LONDON – disturber, fixation, opportunity. The pandemic was all of that and more for jewelry fans and designers.
Just ask Sabine Roemer.
The German-born designer has two brands: the high jewelry line that bears her name (one-offs priced at £ 10,000 or around $ 14,095) and Atelier Romy, which has trendy pieces like stackable chain necklaces and ear-party studs Sold online for £ 50 to £ 500.
And now with England easing restrictions, both lines are evolving into direct-to-consumer businesses – more closely tied to their own identities as artisans.
“The workmanship is absolutely evident in everything Sabine does,” said Marisa Drew, a senior investment banker in London who has jewelry from both brands from Ms. Roemer. “There is always personality in her pieces, and she really approaches her designs with a story in mind.”
Ms. Drew said she likes Ms. Roemer’s convertible designs and her attention to detail, traits that resonate with Sarah Giovanna, a director of a private equity firm in London.
“She sits down with you and really creates something that suits you. For me, it’s all about flexibility, ”said Ms. Giovanna, who also carries both lines. “I work in a high-intensity environment and deal with large companies. I want pieces that I can dress up and down. Both brands deliver that. “
However, last year’s lockdown was “a moment of pause,” Ms. Roemer said, especially for Atelier Romy, which was only three years old when the pandemic broke out.
“I was forced to look at every single aspect of the business and not just trust others,” said the 41-year-old designer, admitting that she had focused on creation and clients. Suddenly, she couldn’t just help clients come up with tall jewelry like a pair of diamond and pearl earrings with 17-carat citrines or work on a philanthropic collaboration like the jeweled reproduction of a postage stamp she made for the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust was created in 2017 to celebrate the Queen’s 65th anniversary on the British throne.
In March 2020, Ms. Roemer canceled her freight forwarder. She wasn’t entirely satisfied with the service and decided that it should be done in-house. “I packed, I shipped, and tied the ribbon around each box,” she said. “I had to learn everything – my accountant joked that it was like McDonald’s where you start in the kitchen and work your way up.” (A handwritten card is now included with every order.)
Ms. Roemer and her team also focused on Atelier Romy’s social media presence, creating stronger digital content and graphics that highlighted Ms. Roemer as the maker behind the jewels. She wouldn’t share sales numbers, but Ms. Roemer said buyers must have liked the changes as sales quintupled.
It’s the kind of online marketing that’s going to stay here, said Juliet Hutton-Squire, director of global strategy at Adorn, a jewelry market intelligence company.
When consumers couldn’t spend on travel, they spent more on luxury goods and capital goods. Fashion brands were well positioned to generate these revenues thanks to their early investments in digital media. “Brands with online presence or shop-able content on social media were even further ahead of the curve when cell phones became our way of shopping,” said Dr. Hutton-Squire explained. “It will just go on like this. We will not return from it. “
In many ways, Ms. Roemer’s early career, which began as a 15-year-old goldsmith apprentice in Germany, has now led to her role as a businesswoman and jeweler.
Making jewelry, she said, is not just about “tools, craft and creation” as she once imagined. “You quickly realized that you also have to be good at physics and mathematics, chemistry and chemistry. Fortunately, those were my favorite subjects at school. “
Atelier Romy trained her math brain even more. “I love data,” she said. “I find it fascinating to sit in lockdown at home and just look at data and who comes into the virtual shop.”
After graduating from Pforzheim Goldsmith and Watchmaking School in Germany, Ms. Roemer joined Stephen Webster, a London designer whom she admired as “a craftsman and not just a designer”.
Further work for other houses on Bond Street followed, as well as orders from private customers – the early 2000s became a golden era for Ms. Roemer’s high jewelry career. Her philanthropic work has also been recognized, particularly some custom-made items she made in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, such as a gold, diamond and emerald bangle with the South African President’s prison number on it. Morgan Freeman wore the piece at the 2010 Oscars as a nominee for Best Actor for “Invictus”.
Ms. Roemer said the experience showed her how jewelry can be a form of storytelling. “The easy thing was to put in a bling diamond piece that grabbed attention, but I wanted to put Mandela’s story on the red carpet,” she said. “In the end, jewelry is emotional – you wear it on your skin every day. I don’t carry my grandmother’s purse every day, but I do wear her ring. It is very close to me and it really carries this emotional value. “
In the same year, her first high jewelry collection debuted at Harrods.
Atelier Romy – a name inspired by the birth of Ms. Roemer’s first daughter Romy – was developed as an affordable ready-to-wear line that can be sold exclusively online. “I wanted to portray something different,” she recalled. “Something with very bold designs, but still modern and timeless” – German for timeless – “depending on how you would superimpose it and make it your own.”
Soul and purpose
Valery Demure, the London-based brand consultant who represents several independent jewelers (but not Ms. Roemer) said, “Sabine interests me because she doesn’t come from a jewelry family. All she learned was through hard work and the fact that she has all of these skills. She is a woman with a real soul and purpose. “
That sense is becoming more and more relevant in a post-pandemic world. Ms. Hutton-Squire said the pandemic’s “forced pause button” highlighted the importance of sustainability and the environment, and prompted jewelers to trade more authentically online. For example, whether this was a playlist for meditation or sharing home recipes, “It wasn’t just about selling, selling, selling,” she said. “That really separated the authentic bands from the less authentic ones.”
This also explains the growing demand for handicrafts – something Ms. Roemer said she experienced prepandemic among some of the female customers of her high jewelry line. “They have a completely different attitude: to ask who did it and what it is. It’s less about the stone, how big it is and how big it is, ”said Ms. Roemer. “They only want to express themselves and their personality through jewelry.”
She brought the feeling online. Atelier Romy now has weekly drops of videos and footage of Ms. Roemer at the workbench cutting, soldering and shaping metal, always among her most popular posts. “Few people really know how jewelry is still made,” she said. “It was nice to bring people into the workshop and show them the process.”
In March, Ms. Roemer introduced Cornerstones, her first jewelry collection in more than 10 years. The extra time in Lockdown was a creative blessing, she said (“I always found the best pieces in the shop when you don’t have a plan”) and the nine pairs of earrings collection was a travel muse with multifunctional pieces like sea-inspired blue topaz, aquamarine, and diamond transformable earrings that Ms. Drew bought.
Ms. Roemer hopes to resume meeting customers from both brands who, thanks to the pandemic, feel more complementary than ever. “It’s like having two babies – you can’t choose a favorite baby, they are equally important,” she said. “But also completely different.”