From augmented reality apps to web-based facilities that allow clients to design their own jewels, the once rarefied – some might say conservative – world of high-jewellery retail has undergone significant shifts in recent years. With global jewellery sales figures increasing year-on-year, it has also become a crowded marketplace, populated by savvy customers whose awareness of trends is inspiring retailers to implement consumer-driven strategies in order to stand out from the crowd.
Joanne Ooi – the founder of award-winning fine-jewellery retail concept Plukka – is one such woman. Until now, Plukka operated as an online-only brand and e-commerce site selling “design excellence in fine jewellery without boundaries of any sort”. Its pioneering business model made waves in the industry for its made-to-order platform that cut out the middlemen associated with traditional fine-jewellery distribution. The approach allows Ooi to maintain extremely competitive pricing while offering directional and artistic jewellery that might be considered too risky or creative for conventional retailers.
This month sees Ooi’s first foray into bricks-and-mortar retail with the launch of a pop-up jewellery boutique in Hong Kong, where she will showcase the work of a select band of international fine jewellers. Although initially resistant to the idea of a physical retail space, her mind was changed when she observed the passion with which customers engaged with her jewellery at trunk shows.
Viewing this emotional response as a pivotal part of the sales process, Ooi now regards the boutique as a form of efficient marketing: “My personal view is that bricks-and-mortar locations are actually indispensable for branding, and significantly drive online sales in the medium term”.
Ooi’s decision to open in Hong Kong is based on her contention that it is “the epicentre of fine-jewellery retail, manufacturing and trade” and that the Greater Chinese fine-jewellery consumer market is among the fastest growing in the world. Being in Hong Kong gives her flexibility and agility that no one in North America or Europe can match. “If something is in, we can source or make a piece and post it on our website within two weeks.”
Over breakfast with Ooi in Hong Kong earlier this month, I asked her how she goes about selecting the jewellers she champions. “It’s my general rule to choose designers whose longevity I can predict, due to the originality of their vision and the legibility of their design DNA,” she explained. “Jewellery is really about passion. When it comes to different styles and aesthetics, I can appreciate anything from stark minimalism to maximalist baroque, provided the exponent of that style is a star within that category.”
Favourite pieces include a Chandra diamond hand bracelet ($21,150, second picture) by Lebanese brand Yeprem, which Ooi selected for its “radical juxtaposition of design choices and avant-garde configuration on the hand”, and Payal Shah’s 18ct-white-gold and sliced-diamond Aristato earrings ($16,625, first picture), which contain “a mother load of diamonds both traditionally cut and raw” and which, enthuses Ooi, “propel this new type of diamond category forward”.
An “insane” 18ct-yellow-gold, turquoise, yellow- and blue-sapphire, tsavorite and grey- and black-diamond Orchid ring by Wendy Yue ($13,400, third picture) was picked out for its “vivid colour, painstaking artisanal craftsmanship, mind-boggling detail and grand proportions”, which, says Ooi, make it a true objet d’art. The 18ct-bronzed-yellow-gold anddiamond Thrones ring ($3,735) by Malpani is emblematic of the Indian jeweller’s creations, which are “spectacular because they’re plucked directly from his mind, without reference to anything anyone has ever seen before”.
Asked what she thinks Plukka will bring to the Hong Kong jewellery scene and Ooi is unequivocal. “As opposed to the generic, old-fashioned jewellery sold at the huge chain stores, our model illuminates the future of jewellery retail: consumers are thirsting for design and individuality rather than just investment-grade rocks in traditional settings. These days, jewellery is as much about fashion as it is about grams and carats.”
To this end, the Plukka boutique – which will remain open until August – has been conceived by “a crack team” of architects from both LA and Hong Kong, who between them have designed boutiques for Martin Margiela, Colette and Nike.
Like her jewellery, and like the woman herself, the in-store shopping experience, says Ooi, will be “theatrical, dramatic, precious and inviting”.