Personalised charm and bead bracelets have revolutionised the jewellery buying habits of Australian women.
 
Australian women’s love affair with bead and charm jewellery is a bodacious phenomenon. While it’s true that charms have always generated a steady flow of business for local jewellery store owners it is only in recent years that bead/charm sales have made up such a large proportion of our industry’s profits.
 
The sales of beads/charms and their “carriers” (bracelets, necklets, etc) are so significant that many stores claim they now account for more than 30 percent of their takings while some go further and say they have quite literally “saved” their businesses.
 
Five years ago this would have been unimaginable but today it is common knowledge in the industry where charms/beads are welcomed by most, reluctantly accepted by some and reviled by others who dismiss them as “trinkets” or “not real jewellery”.
 
Whether Australian women’s obsession with beads/charms will last is unknown however the proliferation of bead/charm suppliers on the local market means that any retailer wanting to stock them can find a product to suit their customers’ needs at an appropriate price point.
 
Pandora, Lovelinks, Silverado, Chamilia, Tedora, Surreal, Trollbeads, Biagi and Thomas Sabo are just some of the brands now synonymous with quality bead/charm jewellery on the local market – and there are even more “brands” at the lower end of the market.
 
Pandora, of course, is the company that is credited with creating the unprecedented demand for beaded bracelets in Australia and therefore has probably rightly snared the largest share of the market.
 
In fact the brand’s highly effective marketing strategy has ensured that many consumers consider “Pandora” a generic term for beaded bracelets and consider many of the other brands as mere “imitations”.
 
According to Jeff Burnes, the company’s head of marketing and communications, the key factor behind the popularity of the Pandora range is “personalisation”.
 
“Being able to individualise jewellery is an attractive idea and collecting beads to remember special moments in life also appeals to many women,” he says.
 
“The concept remains intriguing because everyone has a different take on designing a bracelet as the number of looks you can create even with one bracelet and one collection of beads is endless.”
 
“Women love looking at how friends and sometimes complete strangers put their bracelets together and they borrow ideas and combinations from one another.
 
“The bracelet also provides the perfect solution for gift giving. We hear of so many people receiving a bracelet and a few beads for a special occasion and before they know it, the bracelet is full of precious gifts from their friends and loved ones.”
 
Burnes says the company, which boasts a collection of more than 700 handcrafted solid 14 carat gold and sterling silver beads that is updated twice yearly, is confident that the brand will continue to grow in the year ahead.
 
“All sales forecasts have been exceeded and we’re forecasting that our growth this year will be as strong as it has been every year so far.”
 
The company, which launched in Australia in 2004 after managing director Karin Adcock “knocked on the doors of around 150 jewellery stores” before finding a business willing to stock the brand, is not alarmed by the proliferation of bead/charms now available on the local market.
 
“We are pleased to see the strong awareness we have in the market,” explains Burnes.
 
“If someone does choose to wear a non-Pandora bead on their bracelet, they are very aware it is not the real deal. We have seen again and again that ladies want to stick to the genuine brand.
 
The company further protects its brand loyalty with an “internal screw mechanism” on its bracelets that has been “designed and engineered, specifically to work with Pandora beads only”.
 
“We cannot guarantee that other brands used in conjunction with the Pandora bracelet will not damage the bracelet and as such this form of use will not be covered under the Pandora manufacturer’s warranty.”
  
Nonetheless despite Pandora’s domination of the local market other wholesalers have found their own niches proving that one size (style) doesn’t necessarily fit all.
 
For example B Luscious has been distributing SilveRado’s collection of more than 1700 sterling silver, 14 carat gold and Murano glass charm beads for women, children and men in Australia since the end of 2007.
 
 
Managing director Peter Burgess says the brand, which has been distributed in Europe for around six years, is now experiencing “phenomenal demand” in Australia.
 
“Branded charm/bead sales are going from strength to strength, and shows no signs of slowing down,” he says.
 
“They would be the most desirable item of jewellery on the market today worldwide.”
 
Burgess believes that many factors are currently driving bead/charm sales.
 
“Strong advertising and marketing by the brands has created a desire to own a fashionable piece of jewellery,” he says.
 
“(Buying a charms/beads is) affordable retail therapy that creates a personal and individual piece of jewellery that is a conversation piece all over the world.”
 
