offers stylish jewellery at affordable prices

Plukka has carved a niche for itself in the crowded online jewellery market, writesDivia Harilela

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2012, 1:53pm

Online start-ups are a dime a dozen in technology hubs such as Bangladesh or Silicon Valley. Last year, however, Hong Kong stole the spotlight with the launch of a fine jewellery retailer and e-commerce site that creates stylish, made-to-order jewels without the hefty price tag.

Fast forward a year and Plukka has won several accolades, including Industry Innovation of the Year - Retail from Jewellery News Asia and splashy editorials in Elle, W and among others. Having successfully launched in the US, Plukka is now setting its sights on its home turf by expanding to serve global markets, including Hong Kong, this month.

"We started in the US because we wanted to get the tech industry excited and establish our leadership in the category. After hosting a trunk show here we saw such an amazing response. Now we ship to eight countries, including Singapore, Australia and New Zealand," says Joanne Ooi, CEO of Plukka.

Ooi, former creative director of luxury brand Shanghai Tang, founded Plukka in December last year with business partner Jai Waney, a garment manufacturer and owner of restaurants including the chic Japanese restaurant Zuma.

"Initially, we didn't see eye to eye. He wanted to create the of shirts, while I wanted an online Chinese collective," says Ooi. "Then the Google valuation of Groupon happened and we realised that we wanted to combine group buying with manufacturing processes since it was one of our strengths. We chose fine jewellery because it worked well with our business model - there are big margins and we could start on a small scale."

Plukka immediately grabbed headlines for combining flash sales, group buying and social shopping. Each item is available online for a limited time and the more people who commit to buying, the lower the price goes. Customers can keep track of the price in real time via Plukka's patented Value Proposition (a reverse auction pricing sliding scale interface). Once the sale is over, the item goes into production and your jewellery arrives within four weeks.

Unlike other Groupon-style sites, Plukka doesn't offer excess inventory or non-seasonal merchandise. Instead, it works directly with 25 manufacturers in Thailand and China to create original jewellery designs made from high quality materials such as 18-carat gold, semi-precious stones and diamonds. Because there is no middleman, Plukka's prices are usually 60 to 80 per cent below retail and range between US$190 and US$7,000.

While the prices are a major draw, what gives Plukka its edge is the variety. It has more than 600 different products on offer, ranging from classic pieces to edgy styles such as the Glamourai and Bullet rings. Everything is designed under the supervision of Ooi and an in-house creative director, who is a Central Saint Martins design graduate.

Plukka is going from strength to strength (by the first quarter it plans to offer 1,200 items with prices up to US$45,000) but running a tech start-up has come with challenges. As the online landscape and shopping habits evolve, so has Plukka's business model.

"It is challenging to build a fine jewellery brand from scratch online and we can't use the same model forever. Our concept of group buying combined with manufacturing based on minimum order quantities meant we were shooting ourselves in the foot when we had orders for an item, but were unable to hit the minimum during a single sales event," says Ooi. "We decided to tweak our product offering to items which could be made in single unit quantities, dispensing with manufacturing minimums entirely."

Despite the hiccups, Plukka has big plans for next year. Spring sees the launch of the "Designer" category in which the site will collaborate with an American costume jewellery designer to create a series of exclusive pieces.

"The whole idea is to be the apogee of creativity. For any luxury goods conglomerate their challenge is always creativity. That's a game I think we can win - if we can bring together 15 Stephen Websters under one roof and sell their stuff at unbelievable prices and make it more accessible, while helping launch their careers, why not?

"I want to leave a legacy of pointing the way forward of how to bring more creativity back to consumer retail - creativity that I haven't seen since the 1980s," she says.

"I also want to show how Hong Kong can be at the centre of the tech industry by creating disruptive retail models whose linchpins are based on our manufacturing strengths. I want to show that being daring and innovative can have a big pay-off."