Are Virtual Try On Apps Permanently Redefining Jewellery Retail Space?

Are Virtual Try On Apps Permanently Redefining Jewellery Retail Space?

Last year in May, when Chaumet launched its Augmented Reality (AR) filter on Instagram and Snapchat, all social media was inundated with images of people trying on tiaras in conventional and sometimes not-so-conventional ways. Later, in summer, Bulgari’s virtual unveiling of its The Baroko High Jewellery collection came with an exclusive, invitation-only app for smart phones, which allowed users to virtually put on a jewel from the collection and save their image as a selfie. Almost half a year later, the buzz around virtual try-on jewellery apps is still strong.

AR virtual apps for jewellery are not a recent development. Back in 2010, Boucheron allowed jewellery buyers to virtually put on their jewellery pieces using an iPhone App. A year later, De Beers also entered the AR arena with its own app and a page on their website dedicated to trying on Forever Mark jewellery. Nevertheless, what was once a “frill” is fast becoming an integral part of jewellery purchases in our Covid world. With the world in Pandemic lockdown, virtual jewellery try on apps are actually serving an important function. By allowing jewellery buyers to “try before you buy” from the safety of their homes, they make for a seamless and hassle-free online retail experience.

Lately, I have been wondering about the impact of virtual reality apps on the fine and high jewellery industry, especially as viable marketing and sales tools. Also, I have been curious to understand if these apps are just a fad or are we witnessing a permanent shift in the way people buy jewellery. Since I don’t have these answers, I turned to a panel of experts from the jewellery industry, including jewellery specialists and jewellery insiders as well as jewellery designers to weigh in on this topic.

Impact on the jewellery industry especially as marketing and sales tools

Duvall O’Steen (@duvallosteen) is a jewellery and luxury brands public relations expert. Based in New York City, Duvall is a jewellery publicist, luxury communications strategist and a marketing and communications specialist. In addition, she regularly contributes to ‘Obsessed By Pearls,’ a blog by Assael and National Jeweler magazine.

When I put this question to her, Duvall noted that “AR tools like virtual try-on serve to strengthen consumer trust and comfort levels while the purchase decisions are being made. Such technology can also help to overcome online price barriers that precious jewelers might encounter. An added benefit is that these tools engage the customer and keeps them on an e-commerce or mobile shopping site longer.  The longer the customer engages with your products or your brand, the more they gain trust and confidence.  When coupled with great customer service and a no-hassle easy return policy, virtual try-on can increase sales, attract new customers and become a great marketing tool for your brand.” Her advise to anyone considering virtual try on apps in for jewellery was to “encourage your shoppers to share their try-on photos on social media with a particular hashtag as a grassroots or word-of-mouth marketing campaign.”

Susana Martins (@imsusanamartins), owner and founder of her eponymous brand, Susana Martins, has been designing and crafting beautiful fine jewellery since her initial training as a stone setter and her three-year apprenticeship as a goldsmith, in Portugal. The Dubai based jewellery designer creates jewellery featuring diamonds, precious gemstones and very delicate, coloured ceramic enamel work. Though her jewellery designs find their inspiration in the Art Deco style, she presents them in a fun, cosmopolitan and very contemporary way.

When I spoke with Susana about virtual try on apps in the world of fine jewellery, she felt that “it is the best communication medium of all time. Currently when Online Shopping has increased to a level never imagined before, we face the need for connecting the digital world with the real world. Augmented Reality opens up completely new opportunities for us to do just that. Augmented reality apps should be a part of every fashion brand’s business strategy. Not only does this technology offer a unique and exciting form of marketing but it also saves time, money, and energy for businesses while providing the consumer with an unparalleled experience.”

