behind each piece too.  

  1. Tell me about the design of your website? 

Our backgrounds are in art and industrial design. Therefore we have an acute sense of attention to detail. Our website is reflective of Atelier VM; minimalist and functional with a Milanese twist.

  1.     How do you engage with your customers?

 Members of our database receive regular newsletters with new product launches and other Atelier VM news. We also enjoy great support from social media influencers globally which then also helps to translate too in turn to web traffic as well.  

  1.     What’s your plan for the next year? 

 We have plans for next year that include expanding to further territories. As the idea for Atelier VM was initially conceived in New York, we’d love to see a boutique there with a view to further opening up the US market which we feel would be very strong for us. Also, growing our existing but newest markets in which we’ve established solid bases too – London and Paris. It’s an exciting time for us as there are many plans in progress.

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Staff from the Watches of Switzerland Group at stores across the UK and US have been given a £1,000 bonus as a thank you following the company’s float on the London Stock Exchange.

Around 2,500 employees from the group’s Mappin and Webb, Goldsmiths and its eponymous Watches of Switzerland stores have been given the bonus, which also includes around 500 members of staff from its Leicestershire HQ.

Watches of Switzerland chief executive, Brian Duffy, told BusinessLive: “We’re now on the main market of the London Stock Exchange. There has been a great response to what we’ve done from our teams, so we gave them an unexpected bonus of £1,000 each – or $1,300 for those in the US.

“That recognised the huge contribution every one of them made to the flotation, and we’ve had dozens and dozens of emails since saying how much they appreciated it. I really believe in the business. I love the business and our teams and the great job they do.”

The recent stock floatation values the company at around £650m.

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