Conspicuous Consumption: Why People Buy Branded Jewelry

Conspicuous consumption is one of the most fascinating subjects to think about, and a purely twentieth century phenomenon. It is a term that was introduced by the Norwegian-American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in 1899 which refers to consumers who buy expensive items in order to display wealth and income rather and not for the purpose of fulfilling a real need. Conspicuous consumption basically refers to showing off one’s social status via their belongings and is typically associated with the wealthy but can also apply to any economic class. This type of consumption was considered to be a product of the emerging middle class during the 19th and 20th centuries because this group had a greater percentage of disposable income to spend on goods and services beyond their basic needs.

Many of us can immediately identify with this concept because we all identify with choosing one brand over another due to a specific preference. Often when two products are entirely interchangeable, the factor that pushes a consumer to one brand over another is the brand name of their purchase. This method of choice especially applies to the jewelry industry, where at its bare bones provides a completely interchangeable product no matter the vendor, but which still sees people buy one brand or another due to branding. It begs the question – why do people buy branded jewelry if all jewelry is basically the same, maybe a slightly different design but containing similar metals and similar diamonds? The same engagement ring could cost three times as much at Tiffany & Co. as it would at a person’s local jeweler.
There are a few reasons why people buy the branded jewelry.

Tiffany & Co. branded engagement & wedding ring set

1) Resale value. Without going into specific psychological details concerning why people choose any one brand over another, the fact remains that branding is strong and adds value. Many people buy jewelry keeping in mind that it will be worth a certain amount of money no matter what, and that jewelry of a certain brand, even though it costs more, will also sell for more if they choose to resell it regardless of the fact that the characteristics of the piece of jewelry are no more unique than if the piece came from a no name brand. This reassures a lot of customers when they make their purchase.

Cartier watch

2) Identifies us with a specific economic category. Although it is easy to say that we might not care what other people think, many people in reality care very much. It could be for self-esteem reasons but also to make an impression. Someone may desire to be identified as rich because they care that others think it. Another person may desire it because it helps give them a certain persona and will advance their career, a business deal, a relationship, or something else. Wearing a certain brand tells others where we are in society’s pecking order.

David Beckham Rolex advertisement

3) The feeling of belonging to a group. Humans by nature are social animals and need a community in which to take part, although it doesn’t matter how that community is divided or who comprises it. Communities or groups can be divided among many factors, and not necessarily by the basic demographic distinctions that have been in place for so long. This is a reality because of modernization and globalization but helps people feel a part of something greater than just themselves.  One aspect of finding ourselves a group is relating to the others by dressing alike or in similar brands to the rest of the group. Hippies in the 60s dressed similarly, and the mega rich of Hollywood likewise dress similarly.

4) Pride of ownership. Anyone who owns something special is very familiar with the extra treatment and importance that they endow to that object. While special or expensive things may not entirely comprise someone’s wardrobe or possessions, they probably own at least one thing that they treasure for one reason or another. For many people, that reason is that the item is something that they paid dearly for and that they love. It is something that they never tire of and appreciate anew every time they see it. For one person this could be their luxury car, for another their branded diamond engagement ring, and for another person maybe their dress watch. What all of these people have in common is that this item fills them with a sense of satisfaction and pride.

5) Aids decision making. When someone shops for something with which they may be unfamiliar, especially when it is for a gift for someone else, knowing which brand to buy simplifies matters immensely. When a man needs to buy a gift for his wife and he knows that she likes a certain brand, he can count on buying her something from that brand to be sure that she will like his gift. If someone is making a first time purchase of something that they have never bought before, chances are that they will buy the most well-known brand name for that item to be sure that they are making a safe choice. Branding helps take the thinking out of the decision. Automatically, people think that something with a well-advertised brand name must be good! Anything that has that particular name on it will please his wife.

Harry Winston engagement ring and sketch

For some people, making purchases is about the design of the product and its look, and not at all about who made it. For other people, buying an item is about the brand that made it and not about how the item looks. That is how society has ended up with plain items like solid sweaters or solitaire engagement rings with merely a symbol or logo on it, and people buy it anyway. The symbol or logo says more to the wearer than the most skilled craftsmanship. It is a phenomenon of the last centuries that people aspire to fit into higher economic classes and attempt to do so by wearing or buying things that typically belong to those classes. Like the famous fictional character Mr. Gatsby, they surround themselves with particularly chosen items to give off a certain persona. Whether you are choosing to do so for personal or financial reasons is irrelevant. It is just important to remember that if you are making a branded purchase, choose carefully. It’s all in the name!

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