This jewelry is made of precious materials, but doesn't cost a fortune or need to be saved for a special occasion.
On a typical weekend afternoon at Catbird, a cozy boutique in Brooklyn, the store is filled with young women browsing through a selection of delicate jewelry.
Especially popular: 14-carat gold rings, fashioned from thin stretches of hammered metal, chain links or tiny connected balls. Although made from precious metal, each ring retails for much less than $100.
Catbird isn’t alone these days in creating fine jewelry that carries a comparatively low price and easy-to-wear sensibility. A growing number of companies are catering to customers who are looking for accessories that are fashionable, affordable enough to buy on impulse and more long-lasting than, say, a large costume cuff or bold faux necklace.
British lines Astley Clarke and Monica Vinader are standouts, as is Alison Lou, a New York City-based label that sells chains with yellow-gold pendants shaped like expressive emoticons for less than $600.
“I didn’t want to have a brand where you design just for special occasions or just for people who can spend a lot of money,” says Vinader. “My aesthetic is very much about pieces that can be worn by every woman, every day.”
UPPING THE DESIGN
Jewelers like Vinader are offering the antithesis of a traditional purchase such as an engagement ring, a pricey investment reserved for a special occasion and typically paid for by a man.
“Years ago, jewelry was the domain of men shopping for women, whereas now it’s the reverse,” says Eleanor Robinson, the head of accessories at Selfridges, a U.K. department store. “Women are really shopping for themselves in all price brackets, but especially in this accessible price range.”
In the U.S., sales of fine jewelry retailing at less than $600 rose 4 percent last year, according to the NPD Group, which tracks the American retail market.
Fashion and wearability are focal points of these jewelry lines. “If women are buying jewelry for themselves, there are slightly different rules that have to be obeyed,” says Bec Astley Clarke, the founder of Astley Clarke. “The primary thing that most men are looking for is, ‘How many carats is this diamond?’ Whereas, if you’re buying something for yourself, you’re like, ‘Is this going to look great on Saturday night?’ The primary thing is design.”
CUTTING THE WEIGHT
A gradual fashion trend toward less-bold jewelry has also helped fuel interest in more-affordably priced precious pieces, which tend to be dainty.
“It used to be all about statement necklaces, or more recently, statement earrings,” Robinson says. “There is a real movement toward more-delicate items that you might wear every single day. Because of the size and nature of them, they can be made of gold and still be quite an affordable price.”
Prices of this type of jewelry are kept lower in several additional ways. Monica Vinader and Astley Clarke work in gold plate, as does True Rocks, a British brand that creates sassy pendants with dangling safety pins, razor blades and screws.
A large majority of Catbird’s jewelry is made in its Brooklyn studio, with margins and inventory kept to a minimum.
Catbird’s founder, Rony Vardi, says: “Beauty aside, there’s an intrinsic value to gold, so you know what you’re buying is not just a piece of garbage that is going to turn a different color and you can just throw away. There’s a movement generally toward quality. I don’t know if people are willing to pay more for that, but in our case, you don’t have to.”