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Put a ring on it: How do you convince a fickle twentysomething to splurge on fine jewellery?

MOOD BLING As younger consumers look for pieces that have meaning as well as beautiful features, jewellery houses such as Cartier are harnessing the power of semi-precious stones, gems and minerals. Its Amulette de Cartier collection includes pieces accented with opal, carnelian and malachite, which is said to have protective qualities. Clockwise from left: Pamela Love Orion ring, $1,911, Star Age ring, $1,805 at Archives. Amulette de Cartier necklace, $2,640 at Cartier (www.cartier.com). Icon thin band ring, $820 at Gucci. Vince sweater, $595, Eugenia Kim hat, $565, Miu Miu sunglasses, $490 at Holt Renfrew.

MOOD BLING As younger consumers look for pieces that have meaning as well as beautiful features, jewellery houses such as Cartier are harnessing the power of semi-precious stones, gems and minerals. Its Amulette de Cartier collection includes pieces accented with opal, carnelian and malachite, which is said to have protective qualities. Clockwise from left: Pamela Love Orion ring, $1,911, Star Age ring, $1,805 at Archives. Amulette de Cartier necklace, $2,640 at Cartier (www.cartier.com). Icon thin band ring, $820 at Gucci. Vince sweater, $595, Eugenia Kim hat, $565, Miu Miu sunglasses, $490 at Holt Renfrew.

PUT A RING ON IT

As twentysomething shoppers mature into luxury-goods consumers, the bauble business is faced with catering to their fickle tastes and marketing savvy. Caitlin Agnew reports on how fine jewellery houses are finding new ways to woo millennials. Photography by Saty + Pratha

When Nancy Albertson became engaged two years ago, she had to negotiate with her husband-to-be, Josh, for a ring without diamonds.

"I think it's more a status symbol for him," says the 33-year-old Vancouver-based retail manager about the more traditional – and blingy – take on an engagement ring. Instead, she coveted a unique spin on the solitaire setting, with a chunk of silver in place of a diamond. Among her generation, Albertson isn't alone in coveting an uncoventional bauble and that poses a conundrum for the $257-billion (U.S.)-a-year fine jewellery business: In an era of snap romantic judgments where we can find love on our smart phones with the swipe of a thumb, how do you convince anyone under 35 that diamonds are forever?

LESS AND MORE As fine-jewellery brands eye the millennial market, their designs have become more graphic and versatile. The new Stax collection from David Yurman features pieces that can be grouped together for greater impact, although their refined details also make an impression when worn alone. Clockwise from top left: Stax single row pave chain-link ring, $1,500 at David Yurman. Amulette de Cartier ring, $6,450 at Cartier. Paloma Picasso Sugar Stacks ring, $2,850, earrings, $4,900 at Tiffany. Stax Rondelle pendant necklace, $2,550 at David Yurman. Tiffany T Wire ring, $3,000 at Tiffany. Archives Collection Double Star ring, $3,960 at Archives. Red Valentino shirt, $595 at Holt Renfrew. Salt & Pepper pinch pots by Jennifer Graham, $20 for set of two, Black & White dipped vases by Jennifer Graham, $15 to 30 through www.madedesign.goodsie.com.

LESS AND MORE As fine-jewellery brands eye the millennial market, their designs have become more graphic and versatile. The new Stax collection from David Yurman features pieces that can be grouped together for greater impact, although their refined details also make an impression when worn alone. Clockwise from top left: Stax single row pave chain-link ring, $1,500 at David Yurman. Amulette de Cartier ring, $6,450 at Cartier. Paloma Picasso Sugar Stacks ring, $2,850, earrings, $4,900 at Tiffany. Stax Rondelle pendant necklace, $2,550 at David Yurman. Tiffany T Wire ring, $3,000 at Tiffany. Archives Collection Double Star ring, $3,960 at Archives. Red Valentino shirt, $595 at Holt Renfrew. Salt & Pepper pinch pots by Jennifer Graham, $20 for set of two, Black & White dipped vases by Jennifer Graham, $15 to 30 through www.madedesign.goodsie.com.