He expects to see an increase in sales for charms and charm bracelets in the next 12 months.
 
“They are an affordable product in high demand,” he says.
 
“There is still a large proportion of the Australian population that desires to own this type of jewellery but have not yet made the initial purchase of the bracelet or still have a huge wish list of charms that they wish to own.”
 
He says key trends include a strong move from “plain silver or two-toned bracelets” to more colour – and mix-n-matching different brands.
 
“The biggest change is that the majority of consumers are no longer restricting themselves to one brand, they tend to mix and match on the same bracelet or … to have different brand bracelets with the relevant branded charms on.”
 
“There are a small number of consumers that will stick to a particular brand, but the majority of consumers are now looking for a choice. The charm bracelet is marketed as personal, and an individual piece of jewellery.  We cannot expect that the consumer will stick with one brand for the bracelet and charms as one brand cannot cater for everyone’s desires and personal taste.   We believe strongly in the consumer having the choice, and do not limit our guarantee of our product if there is another brands charm on our bracelet or visa versa.”
 
Pastiche is another relative new arrival to the Australian charm/bead market.
 
 
The company has launched three ranges of “charm bead jewellery” on the market in the last 18 months – Lovelinks (sterling silver, gold, gold-plated and Murano glass beads), Petite (the same style of beads in a smaller size) and Mix n Match (solid sterling silver and gold-plated jewellery components that allow wearers to mix both Lovelinks and Petite beads together to create other complementary jewellery pieces like rings, earrings and necklaces).”
 
Pastiche marketing manager Ciara Ryan says the public’s response to all three collections “has been hugely positive with sales exceeding all our expectations”.
 
She says the jewellery is popular with “a huge variety of people in various age groups”.
 
“The desire for personal or sentimental charms seems to be the driving force behind buying trends,” she says. “While one charm may not mean much to a particular person, it may be really significant to another so in all honesty the entire range is popular for various reasons.”
 
She believes the gift giving appropriateness of the beads is another key to their popularity.
 
“The singular beads lend themselves to the gift-giving process as many motifs celebrate specific milestones or life changing moments like births, birthdays and marriages… Therefore instead of agonising over a ‘new’ idea at every turn, gift-givers are happy to add to a previous gift with the assurance that it will be appreciated by the wearer.”
 
Interestingly, Ryan also believes that the proliferation of beads on the market helps, rather than hinders, brand loyalty among consumers.
 
“With the increase of branded lines and feature pieces, we have noted an upward trend in sales wherever a branded bead is concerned. This suggests that wearers are proud to identify with a particular brand and collect pieces from a singular collection.”
 
She does anticipate some sales disruption due to the global financial situation but is confidant the market “trends will remain strong enough to evolve and continue onwards over the next 12 months”.
 
Chamilia, which launched its collection of more than 600 14 carat gold, sterling silver Murano glass and coloured stone beads on the market two years ago, is also experiencing positive sales with “significant growth” in the last 12 months.
 
Company spokesperson Paula Twine says charms are currently drawing people because of “their emotive nature and the affordability of individual components”.

She says that gift buying is also driving sales as the “gift of a bracelet often fosters a love of collecting charms generating further sales”.

Similarly Isaac Jewellery, which launched the Surreal jewellery collection of 300 handmade beads made from 9 and 18 carat yellow, rose or white gold and platinum decorated with diamonds, pearls and coloured stones last August, is selling well

 
Isaac Jewellery business development manager Annette Atakliyan says that although the brand is still new it has done very well with customers wanting and appreciating “beautiful handmade jewellery”.
 
She says the main customers are middle to older-aged women or young affluent women who can afford the product (a basic bracelet retails for around $1600 while beads start at $116).
 
She says the interchangeability of the beads make them a very attractive item for most women.
 
“If a woman sees a pair of Paspaley pearl earrings advertised in a window she may or not be interested them if they don’t suit her but a woman seeing a Surreal beaded bracelet in the window will definitely be able to find something to suit as there are so many charms to choose from.”
 
She says customers who can afford to purchase the Surreal bracelet don’t mix n match with cheaper beads although “customers who buy a cheaper bracelet may add Surreal beads to it”.
 
Princess Pearl has also just arrived on the local beaded bracelet supplier list with the Natures Charm collection of cultured freshwater pearls (natural coloured and dyed) and rhodium-plated sterling silver charms.
 
