Michael Schechter

July 12, 2023

What I Learned From Gemvara

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Easy as it is to get lost in what could have gone better, I learned invaluable lessons at Gemvara that continue to shape the way I see our industry. Gemvara introduced me to a business that looked nothing like the 16 years of professional experience that came before it. It challenged the way I believed our industry works and has changed the way I work moving forward.

The Power of Engineers

When Richline first acquired Gemvara we worked with their insanely talented team to find new uses for the technology. The website, which only offered made-to-order rendered designs, was acquired in late April of 2016. By the end of that first year the engineers had revamped the platform so we could handle all of Richline’s inventory ecommerce business as well. On top of that, we worked together to introduce an entirely new B2B partnership that leveraged Gemvara’s unique made-to-order functionality. 

Beyond it being an exciting time, it was eye opening. Until that point, I had only worked with developers. This was my first true experience working with software engineers. While a subtle distinction, it’s an important one. Where developers focus on aspects of software, engineers work on the big picture. Their ability to iteratively evolve the platform meaningfully expanded the impact Gemvara’s platform was able to have on the business. 

If there’s anything I came to realize during my time at Gemvara, it’s that our industry does not give engineers the seat at the table that they deserve. We tend to treat them more like a resource than a partner. Much as it’s hard for us to see, an exceptional engineer can be as valuable as a jewelry company’s top sales person. Moreso, if you recognize the impact their work can have on every person within the organization.

The Power of Choice

The impact of Gemvara’s near infinite approach to jewelry was eye opening. It took power out of the hand of the jeweler (or jewelry salesperson) and put it in the hands of our customers. And our customers… well… they made some very unusual choices. Choices they loved, but ones traditional merchants or sales people decidedly did not (I can attest to this after years of sales pitches and store trainings). 

Gemvara empowered customers to create things that no well meaning jeweler would ever consider, and at a moderate premium that was well below true custom pricing. And our customers loved us for it. For the first time in my career it was more about the materials we added than the designs we chose. Don’t get me wrong, the role merchants and salespeople play in our industry are vital. Maximizing inventory is critical to the success of the average jeweler. But as technology becomes more prevalent in our stores, and as the popularity of custom or made to order designs continues to grow, traditional expertise in maximizing the finite is limiting. Especially if we put too much emphasis on telling the customer what’s “right” for them.

Beyond the combination of materials, I also had the good fortune early on to see our customers take lab grown materials (both diamond and gemstone) far more seriously than we do as an industry. Where the industry often takes a promotional approach to lab grown gems by combining them with silver and topaz, Gemvara’s customers would treat them like better semi-precious, choosing to pair them with gold and diamonds at price points well over $1000. And yes, our customers were almost always happy with these designs because they focused less on the long-term financial value of the piece and more on the emotional connection they had with their design of choice. Lab Grown offered Gemvara’s customers a quality option when natural materials were out of their financial reach. 

The Power of Simplicity

The power of Gemvara’s platform was very appealing, but in hindsight the brand’s experience was way too complex. An unlimited virtual assortment is a great way to meet the needs of customers who do not see themselves in the cases of a traditional jeweler. But it’s a marketing nightmare. 

Given the chance to do it all over again, I would have done more to split Gemvara’s assortment in two. A primary version that focused on limited configuration for the sake of on-site search results and off-site marketing, paired with a “Make It Yours” feature where customers could unlock the platform’s full array of possibilities for the same designs. 

It wasn’t that we needed to dumb Gemvara down. We just needed to create a layer of simplicity that lived on top of Gemvara’s complexity. Unfortunately it wasn’t until far too late in the game that we recognized that there were ways to offer the best of both worlds.

The Power of Omni-Channel

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the biggest missteps was taking a white-label approach to our B2B partnerships. Instead of creating one bolder position for the Gemvara brand, we further fractured our efforts and our attention. Early on, I believed we were taking an omni-channel approach once we expanded into B2B, but in reality we just expanded into multiple channels. 

I will always wonder what would have happened had we gone all in on Gemvara, both with our direct B2C business and our B2B partnerships. At the time, Gemvara had a truly unique platform and more importantly, it had a unique selling proposition. Had we leaned in, I believe the brand would have been far more successful and far more meaningful to the jewelry industry. 

To an extent, Gemvara was a little ahead of its time. But of all of the trends it missed, I believe the shift to omni-channel is the one that negatively impacted it the most. 

These four lessons on the power of engineers, choice, simplicity and omni-channel shaped a great deal of our thinking at the end. We came close to introducing something new, but ran out of runway at the end. In my next post of this series on Gemvara, I’m going to talk a little about what might have been.

About Michael Schechter

Hi there! I’m Michael Schechter, a third-generation, lifelong jeweler. I’ve spent most of my life and career at the crossroads of fine jewelry and emerging technology. Subscribe to receive weekly advice for jewelers struggling with new possibilities online and in store.