Get zapped: The trend sparking interest among customers of all ages.
Permanent jewelry is the hottest trend to hit the retail space since multiple ear piercings. It spans demographics, just like the rage for mix-and-match and mismatched earrings did a few years back. And it’s not just a New York- or Los Angeles-based fad; it’s been spreading across the US as fast as you can say “zapped,” which is how stores refer to the welding process that keeps these pieces in place.
As the name suggests, customers wear their permanent jewelry 24/7 — predominantly bracelets at present, featuring charms or diamond and gemstone accents. The popularity of these pieces often makes for multiple sales, since jewelers say their clients can’t stop at just one. The process involves fusing the ends of the chain together around the wrist, securing the bracelet so it can’t slide off or be removed easily. If the wearer does need to take it off — say, for a medical procedure or a major event — they can do so with just a pair of scissors or a jewelry cutter. The chain can later be welded back together.
It’s a keeper
Plenty of women own jewelry they never want to take off — the sentimental pieces they’ve worn so long that they’ve become like a second skin or a tattoo, or the styles that go with everything else in their jewelry rotation. The permanent-jewelry trend taps into the appeal of these meaningful everyday pieces. It also assuages the fear of losing a beloved jewel, as it won’t come undone or fall off while you’re changing your clothes or going about your day. You can even shower without worrying it will
fall down the drain.
Of course, the concept isn’t entirely new. Consumers and retailers alike view permanent jewelry as a modern — albeit more delicate and link-style — version of the classic Cartier Love bracelet, which designer Aldo Cipullo created in 1969. Screw mechanisms secure this iconic piece around the wrist — though unlike the current permanent designs, it comes with a screwdriver to uncuff the wearer. Originally intended to show the enduring commitment and romance a couple shares, the Love bracelet has also become a self-purchase item in the past 10 years and remains one of the most commonly worn bracelets today.
Better with friends
Permanent jewelry is often about bonding with loved ones, and the retail experience of getting zapped together has been driving sales since before the pandemic. Catbird, which has two stores in New York, was one of the first retailers to offer what it trademarked as Forever Bracelets, creating personalized styles from a range of chains and charms. It began by hosting events, then added pop-ups in different cities, and then shifted mainly to an appointment-based system. Catbird has since become a tourist spot, with people from different parts of the globe coming to get zapped with their families and friends.
Jewelry brand Aurelie Gi was instrumental in creating the “ear-curation party” trend that took hold before the pandemic, and recently launched For Keeps, its permanent-bracelet collection.
“The ear parties created a new way of generating sales for brick-and-mortar stores, enticing a fresh customer base into their shops,” says Katherine Whitacre, the company’s national sales manager. “Permanent-jewelry parties moved into this arena and have evolved from event-based to an ongoing and successful part of retailers’ business.”
The For Keeps line is available at several stores throughout the country and offers a range of ways to customize bracelets with different chains, charms and gemstones. This year will mark the collection’s foray into anklets, rings and necklaces.
“Getting jewels welded on tends to be a group experience,” observes Whitacre. “Mothers and daughters, romantic couples, BFFs, and entire bridal parties are coming into stores to share the experience together. It is a one-time event with a lasting and tangible emotional impact.”
She affirms that “it’s hitting every demographic, from young girls who view these as the new friendship bracelets, to women in their 60s who desire something symbolic that [lets them] continue to add more styles or…exchange a special jewel.”
A booming business
Two of the retailers that carry For Keeps are Sather’s in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Stratton in Huntsville, Alabama. They also sell their own varieties of charms and chains, and have held similar events.
Sather’s did a full launch with the tagline “Grab your bestie and get zapped!” The promotion saw solid results and led to repeat business, according to owner Julie Sather-Browne.
Stratton’s bracelet parties, meanwhile, were just as successful as its piercing parties. Still, “due to the high demand of permanent jewelry, we made the decision early on to go from an event basis to an everyday basis, by appointment,” says CEO Stratton Hobbs.
Another store that offers its own permanent designs is Shop Shelter in Washington, DC. It cultivates an exclusive atmosphere for its collection of “endless bracelets.”
“We are by appointment only and have limited availability, which I think benefits the bracelets’ popularity,” says shop director Magnolia O’Donnell. “We don’t do many events off-site, but have done pop-ups with [clothing retailer] Madewell in DC and will do walk-in appointments on special occasions, such as Mother’s Day or Galentine’s Day” — the pre-Valentine’s Day celebration of female friendship.
Sharing is caring
Jewelry wholesalers such as Midas and Stuller, along with brands like Finn, are providing various versions of 24/7 jewelry for retailers that want to connect with the trend.
Stuller offers everything from finished products to the component chains, gems and charms. It also sells the welding machinery necessary to do the job. Chris Leonard, its director of tools, recommends the Orion pulse welder from Sunstone.
“Learning to use the machine is very safe and easy,” he says. “A retailer could easily train a staff member or a whole team in a matter of hours or days.”
Retail prices for permanent bracelets tend to vary based on the materials and operational costs. In general, bracelets in 14-karat yellow, pink and white gold — which are good for durability — range from about $100 to $400. The daintiness of the jewelry helps keep the prices approachable, retailers note.
The trend “is also very shareable,” comments Sather-Browne. Whether they’re getting zapped with loved ones or alone, customers can “share the video and pics of the whole process on social media, which becomes its own grassroots marketing.”
Kristen Ber, Stuller’s fine-jewelry product manager, concurs. “The rise of Instagram Reels and TikTok, and the already present trend of stacking or layering dainty jewelry, helped permanent jewelry take off very quickly.”
Main image: Permanent bracelets by Stuller. (Stuller)