Bespoke Jewellery Demand Picking Up During Pandemic: UK Jeweller

A prominent jeweller from Truro, Cornwall, southwestern England, Douglas Hughes Fine Jewellery, notes that Indian manufactured gemstones, especially multi-coloured sapphires, are extremely popular.

Demand for custom-made fine jewellery is picking up during the pandemic, with Indian-manufactured coloured gemstones much sought-after, says Zach Hughes, head of marketing at Douglas Hughes Fine Jewellery in Truro, Cornwall, in southwestern England.

The shop, located in a prime zone near the historic Truro cathedral in Cornwall, southwestern England, was shuttered for months, but demand for bespoke pieces has been resilient during the crisis. The shop reopened with other non-essential retail in the UK in April as lockdown measures eased.

Tin mine earrings. By Douglas Hughes Fine Jewellery
Wave ring. By Douglas Hughes Fine Jewellery

The appeal of custom-made pieces of jewellery resonates with a trend for more personalisation in luxury, Zach said, speaking inside the boutique showroom during a socially-distanced interview in May.

“Word of mouth was key in driving business to the shop, largely because my father Doug is so well-known in Cornwall,” said Zach.

Zach’s mother Linda said that Indian-manufactured gemstones, notably sapphires in a variety of colours, had proved to be especially popular.

“The quality of Indian manufacturing of coloured gemstones has clearly improved over the 30 years or so that we have been in business,” she said.

Pink sapphires were especially in demand, and had been used in combinations with both white and yellow metals.

“We are seeing more taste now for yellow gold, which is warmer. Before, white gold had been the most popular, but the trend has shifted back to yellow gold recently,” Linda said.

Yellow gold is competitive amidst the soaring costs of platinum and palladium this year. The use of palladium in white gold manufacturing has raised 18-karat white gold costs significantly.

Platinum and palladium prices have risen on expectations that they will be needed increasingly for catalytic converters that clean vehicle exhaust fumes, as the global economy recovers.

Douglas Hughes Fine Jewellery has seen buoyant sales for its jewellery designs inspired by themes of Cornwall, the location of popular drama series Poldark now shown on Netflix and watched around the world.

Typical themes include Celtic crosses and designs inspired by Cornwall’s mining history.

The shop window display shows a selection of such designs, and sales are reinforced by the jeweller’s increasing use of e-commerce to attract new customers from markets as far afield as Germany and New Zealand.

The popularity of books by Rosamunde Pilcher in Germany, which inspired a German TV drama series, had led to heightened interest by German tourists in visiting Cornwall, known for its pristine surfing beaches, lush green countryside and afternoon teas.

Linda said the increasing numbers of “second-home” owners in Cornwall can create opportunities for independent jewellers, but expressed concerns over the slow pace of adding infrastructure, such as medical services and schools, to keep up with the rising local population.

A housing boom now under way in Cornwall is in part due to the pandemic, as people anxiously seek homes with space, away from the more cramped living conditions in cities like London.  

The rising South Asian presence in the UK population will inevitably look at the quality of life in Cornwall in years to come, but for the time being most of the clientele of Douglas Hughes Fine Jewellery is local or via e-commerce.

“Some local people who lost money due to the pandemic, are now turning to us for repair work or remodelling and upcycling of jewellery,” Zach said.

Linda said that for those who kept their jobs during the crisis, and were able to save money, the demand for jewellery had held up well, for either custom-made pieces or exceptional, costlier “off the shelf” items, often featuring exquisite Indian-manufactured gemstones.

Linda said customers remained strongly in favour of natural diamonds and she had not had enquiries for lab-grown diamond jewellery so far.

“Our customers want natural diamonds. I can’t see that changing any time soon,” she said.

The jeweller was not averse to lab-grown diamonds if demand, driven by Gen Z or Millennial customers, shifted in this direction, she added.

The immediate future looked bright due to forecasts for a big influx of tourists into Cornwall during the next few months of summer, as people could finally escape their own homes and venture out on holidays, auguring for more tourist turnover at the shop.

The tourism boom was likely to be led by UK tourists, so-called “staycationers,” rather than foreign visitors due to limitations on international travel, and the success of the UK vaccination rollout which meant that most UK adults would be vaccinated by summer.

“Ironically, if the weather is cloudy or rainy, we will see more customers visiting the shop,” Zach said. “If it’s sunny outside, people will head straight to the beach!”

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