At this point, we’re used to buying certain items that have been taken under the wing of fat-trimming start-ups who’ve been making it their business model to push out the middleman and offer a better, yet cheaper, product. Warby Parker, of course, is the ultimate household name in the category. But while designer-like glasses for less than $100 are the new normal, fine jewelry is usually still the provenance of an opaque, expensive production process. We talked to Joanne Ooi, the founder of the online-only, made-to-order jewelry site Plukka, about how she does it and where the jewelry industry’s going next.
The High Low: Tell us about your business model. Middleman-free, online-based (and thus less expensive) fine jewelry isn’t the norm. Do people realize they’re being offered exceptional prices?
Joanne Ooi: Visitors to Plukka who know jewelry immediately perceive that our pricing is amazing. However, that doesn’t hold for the average customer. That’s why we explain our business model in a video, to educate the would-be consumer about how we’ve cut out the fat in the usual retail pricing. On the other hand, we decided not to fill the site with messages about pricing and discounting because, at the end, shopping at Plukka is about gorgeous, extremely creative jewelry.
THL: Can you give us an example of a specific piece or two from the site, and what it would cost elsewhere?
JO: This ten carat “Eclipse” smoky quartz, diamond, and 18K gold ring is the featured item in this week’s flash sale and is currently priced at around $500. I say “currently” because, during one of our five-day flash sales, the price drops as more people buy the item. When the flash sale ends, all customers will be charged the same price for the ring based on how many people have bought it. [Editor's note: everyone bought it and it sold out.] Usually, this ring would cost at least $1,700! Another example is our best-selling “Angel” diamond band, priced at $425 on our site. Usually, it would be at least $1,200 elsewhere. I chose two relatively unfussy styles to illustrate our prices, but this exists across the board on our site, whatever the style or materials of the item. Our prices run a giant gamut from $225 to $40,000.
THL: How do you choose what becomes a part of the PVP (flash sale) program? How do you promote that?
JO: I’ve experimented with putting a lot of different types of products on reverse auction flash sale through our patented Plukka Value Proposition (PVP) platform. Some of these sales fared poorly, e.g., skin jewelry rings, while others were blow-outs, e.g., large, versatile gemstone rings! This reverse auction sliding scale program is only 6 months old and we only put one item on flash sale per week, so we’re STILL experimenting. We promote these sales through social media and even allow people to vote on what we should put on sale. Have you ever heard of customers voting on what they’d like to see on sale?! Well, we can do that because we manufacture the item to order and, thereby, can derive economies of scale by making these items in batches. The public voting makes light of how innovative this PVP model is.
THL: Many of the designers with whom you partner are under-the-radar talents. How do you find them? How, for example, did you meet and collaborate with your latest partner, James & Daughter?
JO: I’ve been in the design and luxury industry for a long time. The designer of James & Daughter, Agatha Simanjuntak-Ellis, was recommended to me by a friend who writes about luxury, art, jewelry and design. How we signed up Agatha is pretty typical of how we “find” designers. It’s a combination of my or my team’s rolodex, serendipity, and total conviction in the designer’s creative talent. Nothing can substitute for the last element when signing up a designer. I know when a designer possesses world-beating talent — or not — from having been involved in product development and creative entrepreneurship for more than 20 years. I’m not afraid to sign up someone who’s completely unknown, because their talent will easily speak for itself.
THL: Who is the typical Plukka customer?
JO: Seriously, there really isn’t one! The one attribute among our customers is that they’re crazy about the creativity of our product selection, meaning they’re highly individualistic people who love iconic, statements of personal style. Besides that, we get everyone, from the creativity-loving jewelry aficionado who’s quite price-insensitive to customers who are flash sales addicts.
THL: The site has been recognized for its progressive business model within the industry. Where do you see the fine jewelry industry heading in the next few years?
JO: They’re definitely going in our direction. Moreover, I believe that, increasingly, retail stores will be replaced by showrooms, transacting on Web sites through a model like ours. Inventory has killed a lot of jewelry companies. As manufacturing processes quicken, just-in-time will become more prevalent. But, as with many categories of e-commerce and technology, middlemen and traditional distribution models will become increasingly irrelevant.
THL: Anything on the horizon we should know more about?
JO: We have a lot of phenomenal designer collections launching this fall, including jewelry in steel and diamonds, the design of which has been possible only through 3D printing, so definitely keep an eye out on our designer section or subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss out.
THL: How much more do you see 3D printing playing a part in your business going forward? How do you imagine it influencing the jewelry industry overall?
JO: We’re launching a designer this fall whose design molds were three-dimensionally printed and he is literally considered THE cutting edge of 3D printing technology in the fine jewelry industry. I would term his aesthetic “Mad Max Architectural.” Moreover, because Plukka is very much a discovery machine for what’s most exciting in fine jewelry design today, I encourage designers to design in unorthodox materials, such as, in this case, diamonds and steel. So, yes, I see 3D printing as freeing jewelry design from traditional constraints because of its capacity to produce intricate three dimensional modeling from the inside out.