Helena Blanchett (@helena.gems) is a jewellery expert, a GIA Alumnus as well as a CPAA Pearl Specialist. She is based in Cannes and has a front -row seat to all the latest news in the high jewellery world. Helena writes about fine and high jewellery trends and promising, upcoming jewellery designers. When I contacted Helena about her thoughts on virtual try-on apps, she observed that “Virtual Try On apps are an interesting and innovative way of enlarging clients’ access to the Fine Jewellery universe. Nowadays, when part of our lives is happening in the virtual world (social media, ecommerce, Internet etc. ) it is a logical development and a way of reaching out to more clients than before. I don’t think it can replace ‘the real thing,’ meaning the live experience of trying and touching and sensing the jewel, but it can be a first step in acquisition of a jewellery piece. Very useful and playful at the same time.”

Gearry Suen (@gearrysuen_jewellery) is a jewellery designer, based in London, whose art jewellery pieces are as provocative as they are beautifully made. His jewellery brand Gearry Suen Art Jewellery is renowned for its distinctive marriage of traditional craftsmanship and highly innovative use of cutting edge, technology. A graduate of Central St. Martins, Gearry was the recipient of the prestigious Theo Fennell Gilded Youth Award at his graduation from the Royal College of Arts in 2020.

No stranger to AR and virtual technology, which are some of the tools he uses in the design and conception of his own jewellery pieces, Gearry’s take on these apps was very interesting. He remarked that “we are living in an increasingly digitalized environment. Because of lockdowns and the pandemic, the transition  to digital has accelerated tremendously. I believe the behavioural changes are here to stay, and the industry should adapt to them as much as possible. Thanks to the support of technology and social media, more and more  people are acquiring knowledge of jewellery. This is great  to see, as it grows the base of appreciation for the art. AI and technology are accelerating how commercial jewellery designs  interface with clients, but the same cannot be said for high and art jewellery. The highest echelons of jewellery  still require a lot of physical effort in designing the right customer experience. There is as of yet no digital product or service that satisfies this need. Digital media could save travel cost, however, for art  jewellery and high jewellery, the decision-making process still depends on the face to face meetings. It’s about trust and building  a connection, not trade or selling. The client needs to touch, feel, and  communicate with the brand and ultimately build an emotional  connection with the brand.”

Are these apps just a fad which will die out after we leave the Covid pandemic behind

“I believe they won’t go anywhere, this technology is here to stay,” Susana noted. “Enabling consumers to try on different styles and color combinations  in a virtual space in the comfort of their home, with no rush, its the ultimate customer experience. I must add here that there is also the added advantage of trying out all the virtual inventory at the Online Store, an experience that sometimes is not feasible or even possible at brick and mortar jewellery boutiques.”

Duvall felt that as ‘we live in a digital world, and consumer behaviors of all kinds are radically changing with the advent of newer and better forms of technology. In the same way that mobile checking has radically decreased the frequency of in-person visits to bank branches around the country, mobile shopping has and will continue to diminish frequency of shopping in retail brick and mortar stores. Because the pandemic made it necessary, as opposed to optional, consumers are now trusting online retail more than ever.” Nevertheless, she also argued that “people will want to shop in stores again after the pandemic,  but ecommerce and mobile shopping are here to stay, and so are the tools and apps that facilitate those online buying behaviors. As technology improves the AR and virtual try-ons apps, we will see them more and more in fashion, accessories and jewelry.”

“Some of the behavioural changes will stay, while others will disappear as we exit lockdowns,” explained Gearry. He further expanded by saying that in the long run the “scale which will tip slightly in favour of digitalization. Many of these apps will have found a base of loyal users, even when a significant part will revert to a physical purchasing experience. While the current environment has created a fertile base for experiments, only the best apps  and services will survive in the long run.”

So, it appears that AR virtual try on apps are here to stay. As technology evolves, we are bound to see more of them as an aide in the jewellery buying process. Certainly, their long term success will rely on how well they have been designed and their ease of use. Will they ever totally replace actually visiting a jewellery store and actually trying on a piece of jewellery? Probably not, but they will continue to be an important and increasingly mainstream option for both jewellery designer and buyers to utilize.

How do you feel about virtual jewellery try on app? Please do share in the comments below 🙂

Featured Image: Lady Rubellite Necklace, Bulgari The Baroko High Jewellery Collection

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