It didn’t take working in fine jewelry sales for Ashley McGinty to realize that the typical ring sample size doesn’t necessarily fit the average woman’s hand. She was well aware of this fact from shopping for herself.
“I always had this frustration of not being able to find my own ring size, and selling these rings to our customers who often had the same issues that I did,” she said.
While the custom design process caters to any client, nothing beats being able to try something on in one’s correct size. Waiting for a sample or special order added friction that dampened the experience of falling in love with jewelry, McGinty explained. And in her corporate sales role, feedback from stores mirrored her observations: “You’d hear a lot about customers coming in and learning about special ordering and saying, ‘Okay, never mind.’”
A furlough during the pandemic doubled as a cosmic nudge for San Diego-based McGinty to develop Chouette Designs, a jewelry collection that caters to a wide range of jewelry sizes, in 2021.
Now two years in, she says that prioritizing customer feedback has been crucial to finding success as a size-inclusive brand. Chouette, which sells online, originally offered rings up to a size 13, for example. But, “We learned pretty quickly that, hey, that’s nice, but it’s not fully inclusive. It doesn’t cover a lot of folks, still.” Currently, Chouette offers 22 sizes ranging from 4.5 to 15, with plans to expand.
Katy Kippen, founder of Portland, Ore., jewelry retail store and website, Grayling, also relied on input from friends and customers when building her business, which similarly caters to a diverse range of bodies. With much of the brand’s stock produced on-site, Kippen has always had a direct line to customers to adjust necklaces, bracelets, and anklets for a custom fit, or make something special to order.
“It’s always just been part of my philosophy,” she explained, “Of course you want a necklace to fit where you want it to and to sit just right. That ‘sitting right’ means something different for everybody.”
About four years ago, Kippen realized she needed to offer the same high-touch experience she gave to her store customers to her online clientele, and became “almost obsessed,” with making it possible. As she researched average jewelry sizing offered online, she was shocked to see that even plus-sized fashion sites would often only sell 16- or 18-inch necklaces.
“What we’re inadvertently doing by using a one-size-fits-all approach in the jewelry industry is alienating our customers, and we are also missing a huge segment of the population who wants to wear our things.”
Is Size-Inclusive Jewelry Trending?
While size inclusivity has made giant strides in fashion over the past decades, catering to all bodies in jewelry remains a back-burner topic.
Many trends trickle down from large luxury companies, but Kippen asserts that when it comes to inclusivity of all kinds, it’s up to independently-owned companies to lead the conversations.
“The fine jewelry industry historically has kept itself constrained to a pretty narrow range of sizes,” she said. “I think it’s for financial reasons but also, for really high-end brands, there is an air of exclusivity, where it’s not meant to be inclusive. That’s who we’ve all looked up to—the big brands who are leading the pack—and that’s not something they’re promoting.”
Kippen pointed out that smaller companies aren’t beholden to shareholders or a board of directors—so they can make their own decisions, and gain trust from consumers who haven’t seen themselves represented in the mainstream jewelry space.
McGinty agreed that the number of jewelry brands delving into the size-inclusivity conversation is “negligible.” Though many stores and designers make a living off their custom commissions and will happily cater to any size, they’re missing out by not speaking about size inclusivity explicitly and embodying a commitment to all sizes, she said.
“Customers will write [these companies] off unless they aren’t seeing themselves in marketing or being offered some kind of sample to try on,” McGinty said. “If you aren’t having that conversation, the customer will just think, ‘This isn’t for me.’”
Many consumers are simply unaware of jewelry’s custom possibilities, McGinty’s learned from feedback on social media platforms including TikTok. She recalled one TikTok video she posted on Chouette’s variety of ring sizes that went viral in 2022. “I had a lot of comments that were like, ‘Oh, I just thought rings weren’t my thing.’ They had just stopped looking at rings altogether.”
Putting It Into Practice
In a perfect world, every jeweler would stock every ring style in a wide variety of sizes and sell through all of them. But there are typically budgetary constraints when it comes to fine jewelry inventory.
Chouette and Grayling have found ways to address this.
Chouette’s McGinty skimped on the marketing budget when launching the brand in favor of producing more inventory. “That actually helped us get more organic reach than an ad would have,” she explained. Most of her designs are produced in sterling silver and gold vermeil-plated sterling silver, what McGinty classifies as “demi-fine,” with a mix of natural and lab-grown stones, which makes stocking lots of sizes far more attainable than it would be with a pure gold or platinum collection.
“We launched with demi-fine because we wanted people to feel comfortable finding their size to begin with,” she explained, “and get used to the idea of even deserving to wear jewelry.”
With Chouette’s emphasis on size inclusivity, the custom fine jewelry engagement ring orders have rolled in, and currently account for around two-thirds of the business’ sales. McGinty has been slowly branching into fine jewelry and wants to do more, including an entire fine commitment jewelry collection.
“Folks of all kinds of sizes get engaged and get married and fall in love and they deserve to have that [commitment jewelry] shopping experience be the best that it can be. That’s what’s next on my radar, is really leaning into that space.” She underscored the importance of being able to try pieces on, even if only to help a customer make the decision to order that special custom jewel. “Even if you create the sample in silver with cubic zirconia at least clients get a visual of the scale on their hand,” she added.
For Grayling’s Kippen, creating high-quality, accessible jewelry has always been her mission. Most of her stock is gold-plated, with a selection of 14k gold offerings. As she’s evolved her brand to be not just price-accessible but accessible to more sizes, she’s taken calculated risks when increasing her inventory. “We started out by offering just our best sellers in extended sizes to see what the reaction would be from our customers,” she explained.
She also stressed the importance of clear communication, particularly with online customers, and advised retailers to offer pieces in a variety of sizes online, communicating how long production will take. “I think all customers just want to be spoken to in an honest way.”
As for her brick-and-mortar store, Kippen has found welded or “permanent” jewelry to offer customization to her clients in real time, with necklaces, bracelets, and ankle bracelets measured on site. “The beauty of permanent jewelry becoming popular is it is just an extension of what we were already kind of doing, which is making custom pieces for everybody,” Kippen said. “I don’t see it being a trend that will go away any time soon because our customers are loving the ability to pick out chains and charms and create [and wear] any jewelry they can dream up.”