Many people associate classic pearl necklaces with their grandmothers.
Historically, pearls have been significant investments, handed down from generation to generation. They’ve become stodgy. They’re old-fashioned. As a result, pearls are not exactly the go-to piece of jewelry for millennials looking to make an investment.
None of this constitutes the most ideal situation for pearl brands, which are trying to appeal to a new generation of customer.
The pearl market is looking bleak. Pearl sales across the U.S. continue to slip, according to a 2016 National Jeweler survey of 144 jewelers. Of those, 84 percent said their pearl sales have declined, or stayed about the same, in the past three years. “Traditional pearl necklaces are not on the radar of anyone under the age of 40-something,” one interviewee said.
But a suite of brands is now setting out to change the notion that pearls are for older women only. Mikimoto, a Japan-based jewelry brand for which pearls are a big part of business, has a customer base averaging in age between 40 and 45, but it’s beginning to target as young as 25.
“If you’re positioned as an old, once-in-a-while brand, you’re in trouble,” said Yugo Tsukikawa, Mikimoto’s svp of marketing and brand strategy. “If younger generations are convinced that pearl products or necklaces are versatile and can be worn throughout the years in many different styles, we’re in a good spot. That’s an area we’ve been focusing on.”
The jeweler is going about it in a few different ways. In a reach for millennials, Mikimoto launched a new video campaign, in partnership with the agency Rokkan, in the U.S. this week titled “Explore the original.” The four videos—three 15-second videos and a 45-second one comprised of all three—feature three different women in their late 20s and early 30s getting ready, finalizing their outfits and wearing the pearls. The videos are based in New York, Paris and Japan, and all three showcase the pearls with very different outfits: a burgundy leather skirt with a black and gold mesh top, a classic black jacket and a white cocktail dress. There is, however, no cashmere in sight.
“There’s a stigma of being an old lady,” said Laura Mulloy, svp and executive creative director at Rokkan.“What we want to do is make millennial women know pearls are not being worn with a cashmere twinset at the country club.”
To reach this younger audience, the videos will be pushed out on Instagram and Facebook as ads. The major social media push is a first for Mikimoto and the campaign will be rolled out across China, Japan and Europe early next year. Tsukikawa said the Chinese app WeChat and the Japanese app Line are also being considered. Mikimoto does work with influencers, particularly in the U.S., and celebrities in Asia—however, Tsukikawa said many of the partnerships are unpaid. In this case, pieces of jewelry will be lent out for events, at which the social media influencer will post to their social accounts wearing the jewelry.
Two pieces of jewelry sold on Quiet Storms, a Williamsburg-based boutique’s website.
In the past five years, Mikimoto has seen common themes among younger consumers: They’re buying longer necklaces (which are more expensive) that can be worn in a number of different ways and also look less traditional. When it comes to different types of pearls, Baroque pearls—each of which is different in size and shape—have been increasingly popular, Tsukikawa said, reflecting millennials’ preference for owning something unique and individual. Collaborations with designers like Japan’s Yohji Yamamoto and one with Hello Kitty a few years back “flew off the shelves,” he said. Some pieces were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and one Yamamoto piece came with a price tag of half a million dollars.
Mikimoto is not alone in trying to freshen its designs. Milan-based designer Lia Di Gregorio has created a thick gold band with a pearl nestled on the inside (for $2,576). Rome-based jewelry designer Delfina Delettrez creates single earrings comprised of a pearl that sits like a stud, with an eye, nose and lips dangling below, made of gold and enamel ($1,590). New York-design duo Louis Decicco and Mari Ouchi have created a popular choker necklace with a pearl spin at a more affordable price ($150).
Although some jewelers are seeing pearl sales slipping, Tsukikawa said Mikimoto’s are healthy and stable. However, he wouldn’t provide specifics regarding sales by the privately owned company.
He said that when millennials shop for luxury, they do it in a very different way than past generations.“The younger generations are going to judge what luxury products they buy based on the practicality and usability of things. People who are purchasing pieces are wearing them in a completely different way.”