Sphearrings: From Concept to Market

One of the newest earring findings to hit the market is showing a little earlobe midriffand it could turn the way people perceive earring design inside out.
 Patented Sphearrings insert through the back of the car, leaving more of the lobe exposed. Think of the bare midriffs on a summer beach, and youll come close to the look offered by this new earring design.

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HomeLearning CenterJewelry DesignBehind the DesignSphearrings: From Concept to Market
By Tina Wojtkielo SnyderMore from this author

One of the newest earring findings to hit the market is showing a little earlobe midriffand it could turn the way people perceive earring design inside out.

Patented Sphearrings insert through the back of the car, leaving more of the lobe exposed. Think of the bare midriffs on a summer beach, and you'll come close to the look offered by this new earring design.

"When I go m the beach in the summer, I see more and more women in their 30s and 40s with belly jewelry," says Jessica Currier, findings product manager fu Stoller Inc. in Lafayette, Louisiana, one of the earring's distributors. "It's a fashion-forward, updated look that we can now offer for the ear."

The designer/inventor of Sphearrings, Lisa Bruno, admits her trademarked finding was influenced in part by the category of body jewelry. The executive director of Accessor-eyes I.LC in New York City, Bruno wanted an earring that was "sexy, fashionable, and versatile." What she came up with was a piece with two interchangeable components: a threaded wire with a decorative drop that hangs just below the earlobe and an ornament that screws onus the front of the ear. Both components offer numerous possibilitiesfrom precious and semi-precious stones to charms that dangle below the car to pearls, to name a few. "You can wear a simple gold ball for daytime and switch to a gemstone that coordinates with your cocktail dress for evening," says Bruno.

Yet the story of Sphearrings is about more than just bare midriffs and mix-and-match variations. It's also the story of targeting a market, overcoming design challenges, and developing a fitting sales and marketing campaign. As with many new ideas, Sphearrings may sound simple, but it's actually the product of many long hours of research and development. As melt, it offers insights into hose a new product comes to market.

Research and Development

Bruno, a trend researcher, carne up with the idea for Sphearrings while focusing her energy on other branches of the accessories circuit. "A few years ago, I was very involved with designer handbags and hats, and I wasn't studying jewelry as intently at the time," she says. "When 1 returned to jewelry, it was as if I were looking at it with a new set of eyes."

Bruno noticed that mainstream jewelry stores had begun selling body jewelry, charms were back in a big way, and threader earrings were a hot fashion look. "All of these factors indicated to me that consumers were opening up to new ideas about how to wear jewelry," says Bruno. "They were looking for something fresh and fashionablebut at a reasonable price point."

Bruno says the volatile price of gold reinforced her notion that the market was ready for a versatile, convertible earring. "With the price of gold going up, women need to purchase jewelry products that offer value, style, and mileage," she says. "I knew that we could market this product m the trend- and budget-savvy female."

Sphearrings didn't evolve and come onto the market overnight. Bruno, a long-time marketing and merchandising consultant to Findings Inc. in Keene, New Hampshire, came up with the idea in the summer of 2005.

"When Lisa brought the design idea of Sphearrings to us, it was just a concept," says Harvey O'Conor, president of Findings Inc. "We had studied other jewelry classifications, such as necklaces, bracelets, and hoop earrings, that lent themselves to interchangeable charms, and we felt that we could apply this concept to the traditional stud earring."

Taking Bruno's initial idea to completion involved extensive technical research and development on the part of partner and manufacturer Findings Inc. According m O'Conor, the entire R&D process took about 10 months, culminating in the product launch at MJSA Expo New York. "We looked at hundreds of ears in those 10 months," says O'Conor, who relied on data collected from his female staff, family, friends, and clients of the company to create the most ideal fit for the earring. The company also consulted with ear piercing specialists and medical professionals.

"Every woman's earlobe is shaped and pierced differently," says O'Conor. "We needed to collect enough data to find an average lobe thickness and length on which to base the wire length. Our objective was to have the bossom ornament slightly below the earlobe, where it looks most attractive, while at the same time ensuring a comfortable fit on the ear."

