Danish entrepreneur Caroline Chalmer knows the business of fashion and luxury. After stints at McKinsey and the Global Fashion Agenda in Copenhagen, she is now based in London, as the woman behind the new sustainable jewelry Platform Fine material, which seeks to spotlight particularly desirable jewelry that’s built to last, through a direct-to-consumer business model. High jewelry Farfetch, if you will; only make it super durable.
Click on it and you’ll find an eclectic offering including jewelry brands such as Jenny Kwon, Alighieri, Melissa Joy Manning and Charlotte Chesnais. Finematter carefully checks each new brand for its sustainability and design credentials before it can sell through the platform, which also includes a suite of services for jewelry repair, restoration and recycling for site credit. An integrated resale platform is planned for early 2023.
Most innovative, however, is Chalmer’s decision to prioritize independent jewelry brands and help them build sustainable businesses, offering certification and even paying resale royalties. For Ellis Mhairi Camerona London-based jeweler on the platform, “The action taken by Finematter is exciting to hear. The certification and resale percentage that designers will eventually receive is unique to Finematter. Likewise, the purchase of unworn gold customers at a discounted rate seems very circular, as designers can use this to create new pieces for Finematter customers. I can’t wait to see the impact this will have on my brand in the future.
The approach works. Since the platform launched in 2020, revenue and loyal customers have doubled year-over-year, while the site’s active user base has grown by more than 300% annually. The success of Finematter reflects the current emphasis on sustainably produced and traceable jewelry and testifies to the market’s appetite for this type of new activity.
It may be barely out of the starting blocks, but Chalmer intends to use the new platform to shape a more sustainable jewelry industry. I sat down with the CEO and founder of Finematter to hear her plans for the future.
What brought you into the world of jewelry?
I have always had a strong interest in fashion, jewelry and the creative industries. In 2016, I helped set up what is now known as the Global Fashion Agenda in Copenhagen, an industry trade organization focused on sustainability. The sustainability conversation was nascent at that time, and my eyes were opened to not only the challenges, but also the magnitude of the opportunities for the industry to impact climate change. As a largely analog industry that hadn’t made much headway, the jewelry space caught my eye as a real opportunity to drive the sustainability agenda.
Explain why you think jewelry can be a 100% sustainable product.
The majority of the environmental impact of jewelry is at the stage of extraction of raw materials; the extraction of precious metals and precious stones. Unlike textiles however, gold jewelry can be melted down and reused over and over again without loss of quality and I started thinking about how we could enable consumers to repair, reuse and remodel what they already own, and maybe eventually reach a point where we would no longer need to extract raw materials. Goldsmiths have been doing it for generations, but scaling up is an incredibly exciting prospect. Where else are there raw materials that can be reused endlessly?
You have a diverse creative curation of emerging and established designers. What are you artistically looking for in a brand for Finematter?
We look for a clear artistic vision and design consistency in their work. We’re not just looking for sharp architectural angles or soft, organic curves; it’s really about looking to bring various creative voices to the platform, which really represent something distinct, for collectors who use Finematter.
Who buys on Finematter?
At the moment, it is mainly women based in Europe, who buy for themselves. Our target is design conscious, quality conscious, striving to buy better. They can move away from a trend-driven approach and move more towards sustainability. Above all, they really need to resonate with a brand’s design vision.
What were some of the obstacles you encountered while setting up the business and how did you overcome them?
Our challenges were operational, such as facilitating a secure recycling and repair process for the consumer but also financially viable for us and the goldsmith. We spent a lot of time developing the site’s user experience. For example, we give the consumer the choice of carat and thickness for re-plating, and we had to think hard about how to design that experience in a way that makes sense to the user.
One of the main challenges was the mindset of consumers, how to educate them and help them understand the opportunity of sustainability in trade, repair or renovation to develop something new and meaningful.
How are you leveraging blockchain to protect manufacturers on your next resale platform?
A digital certificate is issued for every piece we sell, so consumers have authenticity and manufacturers are protected. We protect creative intellectual property from copycats and fraud, conveying trust to consumers and creating royalties in the secondary market. Blockchain technology has helped us embed smart contracts into transactions to automatically return royalties to the original designer upon resale. Currently, only trading platforms take a share, but why not makers too?
Is a fully circular jewelry business the ultimate goal?
It has always been a goal of mine to be a force for good in the industry. The traction for our services has been strong and encouraging, it’s part of a great collective consciousness around sustainability. In jewelry, this doesn’t have to be a compromise, you can maintain an emotional connection with a redesigned piece, so it’s not about choosing durability over price or design.
With an expected slowdown, do you think more jewelry retailers will take a circular approach?
Independent jewelers already operate this way, it has allowed many of them to survive the pandemic. We see more remodeling and recycling during downturns, but we probably won’t see as big of a shift in retail as most are still operating on an inventory-based mass production model. Repairs and recycling are not scalable for mainstream retailers, my overall hope was to give independent manufacturers another place to turn.
Has the pandemic helped or hindered starting and running a new business?
This has only strengthened our mission to support independent jewellers, being able to offer a new platform feels very meaningful. We’ve also helped consumers question the fast-paced, trend-driven consumerism of the past few years and consider returning to buying for longevity and investment pieces.
What‘s next for Finematter?
Finematter will further leverage technology to bring the fine jewelry industry into this century, with reuse and resale channels. We want to design something specific to jewelry, rather than just copying what the fashion industry has done.
I’m also excited to unlock the fine jewelry space for women who invest in themselves – why wouldn’t it be like men who buy watches for their milestones?