Borrowed diamonds are a girl’s best friend
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Monika Wojtal’s jewellery collection began with an aquamarine ring, an heirloom from her grandmother, who lived between postwar Paris and Warsaw and instilled in Wojtal a deep appreciation for classic jewels. To her, the ring was indicative of opulence, luxury and splendour; to wear it was to discover “the power of accessories”.
Today, Wojtal presides over a growing vault of more than 500 vintage gems – many of them one of a kind – whose opulence she is sharing through her rental platform, 4element. The average item in her collection is worth £1,000; Wojtal loans each piece from around £30 for four days. “Great fashion belongs to all,” says the former journalist, who began lending her collection to friends before the idea snowballed into a business in 2019. “I just want people to enjoy jewellery.”
Wojtal’s most popular items include Dior chandelier earrings, an early 2000s Miu Miu choker and clip-on Chanel pearls. Most recently she’s launched a drop of Balenciaga pieces, including a colossal crystal necklace with teardrop-shaped gems. “Vintage jewellery lovers are very adventurous,” says Wojtal.
The success of 4element – which has seen revenues increase by 560 per cent year on year – reflects a change in consumers’ willingness to rent luxury goods. According to market researchers Altiant, just under a quarter of high-net-worth individuals in the US (compared to 31 per cent in China and 19 per cent in the UK) are now interested in renting jewellery and watches. While it hasn’t yet reached the heights of the resale market – which is predicted to double to $77bn by 2025 – the rental apparel market is flourishing; it’s currently valued at $5.87bn and is expected to expand by more than a quarter by 2026.
Vintage jewellery dealer Susan Caplan has also honed in on rental. In 2021, she began stocking her wares on fashion rental site HURR; revenue has increased 30 per cent year on year. Her items start at £22 for four days, with the most expensive piece, a Chanel logo necklace worth £2,500, available for £207. Like Wojtal, Caplan wants to make vintage jewellery accessible to everyone. “We realised rental was a good option for people who couldn’t afford the luxury,” she says.
But what about those who can? If, as Euromonitor reports, the global fine jewellery sector is currently worth $251bn (and projected to increase a further 8.6 per cent this year), why choose to rent instead of investing in a growing market? For Cynthia Morrow, founder of shared-ownership jewellery service Covett, renting is simply an alternative means of distributing capital. “If you’re not going to wear it every day, why would you buy it?” she retorts. “You could take that money and invest it in stocks or go on a vacation – versus spending £12,000 and letting it sit in the safe.”
Morrow, whose small but growing selection of vintage jewellery includes a £14,750 Charles Krypell diamond and sapphire bracelet, allows clients to split ownership of the pieces five ways. Covett retains the fifth share to cover insurance, and the remaining four owners can borrow the product for at least five days a month. What’s more, she says, is that should a piece of jewellery appreciate in value, clients can reap that percentage increase if and when they decide to sell their share.
Similar incentive is given by New York-based subscription service Vivrelle, where clients can apply a portion of their monthly membership fee (from $39), plus a member’s discount, to purchase pieces they’ve grown attached to. Meanwhile, Switch, another US subscription site, offers members a credit each month that they can put towards buying a product at a reduced price. “They value the opportunity to try something out before committing,” says co-founder Adriel Darvish. Both platforms stock a number of vintage pieces, from Chanel 31 Rue Cambon medallions to Cartier Love bracelets.
Practically speaking, jewellery is a fairly easy commodity to rent. There’s no issue of storage or size tags, and wear and tear is generally minimal – especially if the pieces are vintage.
London jeweller Susannah Lovis says the joy of the vintage tiaras, rings and brooches she rents out is in their craftsmanship. “Diamonds these days are cut with lasers to perfect proportions,” she adds, “whereas in the old days, pieces were hand-cut specifically to sparkle in candlelight.”
And sparkle they do – take a look at the vintage jewels flashed at this year’s Met Gala, including Maude Apatow’s Cartier brooch, Paloma Elsesser’s Galliano pearl choker and the À La Vieille Russie set worn by Kate Moss. “It’s about preserving history,” concludes Wojtal, whose collection includes pieces first seen on 1980s Vogue covers. Think of it as a way to travel through time, she says. Just remember to return your treasure in the morning.