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Airbnb has changed the way we travel, Uber and Zipcar have changed the way we get around, and designer rental service Rent the Runway has changed the way we fill our closets. The latter is thriving, surpassing 8 million members in 2017, according to Adweek. It’s fair to assume that any shame and stigma associated with borrowing, sharing, and renting clothing is all but gone.
And the success of the concept has given younger services the confidence to follow suit. The most interesting of that bunch is Flont, a less-than-one-year-old e-commerce site that allows customers to rent high-end fine jewelry, with the option to purchase pieces at significantly discounted member rates — like, hundreds-of-dollars significant.
When I first heard about Flont, it definitely sounded too good to be true. Are there really people out there looking to rotate their diamonds as often as they do their shoes? And, maybe more importantly, would I ever trust myself to borrow jewelry worth more than a month of rent in Brooklyn? I had a lot of questions.
“I was never interested in jewelry, but I’ve always been drawn to problems and solving them,” Cormac Kinney, Flont’s founder and CEO, says over the phone. “The problem I came across was [recognizing] that people love to buy online, but jewelry is something that you can’t just buy off of Amazon. You need to see it, you need to hold it. You want to show it to your friends. You need to build that confidence to buy a high-touch, expensive thing. That simply doesn’t work on a cellphone.”
But even if people aren’t buying diamonds off Amazon — though I’m fairly certain there are folks out there who do — retailers have actually seen a spike in this kind of spending online, and studies back that up. There's definitely an appetite for the convenience of buying fine jewelry online like you would any other clothing item or accessory, even if that means never seeing $4,500 Bulgari earrings in real life before paying for them. That gives Flont the perfect entry point to both sweeten the deal for those already-existing customers and close the deal with almost-customers who hesitate to spend without trying first.
The site currently stocks more than 40 designers, ranging from Tiffany & Co. and Cartier to smaller names like Sabine Getty and Noor Fares, as well its very own (extremely impressive) vintage collection, with pieces dating back to the 1930s.
If you see something you like, there are three ways to shop. You can become a member for $299 a month for a minimum of three months, which gets you unlimited fine jewelry rentals worth up to $5,000 per month (Flont covers the cost of FedEx and insurance). “Unlimited fine jewelry" sounds great, but because the average price of each piece is fairly steep, it works out to two or three rentals per month.
More realistically, Flont also offers four-day rentals for non-members, à la Rent the Runway. Rentals can range from $129 to $379 depending on the item’s retail value, with no flat-rate or fee involved. The last option is to buy directly from the site. For members, a significant discount is applied. For non-members — for whom no discount is applied — the incentive is that you can shop Flont's exclusive collection.
“We’ve actually been quite surprised, pleasantly,” says Kinney. “So far, 10 percent of our members have ended up purchasing something that they borrowed. Our average sale is over $4,000.” That sounds like a lot — because it definitely is — but for people already in the market for fine jewelry, saving $800 on a rare vintage Gucci gold link bracelet is pretty significant.
I tried the service for a month over the holidays (prime time for me to show off fancy jewelry I can’t actually afford). The process from a customer prospective was pretty seamless. I’d requested a classic Cartier Diamond Love Ring and a pair of Sabine Getty Baby Memphis Earrings; both are things I’d already come to accept that I’d never own in this lifetime, so being able to wear them as if they were my own was a treat.
If you’re in the New York area, you can have your order delivered to you by a secured messenger; otherwise, Flont covers the FedEx shipment. The jewelry arrives in a secured lock case with velvet jewelry bags holding your pieces. It feels fancy and special.
Still, my number one question before I even picked out my pieces is probably the same one you’re asking yourself right now: What the hell happens if you lose something? Thankfully, not that much.
“We have a really unique insurance policy,” says Kinney. “It’s never existed before. We partnered with a giant insurance company who decided that we were going to be their guinea pig. They wanted to learn about the sharing economy, so we designed a custom policy that covers all of our shipments and anything in our workshop, but most importantly, it covers all of our members, no matter what they do.”
If a piece is stolen or damaged, it’s insured fully and won’t affect a person’s membership at all. If it’s lost, as with most insurance, there’s a deductible. In that case, members would pay 25 percent of the cost. (Honestly, I still wonder how many people might say they’ve “lost” something just to keep it. For example, if someone — not me, obviously— were to “lose“ the Sabine Getty earrings, which Flont has at an estimated retail value of $4,045, they’d only need to pay around $1,000.)
The sharing economy has no signs of slowing down. And for fine jewelry designers who have struggled to find access to new consumers in the digital era, Flont is a game-changer. If there’s anything to be learned from watching e-commerce and direct-to-consumer models thrive, it’s that you have to meet the customer where they are.
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