Amy Robinson sees the charm in permanent jewelry — bracelets, necklaces and anklets with their ends welded together so you never take them off.
Yet it’s a look that hasn’t caught on to a large degree. “It’s definitely not totally out there yet. A lot of people don’t know what permanent jewelry is,” said Robinson, president of Banter by Piercing Pagoda, a division of Signet Jewelers Ltd.
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Banter has just rolled out permanent jewelry to 62 of its locations, a mix of mall kiosks and stores. “We would like to get permanent jewelry into the entire fleet, but over the next eight to 12 months we’ll add another hundred,” Robinson told WWD in her first media interview since becoming Banter’s president last January.
“It’s a custom fit piece of jewelry,” Robinson explained. “We do permanent jewelry in bracelets and anklets. We’ll be adding necklaces soon. There are some jewelers who have even done it on earrings and nose rings, which is interesting.” The purchase price of chains in Banter’s permanent jewelry collection ranges from $80 to $330, with charms priced from $25 to $35. Everything is in solid gold and white gold so there’s no damage or tarnishing when pieces are worn in the shower.
Permanent jewelry is part of the list of initiatives that Robinson is spearheading, including bringing needle piercing to many more Banter locations. Thirty locations offer needle piercing, and the target is 200 by 2025. The company uses needle piercing for the nose or the upper ear, and instrument piercing with a handheld, sterile pressurized device, for the lobes.
“People are very much more open to piercings and tattoos, really that body modification. So it’s a great opportunity,” Robinson said.
Additional stores, internally referred to as “inline studios,” are in the works. “We are definitely planning to expand the inlines, maybe eight to 10 next year,” and more in later years, Robinson said. “They do feel like studios,” and provide a private piercing experience behind closed doors, as well as selling Banter’s assortment of fine jewelry. Banter, which operates 38 stores and approximately 480 kiosks, is considered the nation’s largest specialty kiosk retailer. Banter offers 3,000 stock keeping units, with the biggest categories being gold and chains. Prices generally range from under $100 to $2,000, with some items offered online costing thousands of dollars. Piercings are free.
Also on the agenda: launching engraving. “A lot of people want it and they want it right there on the spot, fast,” Robinson said. “Nobody wants to wait for anything anymore. Thank you Amazon.
“We’re at a point where there are so many ideas. We have to pick just a few that we can do well, and put the rest on pause,” Robinson told WWD. “Banter is not necessarily a household name. So getting some brand awareness is really critical for us.”
A marketing overhaul began two years when Piercing Pagoda was renamed Banter by Piercing Pagoda, and it’s possible the name will be shortened to Banter sometime in the future. The idea was to help draw attention and get people talking, or bantering, about the business. “There was a lot of research done around who our customer is. It’s the ‘confident creative’ who likes to explore their style,” Robinson said.
In other maneuvers, piercing and permanent jewelry parties are slated for 2024, and a van, called the “Banter Bus” providing piercings and permanent jewelry was recently parked in SoHo for a few days, on West Broadway between Canal and Grand Streets. “It’s something very different that gives us the ability to take the show on the road,” Robinson noted.
At Banter, Robinson isn’t embarking on a sweeping overhaul. “It’s about building on and innovating within the construct of where Banter is today and how we talk about ourselves,” she said. “That really centers around continuing to be an inclusive place where everyone feels they can explore and express themselves.”
She said Banter “sits in a space all its own, with fine jewelry as the base with piercing and its kiosk model, which is really the heart and soul of the banner. It’s these experiences that really keep us differentiated from the rest of the market. But we’re not necessarily changing who we are.”
The expansion of Banter’s permanent jewelry offering follows an initial pilot program that received a positive response from consumers. Customers can choose from eight chain styles and 12 charms in 14-karat gold that are then welded together to provide the long-term wear.
Creating a piece of permanent jewelry does require some skill. “All of our team members are trained,” through a virtual two-hour course and a few weeks of on-the-job practice,” Robinson said. “It probably takes three to four weeks to get really good at it. But It’s very simple. It’s a welding tool. There’s no danger to it, and it doesn’t touch the skin. The piece is custom fit to you.”
The welding tool has a tiny tip that welds both ends of the jewelry together, rather than there being a clasp. A piece of leather covers the skin so the tool doesn’t touch it. “I’ve touched the tip, and it’s fine. It doesn’t hurt,” Robinson said. “It’s like a pen tip with a wire that connects to an energy source.” Permanent jewelry doesn’t have to be permanent. It’s easily removed with a wire cutter, but the jewelry can be re-welded.
“Permanent jewelry is definitely on the up-trend, but It’s also hard for people to comprehend,” Robinson said. “The key is getting people understanding the difference. I’ve had people ask me if it was a tattoo. Nope. it’s not a tattoo.…It’s really a great thing to do with someone else, like a friendship bracelet. We’re also seeing it frequently at wedding parties, bridal showers or bachelorette parties.”
Piercings also require some skill and education. “We have a piercing university that all of our team members go through to make sure they understand it has to be done with clean, sterilized equipment, and attentive, active after care,” Robinson said. “We do follow-up appointments. We really try to make sure that everyone understands that we’ve got five decades of experience, that our staff is very well trained and that we provide a safe place to have your piercings done.”
Robinson came to Banter directly from Michael’s, the arts and crafts retailer where she served as senior vice president and general merchandise manager for a couple of years. Before that, she was executive vice president of innovation at Origami Owl, another jeweler, and earlier, she held merchandising and buying jobs at Claire’s, Icing, Macy’s and May Merchandising. “I was always in jewelry and accessories of some kind, and then I went to arts and crafts for a two-year period and remembered I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be back in jewelry.”
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