The millennial shopper is notoriously fickle, showing a preference for spending money on unique experiences over luxury goods. When they do decide to purchase a higher-end piece, their choices can be unorthodox to say the least; for example, the new Alison Lou x Hasbro collection, which launches exclusively on Net-a-Porter on Nov. 28, features playful 14-karat gold pieces inspired by toys and games such as Monopoly, Twister and Mr. Potato Head. As women like Albertson have reached the age of engagements, paid off their university debts and begun earning enough money to buy nice things, traditional jewellery houses are adapting to their skeptical attitudes and preferences for the quirky and one-of-a-kind – a tricky course change for an industry made up mostly of companies that have been in business for more than a century.

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For Canadian jewellery institution Maison Birks, founded in 1879, the shift in tastes means rethinking its approach to marketing, starting with its ad campaigns. "With the millennial customer, it's as if traditional media is completely invisible," says Eva Hartling, vice president of marketing and communications. "If you're not online as a brand, they're not seeing you."

HARD CANDY When Maison Birks introduced its Rock & Pearl line last year, they chose to feature emerging Canadian performer Kiesza as the face of the launch. The 27-year-old’s dynamic presence matched the collection’s novel mix of pearls and sterling silver, and the hashtag #RefineYourEdge spoke to the Montreal house’s intent to capture a new, younger customer. Clockwise from top left: Rock & Pearl ring, $250 at Maison Birks (www.maisonbirks.com). Paloma Picasso Sugar Stacks earrings, $4,900 at Tiffany. Rock & Pearl necklace, $450 at Maison Birks. Tiffany T Wire rings, $2,150 each at Tiffany. ALC top, $392, T Alexander Wang jeans, $385 at Holt Renfrew. Gemstone rug $790 available through www.madedesign.goodsie.com.

HARD CANDY When Maison Birks introduced its Rock & Pearl line last year, they chose to feature emerging Canadian performer Kiesza as the face of the launch. The 27-year-old’s dynamic presence matched the collection’s novel mix of pearls and sterling silver, and the hashtag #RefineYourEdge spoke to the Montreal house’s intent to capture a new, younger customer. Clockwise from top left: Rock & Pearl ring, $250 at Maison Birks (www.maisonbirks.com). Paloma Picasso Sugar Stacks earrings, $4,900 at Tiffany. Rock & Pearl necklace, $450 at Maison Birks. Tiffany T Wire rings, $2,150 each at Tiffany. ALC top, $392, T Alexander Wang jeans, $385 at Holt Renfrew. Gemstone rug $790 available through www.madedesign.goodsie.com.

In July, Tiffany & Co. became the first luxury brand to launch a Snapchat filter. It was part of its #lovenotlike campaign – a play on the ubiquity of Facebook and Instagram "likes" – and features smiling subjects, including the pastel-pink-haired model Fernanda Ly; it was a big departure for the 179-year-old brand. "These campaigns bring new life and perspective to all Tiffany collections, allowing for more purchasing opportunities with millennial consumers," says Wendy Eagan, group vice president of Tiffany & Co. Canada.

At nearly 170 years old, French jewellery house Cartier is enjoying surprising popularity among young women. A study conducted by Goldman Sachs and Teen Vogue last year found that Cartier was the 19th most beloved brand of women between the ages of 13 and 29, due in no small part to Kylie Jenner's Instagram posts of her wrist encased in an estimated $40,000 worth of the maison's Love bracelets, reason to resurrect the #armparty hashtag if there ever was one.

SAY MY NAME Reimagining the bold designs of the late 1980s and early 90s, labels like Gucci are openly embracing the monogram by incorporating their logos into clothing and accessories. The Icon collection features the familiar interlocking “G” motif, playfully updated with a softer font. Clockwise from left: Icon bracelets, $2,510 each at Gucci (www.gucci.com). Paloma Picasso Sugar Stacks ring, $1,950 at Tiffany (www.tiffany.ca). Sophie Bille Brahe Double de Perle ring, $1,540 at Archives (www.archivesltd.com). Vince shirt, $475, Derek Lam 10 Crosby pants, $455 at Holt Renfrew (www.holtrenfrew.com).

