Face value: jewellery designers cheer demand for smileys
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The smiley face is a simple design: a circle with two oval eyes and a wide upturned mouth. And, this year, it has turned 50 — an anniversary marked by an Assouline book, Smiley: 50 Years of Good News by Liam Aldous, charting its evolution. It has put a smile on the face of jewellers, too — as reinterpreting this symbol of happiness, first used in a French newspaper to highlight good news, is proving a valuable driver of business.
“Everyone wants something that’s joyful and positive,” says Hollie Harding, a buying manager at multi-brand boutique Browns, which had a waiting list for a yellow enamel charm by Lauren Rubinski earlier this summer.
Coming out of Covid lockdowns, “people are feeling a lot more experimental, a lot more creative; they want that conversation piece as well, as they are seeing more people”, explains Harding. So, “something with a smiley face on it is definitely interesting compared to a plainer item — and it’s just that talking point”, she says.
London jewellery designer Roxanne First has seen sales of her 15 diamond and sapphire smiley face pieces increase by 25 per cent in the past six months and contribute 10 per cent to her 2021 revenue. First has used smiley face jewellery in her collections since her 2018 debut.
Annoushka Ducas, another London-based jewellery designer, says her first two smiley face necklaces, introduced this year, are selling quicker than expected — about 30 have sold in the first two months. “Usually, in fine jewellery, things take a little bit of time for people to get to know as it is quite a considered purchase,” says Ducas. Six months is her usual sales timescale.
Some jewellers even say they owe their business to smiley face designs. Alison Chemla, founder of New York-based Alison Lou, started her jewellery brand with seven types of smiley, from diamond eyes to wearing sunglasses — despite her parents who “thought I was crazy”, she says. At the time, as a hardcore BlackBerry and BBM messaging service user, she foresaw emojis as “the new way of communicating” and chose this direction for her jewellery, she says.
Smiley faces are “what I became known for and allowed me to create other collections”, says Chemla, who will celebrate 10 years in business in November. She adds that the smiley face “allowed me to get my name out there”.
Creating smiley face pieces can be a way for jewellers to broaden their clientele. For example, Ducas’s two necklaces were designed for a younger audience. One is a cheeky double-sided piece: it has a yellow sapphire face and black diamond eyes and mouth on one side; and an engraved gold smiley face on the other, poking its tongue out.
London-based jewellery designer Rosa de la Cruz says her floating 18-carat yellow gold and diamond smiley face pieces have won her clients who “are more cutting edge and cool” than her usual society mums. She cites Adwoa Aboah, model and founder of mental health non-profit organisation, Gurls Talk, as a smiley face ring buyer.
Now, de la Cruz’s smile pieces make up 15 per cent of her business, “which is a lot for one category; we do have a lot of [other types of] pieces,” she adds.
Chemla believes her smiley face pieces “opened the pathway to all of my retailers” — citing as an example MatchesFashion, which still stocks these designs. The pearl Don’t Worry necklace features an enamelled smiley face bead with yellow gold accents and round diamond eyes.
But turning the smiley face into jewellery can be more creatively demanding than working with other icons. For Chemla, designing using a peace sign or a yin yang is “pretty straightforward” and more about what kind of materials she wants to use.
However, when it came to smiley faces, “a plain old smiley face was [already] out there” — so Chemla had to make sure “the way that I did them was completely different from anyone else”. She introduced “rolling on the floor laughing” emoji faces and gems such as rubies or birthstones in the design.
First has extended the smiley face into the fabric of her business, using the symbol on her ecommerce website for customer logins as, she says “it is more interesting using a smiley face than it is a dot or square”. Similarly, she has it on her packaging and the invoice sleeve inside, so customers “feel a bit better about spending money”, she says.
There is a potential downside to including smiley faces for jewellers, if they “go too, kind of, childish”, says Natalia Cassel, founder of marketing and communications company, Cassel Consultancy. This could be “lowering the [brand] value in some way”, she says. “It’s about clearly defining categories . . . [which] are presented in different ways for different occasions, like a diffusion line in fashion.”. Cassel wears a £1,000 gold Tara Agace gold smiley face medallion as it “makes me feel more youthful and people always comment on it”.
As to the smiley face’s future in jewellery, she says: “With the advent of virtual reality and the metaverse, who knows what form it might take on?”