In the last three months the Lyst marketplace has sold thousands of the fashion-industry favorite Sophie Bille Brahe’s Lyra ring. While not noteworthy in itself, the ring’s pricetag of $4,522 makes it an unusual pattern. “That’s a pretty large purchase to make for yourself, and online,” noted Lyst’s public relations director, Sarah Tanner.
After digging into it more, the company found that the bulk of those purchases — 85 percent to be exact — were made by women.
It’s a trend that seems unsurprising at the outset — women buy jewelry! — but for those in the industry, it marks a shift. For years, expensive jewelry was bought by men, mostly around holidays like Valentine’s Day, which meant both brands and marketplaces focused marketing attention around male consumers, rather than female.
Although Lyst’s data shows that most big-ticket purchases are still the realm of men, it’s clear that change is afoot. Women are taking these loftier purchases into their own hands, often spending into the high thousands or more for pieces that are unrelated to special occasions. Experts attribute the transition to a combination of female empowerment and a larger market for trendy jewelry that retails far above the costume category.
“Initially, industry experts thought that jewelry would not be affected by a digital sales increase due to the personal nature of purchasing jewelry — especially as a gift,” said Tanner. That theory is quickly being proven wrong — Lyst saw jewelry sales increase by 122 percent year-over-year between 2015 and 2016, and 178 percent between now and last August. In June alone, those sales spiked by 311 percent.
“Generally in society we’re moving away from the type of romance built on chocolates, roses and diamonds,” said Lyst’s fashion editor Charlotte Austin. “Women feel a lot more empowered to buy exactly what they want, when they want, jewelry-wise.” Of course, more women receiving the salaries to afford such purchases doesn’t hurt, either — although the gender pay gap still exists, Pew Research reports that it has steadily narrowed since 1980, with women earning 83 percent as much as their male counterparts.
“Increasingly, we’re finding that women — regardless of their relationship status — are buying expensive jewelry for themselves,” agreed Emily Anatole, the associate director of insights at research firm Cassandra. Her firm’s Modern Love Report found that 47 percent of women aged 19-35 like to buy themselves presents, particularly in the jewelry category, as a point of pride and a symbol of their independence.
This shift in consumer behavior means that jewelry brands dependent on the usual courtship song-and-dance in their promotional efforts would do well to change their tack — many, from De Beers to Nakshatra, have already come under fire for what’s seen now as their sexist positioning.
“My thought process is that I work hard for my money, and if I want fine jewelry, I will buy it myself,” said Kat Collings, the executive editorial director of Clique Media Group. “To me, that’s even more special. It has nothing to do with a significant other.”
Her company has witnessed this trend firsthand through the Shop commerce arm that they run alongside their publications Who What Wear, MyDomaine and Byrdie — all geared towards millennial and Gen Z women. Their data team cited a substantial increase in jewelry spend across the board this year, with pricey earrings winning out for most popular.
Those items are also the most trafficked on Lyst, where the multiple-piercing trend has led to a shopping surge for daintier pieces from brands like Melissa Joy Manning ($100-$1,000), Anita Ko ($2,000-$10,000) and Delfina Delettrez ($500-$1200). “As jewelry has transitioned from having to be timeless to being more trend-based, more women are changing their jewelry along with the rest of their wardrobes each season,” said Austin.
Women aren’t interested exclusively in the newer brands, however. In fact, many of them are opting for the more traditional companies once frequented by their male counterparts for gifts. The search intelligence firm Captify found that the top five brands searched by women include Tiffany, Cartier, Movado, Piaget and Bvlgari.
“It’s now purchased in the vein of handbags and shoes — as a necessary accessory that women are willing to splurge on,” added one former Barneys buyer.
While the majority of large jewelry purchases are still made by men — at least on shopping sites that attract both genders — there’s clearly a change afoot. Lyst’s most expensive item purchased by a woman this year so far was a $38,300 Repossi choker. The item — far trendier than the usual jewelry investment and disassociated from any special occasion — is now sold out.