SAY MY NAME Reimagining the bold designs of the late 1980s and early 90s, labels like Gucci are openly embracing the monogram by incorporating their logos into clothing and accessories. The Icon collection features the familiar interlocking “G” motif, playfully updated with a softer font. Clockwise from left: Icon bracelets, $2,510 each at Gucci (www.gucci.com). Paloma Picasso Sugar Stacks ring, $1,950 at Tiffany (www.tiffany.ca). Sophie Bille Brahe Double de Perle ring, $1,540 at Archives (www.archivesltd.com). Vince shirt, $475, Derek Lam 10 Crosby pants, $455 at Holt Renfrew (www.holtrenfrew.com).

In store, many brands are reinventing the rather formal ritual of jewellery shopping. Birks is renovating its 30 locations across Canada, doing away with the dark wood and imposing counters for a brighter environment and more interactive experience. "It was a very luxurious setting but very intimidating for a younger customer," explains Hartling, pointing to Apple stores as the brand's main source of inspiration.

After two-and-a-half years of renovations, Cartier celebrated the reopening of its New York flagship in September with a soirée attended by Rooney Mara, Sienna Miller and Sofia Coppola. While the 44,000 square-foot, Thierry Despont-designed interior is meant to feel like an early-20th-century home, it has all the bells and whistles of a 21st-century store including an online appointment booking system, complimentary WiFi and tablet-equipped salespeople.

CUFF LOVE A quirky earring by Sophie Bille Brahe puts a spin on your typical strand of pearls. Sophie Bille Brahe Trois Lune mono earring, $2,107 at Archives. Salt & Pepper pinch pots by Jennifer Graham, $20 for set of two through www.madedesign.goodsie.com.

CUFF LOVE A quirky earring by Sophie Bille Brahe puts a spin on your typical strand of pearls. Sophie Bille Brahe Trois Lune mono earring, $2,107 at Archives. Salt & Pepper pinch pots by Jennifer Graham, $20 for set of two through www.madedesign.goodsie.com.

Despite all this boutique activity, a recent RBC Capital Markets survey of around 500 millennials found that they prefer department stores and shopping online to branded shops. To that end, Chanel opened a fine-jewellery-focused pop-up space at New York's Bergdorf Goodman in September. The Jewel Box, as the room was called, existed for only five days and was set up like a chic private apartment. Visitors were encouraged to play with the pieces rather than viewing them behind glass from a distance.

Brands are also zeroing in on the middle-of-the-market segment between costume pieces and precious jewels. In October, luxury fashion e-commerce pioneer Net-a-Porter expanded its jewellery offerings to include a new category it calls "demi-fine," which focuses on everyday and more affordable pieces rendered in luxury metals and stones. "The demi-fine category taps into a market that has not yet been explored by our competition, so it gives our customer a unique and new offering," says Lisa Aiken, fashion director at Net-A-Porter, adding that she's seen an increase in women investing in jewellery for themselves. "We wanted to develop a category that instantly elevated our selection at an affordable price point without compromising on precious materials or design."

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BLUSH JOB Tiffany’s charming key-shaped bangle shines in rose gold, a favoured material of the millennial set. Tiffany Keys Wire bracelet, $1,750 at Tiffany. Your Pal Al pink concrete ring cone, $15 through www.yourpalalcreative.com.

BLUSH JOB Tiffany’s charming key-shaped bangle shines in rose gold, a favoured material of the millennial set. Tiffany Keys Wire bracelet, $1,750 at Tiffany. Your Pal Al pink concrete ring cone, $15 through www.yourpalalcreative.com.

One of the brands listed on Net's demi-fine page is Wwake, a New York-based label founded by Vancouverite Wing Yau in 2012. A typical jack-of-all-trades millennial herself, the 29-year-old is a trained sculptor who fell into fine jewellery design while working as a barista at JJ Bean. The star stone of Yau's delicate line is the opal, which she offsets with smaller accent diamonds, subverting the expectation that gems with the most cachet get top billing. Prices for her Net-a-Porter selection land between $180 and $1,355 (U.S.).