After perfecting the measurements, the engineering team ran into two additional problems that needed so be addressed on the function side. The first issue was how to make it easy for the wearer to put the earring on. "We started with a flat hole in the top ornament, but found that it wouldn't work because it was too hard for the wearer co find the hole to screw in the wire," says O'Conor. Using CAD, Dana Castle, Findings' CAD/CAM operator and Sphearrings co-inventor, experimented with a concave entryway, "This worked much better, because whets the wearer inserts the wire into the top, it naturally funnels into the threaded area inside the top ornament," says O'Conor. (This modification to the top ornament also ensures that the earring sits firmly in place on the ear; it doesn't tip with the weight of the bottom ornament.)

Another problem encountered in the research and development stage was that when the wire was screwed into the top ornament, it went too far and could potentially pop out the gemstone. To solve this problem, the engineering team incorporated a stop on the thread, preventing the possibility of screwing it in too far.

O'Conor says that without CAD/CAM, the R&D process may have taken months longer. "CAD/CAM enabled us to finalize the design and functionality of Sphearrings while experimenting with various interchangeable ornaments prior to making samples," he says. "It aided in the selection process for final designs and allowed us to streamline the time it took to produce the samples."

Approaching the Market

With the design perfected, Findings Inc. began selling the product to manufacturers, stone dealers, wholesalers, and diamond cutters. The company offers the earrings in a range of options, from their rawest forman unset top component and a wire component with a setting or loop (for dangling items) at the endto complete finished product. Sphearrings are currently available in 14k yellow and white gold.

Findings recognized that introducing a unique new product to the jewelry industry required marketing to match. "We knew if we were going to sell the empress some new clothes, we needed to strengthen our marketing package," says Bruno, who, with Findings, developed a brochure, print advertising, and a Web video to introduce the Sphearrings concept to customers.

Unlike many of Findings' previous advertisements, which featured only findings, the Sphearrings advertisements show a mode wearing the finished product, with multiple style variations pictured in the ad, as well. "With a new item like this, we wanted to show manufacturers and retailers what they could do with the components," says Bruno. "By incorporating the model, We were able to gee across our marketing message that this is a very contemporary product for a contemporary woman."

In providing such a wide range of options for its customers to explore, Findings admits that it was met with resistance from some buyers who found the endless options somewhat overwhelming. "Introducing a new product requires a thorough understanding of your customer's needs," says Bruno. "After our debut showing to the industry we edited the assortment of samples to a core grouping

that included the most popular stylessingle-set semi-precious and CZ stones. if a customer wants to see more options, we can then move on to the dangling items. It's important to tailor the sales presentation to what the customer needs."

One prominent supplier who was sold on the earring components is Smiler Inc. Currier says that she chose ro add Sphearrings to the Smiler line because the item is fashion-forward, has broad appeal across age groups, and offers retail jewelers a unique opportunity to customize the Sphearring components to their customers or market.

"It's important for all of our customers to build jewelry pieces that are unique for their customers using our component parts," says Currier."Sphearrings enable retailers to differentiate themselves from mass merchandising stores, who have to inventory pre-configured' product. Our customers can buy multiple setting styles in the Sphearrings components and work with their customers to create a unique look with the stones or dangling items of their choice."

From a marketing standpoint, Currier sees the Sphearrings design appealing to women in their late teens through their 40s. "Sphearrings echo the look of body jewelry, which is no longer a teen-only trend," she says. "Both mothers and daughters are enjoying this new jewelry [look]."

Stuller rolled out the Sphearrings line to retailers at the JCK Show in Las Vegas to what Currier describes as a very positive response. Although she would not divulge names, Currier says that several large retailers are currently deciding on configurations to display in their stores this fall.

In addition to picking up the Sphearrings line, Stoller is offering the Sphearrings Swoops. An add-on dangling component for traditional stud earrings, this curved wire with adjustable-fit ring at the top offers different length options when placed onto a post before the ear nut is secured. "The Swoops allow the woman who has a substantial collection of stud earrings to get the look of Sphearrings with her existing post earrings," says Currier.

During the recent volatile metals market, price point has been an especially important issue for retailers and consumers. Findings Inc. is emphasizing Sphearrings as a purse-friendly product. "With the price of gold so high, who wouldn't want to invest in an earring ensemble they can wear in multiple ways," says Bruno. "The customer for this earring is the smart, contemporary woman who's saying, if I'm going to spend a few hundred dollars on a pair of earrings, I want them to work with my lifestyle and be comfortable."

Showing a little earlobe midriff is a bonus.

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Tina Wojtkielo Snyder

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