 
Company co-owner Dean Finch says that although the product has just been released “thousands have already been pre-sold”. 
 
He believes the pearl-based range will be successful in the crowded market as the pearl bracelets and bright rhodium plated silver charms “combine to create a totally different look to existing charm bracelet systems” and each bead/charm has a recommended retail price of just under $45.
 
“We felt that the consumer would love to see a quality freshwater pearl charm and to this end we have developed a complete range of both pearl and pearl with silver charms to fit most existing bracelet systems.”
 
He says the company’s initial intention was to drill the pearls and glue decorative sterling silver caps on each side however quickly discovered “this method had many flaws affecting the quality and performance of the product and therefore set about constructing a one-piece sterling silver insert to overcome these flaws”.
 
As well as the three naturally occurring colours of freshwater pearls (white and light and dark lavender), the Natures Charm range also includes seven popular colours which have been through an intense dyeing process to ensure consistency.
 
The company is so confident of the bead/charms success that it is already planning the release of more pearl and gemstone charms in time for spring and Christmas.
 
But despite the success of such personalised bead jewellery brands on the local market, beads are not the only “charms” appealing to today’s woman. The traditional dangling charm is also thriving better than ever.
 
For example, Philip Edwards, director of Duraflex Australia, has been importing Thomas Sabo charms since 2006.
 
 

Made in Germany, the “traditional charms” are available in over 500 “contemporary designs” made from sterling silver, coloured enamels and hand-set cubic zirconia.

 
Each is sold with a parrot clasp that can be easily attached to the brand’s bracelets, necklets and mobile phone “carriers”.
 
Edwards says Sabo Charm Club customers are extremely loyal to the brand.
 
“A customer walking into a jewellery stocking both Sabo and Pandora is a Sabo or Pandora buyer – they are rarely one and the same. The differences between the brands are very distinct so customers who want bead bracelets will choose Pandora while those who want charms will choose Sabo.”
 
However Edwards believes that like Pandora, Sabo’s success is largely related to the personalisation ability of the product.
 
“Every customer can find a charm they relate to,” he says.
 
He says he initially presumed the charms would appeal to younger customers but has since discovered that “there are no boundaries” to the age of women and girls buying the product.
 
He readily acknowledges that selling charms, like beads, is a labour intensive task for retailers as customers pore over the individual designs and “umm and aah between a pink shoe or pink handbag” but says the charms generate a lot of “repeat business”.
 
Edwards believes the Thomas Sabo brand will continue to grow in the next 12 months.
 
“We feel it’s going to get stronger and stronger as brand awareness increases,” he says.
 
“The affordability, collectability and feel good factors are the factors that drive, and will continue to drive, its success.” 
 
Similarly Clarke & Walton’s traditional sterling silver and 9, 14 and 18 carat gold charms are now selling as well as they did when they were first launched on the Australian market in the 1960s.
 
Managing director John Clarke says sales of the company’s 300 plus charms (made from casts from original handmade sterling silver moulds) have been doing particularly well in recent years.
 
“The charm market always goes up and down but recently it has definitely been on the top,” he explains.
 
“I think the recent increase in sales is probably riding on the back of advertising by Pandora and some of the other new bead/charm companies,” he says.
 
However he stresses he is not concerned about the arrival of so many competitors in the bead/charm market as “many customers still prefer an original charm on a jump ring.
 
“I think many people will end up saying ‘Everyone’s got a Pandora bracelet so I want a traditional charm bracelet’.”
 
As the wholesalers continue to fight for their marketshare bead by bead and charm by charm, the company that largely started it all is happy to share its predictions for the next 12 months.
 
Burnes says the biggest trend in the bead/charm market is the move away from bracelets to other carriers like necklaces and earrings.
 
 “The major trend that we have seen is that more women come into the Pandora stores to buy matching jewellery and they match earrings and necklaces with beads on their bracelets,” he reveals.
 
“We’ve also had strong interest in lariats and we see women ‘playing’ with combinations of beads that they either take from their existing bracelet or those they buy specially for the leather strap. They wear this as a bracelet or a necklace and it looks stunning both ways.”
 
Whatever way they’re wearing them, it looks like Australian women (and men and children) will be brandishing beads and charms for quite a while.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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