"We want to bring space around each stone so that there's an etherealness and airiness to it that feels fresh for our age group," says Yau. "I try to balance traditional materials and having the stones feel precious enough while also having the design feel like it's a break from your mother's or grandmother's pieces. That's where I rely on my intuition to see what feels right."

THREE’S COMPANY Brooklyn-based brand Wwake’s ring showcases a delicate cluster of moonstone, sapphire and white diamond. Wwake Three-step ballon ring, $830 at 6 by Gee Beauty (www.6bygeebeauty.com).

THREE’S COMPANY Brooklyn-based brand Wwake’s ring showcases a delicate cluster of moonstone, sapphire and white diamond. Wwake Three-step ballon ring, $830 at 6 by Gee Beauty (www.6bygeebeauty.com).

Sophie Bille Brahe takes a similarly instinctual approach to her namesake line. "Working with gold, the way it moves when you heat it up, the way the colour changes from hot to cold, the diamonds – for me, it's magic," says the 36-year-old Danish jewellery designer. Inspired by the birth of her son, Brahe's unconventional 2014 La Pyramide des Perles collection focused on pearls at a time when she says only traditional jewellery designers were working with them. "I read a lot about pearls, how they're linked to the tides and to the moon, how Aphrodite was born out of a shell, stories about Cleopatra crushing and drinking them before she went to a battle with the Roman Empire. And then I created a universe around them." It's this personal storytelling that resonates with women like Albertson, who has layered a silver eternity ring atop her wedding set.

Amber Joliat, an entrepreneur behind Toronto's yoga, pilates and dance-based Misfit Studio, has a similar affinity for pieces that forge a connection beyond their bling factor. Joliat became engaged to her boyfriend Nik Timar this past October while the two were vacationing in Bali. Custom-made by Toronto jeweller Elana Ginsberg of K & Co. Bespoke, her engagement ring is a band of 30 black and white diamonds, which together represent the full lunar cycle. "Nik knows how attuned to the moon I am," she says. "I reflect on this cosmic connection daily and use its powerful pull as inspiration."

PATTERN PLAY For its new Coco Crush collection, which launched this fall, Chanel married its iconic quilting motif with 18k gold and white gold. Some styles were slimmed down to make stackable pieces, giving customers the option to load on luxury without an overly ostentatious effect. Clockwise from left: Coco Crush rings, $2,850 each at Chanel (www.chanel.com). Stax single-row faceted bracelet, from $5,500 at David Yurman (www.davidyurman.com). Amulette de Cartier ring, $9,450 at Cartier. Wwake Four-step ring, $765, large Four-step ring, $855 at 6 By Gee Beauty. See by Chloe sweater, $340 at Holt Renfrew.

PATTERN PLAY For its new Coco Crush collection, which launched this fall, Chanel married its iconic quilting motif with 18k gold and white gold. Some styles were slimmed down to make stackable pieces, giving customers the option to load on luxury without an overly ostentatious effect. Clockwise from left: Coco Crush rings, $2,850 each at Chanel (www.chanel.com). Stax single-row faceted bracelet, from $5,500 at David Yurman (www.davidyurman.com). Amulette de Cartier ring, $9,450 at Cartier. Wwake Four-step ring, $765, large Four-step ring, $855 at 6 By Gee Beauty. See by Chloe sweater, $340 at Holt Renfrew.

While this kind of esoteric thinking may not be something every jeweller's marketing or design department can entirely comprehend, it suggests that the aspirations of the millennial jewellery consumer match up with previous generations' priorities. Preferences may have shifted from conveying a more traditional idea of holy matrimony to moon cycles and even Monopoly, but women still want to showcase their unique passions through a little sparkle and shine.


Styling by Odessa Paloma Parker. Hair and makeup by Wendy Rorong/Plutino Group.

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