Danish entrepreneur Caroline Chalmer knows the business of fashion and luxury. After stints with McKinsey and the Global Fashion Agenda in Copenhagen, she is now based in London, as the woman behind the new sustainable jewelry platform Finematter, which seeks to spotlight uniquely desirable jewelry designed to last, through a direct-to-consumer business model. A Farfetch of fine jewelry, if you will; only make it super sustainable.
Click through, and you’ll find an eclectic offering featuring jewelry brands like Jenny Kwon, Alighieri, Melissa Joy Manning and Charlotte Chesnais. Finematter carefully vets each new brand for their sustainability and design credentials before they can sell via the platform, which also includes a suite of services for jewelry repair, restoration and recycling for site credit. An integrated resale platform is slated for early 2023.
Most innovative however, is Chalmer’s decision to put independent jewelry brands first and help them to scale up sustainable businesses, offering certification and even paying royalties on resale. For Ellis Mhairi Cameron, a London-based jeweler on the platform, “the steps Finematter are taking are exciting to hear. Certification, and the resale percentage designers will eventually receive are unique to Finematter. Similarly, purchasing customers’ unworn gold at a reduced rate feels very circular, as designers can use it to create new pieces for Finematter customers. I’m looking forward to seeing how this impacts my brand going forward.”
The approach is working. Since the platform launched in 2020, both revenue and returning customers have doubled year-on-year, while the site’s active user base has swelled by more than 300% annually. Finematter’s success speaks to the current focus on sustainably produced, traceable jewelry and is testament to the market’s appetite for this kind of new business.
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 Finematter CEO and founder to hear her plans for the future.
What brought you to the jewelry world?
I’ve 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 with a focus on sustainability. The conversation about sustainability was nascent at that point, and my eyes were opened not only to the challenges, but also scale of the opportunity for the industry to impact climate change. As a largely analog industry that had not made much progress, 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 jewelry’s environmental impact comes at the raw material extraction stage; mining precious metals and gemstones. Unlike textiles however, gold jewelry can be endlessly melted down and re-used without losing quality and I started thinking about how we can enable consumers to repair, reuse and remodel what they already own, and maybe eventually reach a point where we no longer need to extract raw materials. Goldsmiths have been doing this for generations, but scaling that up is an incredibly exciting prospect. Where else are there raw materials that can be endlessly reused?
You have a creatively diverse curation of upcoming and established designers. What do you look for artistically in a brand for Finematter?
We look for a clear artistic vision and consistency of design in their work. We’re not only looking at sharp, architectural angles, or soft, organic curves; it’s really about looking to bring diverse creative voices onto the platform, who really stand for something distinct, for the collectors who use Finematter.
Who buys on Finematter?
At the moment, they are mainly Europe-based, female and buying for themselves. Our target is design conscious, quality conscious, looking to buy better. They may transitioning away from a trend-led approach and moving more towards durability. Above all, they need to really resonate with a brand’s design vision.
What were some of the roadblocks you hit while you were setting the company up, and how did you overcome them?
Our challenges were operational, such as facilitating a recycling and repair process that’s secure for the consumer but also financially viable for us and the goldsmith. We spent a lot of time on developing the site user experience. For example, we give the consumer the choice of carat and thickness for replating, and had to think hard about how to design that experience in a way that makes sense for the user.
One major challenge was the consumer mindset, how to educate and help them understand the opportunity for sustainability in trading in, repairing or remodeling to develop something new and meaningful.
How are you harnessing blockchain to protect makers on your upcoming resale platform?
A digital certificate is issued for every piece we sell, so consumers have authenticity and makers are protected. We’re protecting creative IP from copycats and fraud, passing trust onto consumers and building royalties into the secondary market. Blockchain technology has helped us to build smart contracts into transactions to automatically kickback royalties to the original designer on resale. Currently, only trading platforms take a cut, but why not the makers as well?
Is a fully circular jewelry business the ultimate goal?
It’s always been a goal of mine to be a force for good in the industry. Traction for our services has been strong and encouraging, it’s part of a big collective consciousness around sustainability. In jewelry, this doesn’t need to be a trade-off, you can maintain an emotional connection with a remodeled piece, so it’s not about choosing sustainability over price or design.
With a predicted downturn ahead, do you think more jewelry retailers will adopt a circular approach?
Indie jewelers already work in this way, it enabled a lot of them to survive through the pandemic. We see more remodeling and recycling during downturns but probably won’t see a transition in retail to such a big extent, as most still operate on an inventory-based, mass-production model. Repairs and recycling are not scalable for classic retailers, my overall hope was to give indie makers somewhere else to turn.
Did the pandemic help or hinder the setting and running of a new business?
It only strengthened our mission to support indie jewelers, being able to offer a new platform feels very meaningful. We also helped consumer question the fast-paced, trend-driven consumerism of recent years, and consider a return 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 copy what the fashion industry has done.
I’m also excited about unlocking the fine jewelry space for women investing in themselves – why shouldn’t it be like men buying watches for their milestones?