TWIST Boutiques And E-Commerce Site Curate Artistic Luxury Jewels For Global Clientele

Cathy Waterman’s one-of-a-kind Owl pendant is made of 22-karat gold and hand-painted, fossilized … [+]

The late pop artist and passionate jewelry collector Andy Warhol called the Bulgari jewelry boutique on Rome’s Via Condotti “the most important museum of contemporary art.” If Warhol was still alive and shopping today, he might describe as the most world’s most important free-standing jewelry stores and website. With boutiques in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, plus a website that features 120 independent designers from around the world, TWIST offers three incomparable destinations for sourcing limited edition and one-of-a-kind jewels.

What’s more, Warhol might also flip his silver wig over the site’s 53 jewelry videos (produced by Sasha Schneider, the daughter of TWIST co-founders Paul Schneider and Lauren Eulau.) These videos present jewels and their designers in kinetic, compelling ways that still photography and copywriting can never achieve. Documenting studio visits, jewelry-making processes and highlighting the passion behind designers’ aesthetic aspirations, TWISTonline videos bring to life various aspects of the art, craft and business of fine jewelry. According to Paul Schneider, “My wife Lauren Eulau is a weaver, and I’m a potter. We have been in business for 40 years with the same goals: to present an artfully curated selection of fine jewelry that’s also wearable art, to purchase jewelry outright from designers rather than engage them in financially uncertain consignment deals, and to delight our customers with beautiful and rare jewels. While our stores are the bedrock of our business and we often serve three generations of people in the same family,” he continues, “we launched our website in 1999 and debuted our e-commerce site to function as a third store in 2005.”

And what a trifecta TWIST is: while there are over 11,000 items on the web site and in the two boutiques, all jewels posted online are actually in stock at TWIST, rather than drop shipped by e-tailers from remote, uncommunicative warehouses. While the TWIST shops and online boutique offer selections from $40.00 Julie Rofman beaded bracelets to items in the tightly curated; stylistically diverse $250.00 and under section, all branches are very much luxury jewelry stores. For example, the site’s expansive engagement and wedding jewelry selection includes artistic takes on classic diamond solitaire rings, alternative engagement rings available in champagne and darker diamonds as well as colorless ones, plus colored gemstone engagement rings. (These range from $515 for a Sofia Zakia 14-karat gold and colorless diamond Antlia ring to a Johnny Ninos sustainably mined, Montana blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring set in 18-karat gold. Centered with an asymmetrical; untreated and muted blue sapphire that was ethically sourced from a Montana mine, this $3,800 ring is the type of vanguard jewel that TWIST and TWISTonline have been selling for years before “sustainability” became a luxury marketing buzzword.

An unusually varied selection of engagement rings priced at $5,000 and up rounds out this realm, and, Schneider notes, “TWISTonline customer service staff are available to answer questions and work with you to find the perfect engagement ring and/or wedding bands.” (Wedding bands in various styles and precious metals round out the nuptial jewelry menu.) At the time of publication, the most expensive jewel on TWISTonline was an engagement ring selling for $40,880. Designed by Cathy Waterman, the 2.01 carat, cushion-cut champagne diamond and platinum marquise leaf ring embodies the graceful lines of an antique. Centered with a sizeable cushion cut, champagne diamond rather than a colorless round brilliant, this platinum jewel makes a compelling visual impression and also features .28 total carat weight of marquise cut diamonds.

“Our buying team receives 2,000 submissions a year,” Schneider explains. “Although we are unable to carry all of the designers that we would like to, we compensate by frequently refreshing our two boutiques and with new pieces that are unavailable elsewhere,” he adds. Although Schneider’s too modest to say so, TWISTonline’s selection of exclusive pieces from French, British, Italian and US luxury designers such as Marie-Hélène de Taillac, Pippa Small, Cathy Waterman, Francesca Villa, Mallary Marks and Judy Geib makes it a virtual United Nations of jewelry. While TWIST designers utilize compelling, inherently valuable, repurposed or sometimes semi-precious or other found materials in sophisticated ways, common threads running through TWIST jewelry offerings include ahead-of-the-trends forms and concepts, an exuberant color sense, innovative use of materials plus artisanal finesse.

TWIST’s five-member website team works to provide visitors with an easy-to-navigate experience that’s supported by responsive customer service. “While online sales are expected to grow for luxury jewelry in coming years as sales gaps between jewelry websites and brick-and-mortar stores continue to narrow,” Schneider reports, “our physical boutiques remain the foundation of what we do.” And yet TWISTonline has proven to be a dynamic customer-service tool for jewelry lovers in Seattle and Portland. “Our local customers often pre-shop on the website and call ahead to ask us to please pull pieces they’re interested in,” Schneider says. “Surprisingly, our website has helped us build stronger bonds and sales with the customers we deal with face-to-face, and this is especially true with millennials.” Five full-time employees are required to keep the digital realm of TWIST alive and current, as the sheer number of jewels offered and TWIST’s encyclopedic contents frequently change and need to be updated.

According to London-based jewelry rep Valery Demure, who also operates the Marylebone jewelry gallery Objet d’Emotion, “The quality of TWIST’s in–store and online selection, the website videos and other content, combined with their customer service, sets them apart from other physical or digital stores. I think,” she theorizes, “that many of their customers become repeat purchasers because their physical stores and TWISTonline do more than present lovely jewels. While Paul and Lauren have always connected personally with their customers; especially with women, they have also been building mutually beneficial relationships with designers and customers for decades.” When this writer ventures that the content, layout and experience of shopping on TWISTonline makes the customer feel appreciated as a human, rather than targeted as a consumer, Demure responds, “TWIST puts the magic back into shopping for jewelry, and people feel that magic when they visit the site or step into the stores.”

Intriguingly, visitors to the stores can mediate between QR codes on their phones and jewels inside showcases to connect with the site’s videos about designers. The physical and digital experience becomes “phygital” as the visitor tries on jewelry in the store and then watches a video about a designer and their respective creations on their mobile phone. As Schneider relates, “We started catering to women self-purchasers well before many traditional jewelry stores and luxury retailers realized that this demographic is a considerable and continually growing community.” For example, the TWIST website caters to women shoppers’ specific interests by offering curated selections with headings like “Upgrade Him”. Then there are headings where visitors can find jewelry suitable for one of the four seasons, or shop for jewels containing the birthstone of the month. Milestone-focused headings like “She’s Graduating” or “Everything but the Ring” also help customers focus their search for personal purchases or jewels intended as gifts.

Two key factors that shape TWISTonline’s holistic approach to running a dynamic and trend-setting jewelry business are the artistic sensibilities and business experiences of Schneider and Eulau. “Both Lauren and I have a deep understanding of the professional and personal challenges faced by artists who sell their creations for a living. We commit fully to them,” he explains, “by purchasing jewels outright rather than taking them on consignment. We believe that this is the only sustainable business model for designers and retailers.” TWIST’s business model contrasts with the standard practices of luxury retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, which typically take jewelry only on consignment. This imbalanced power dynamic partially explains why many independent jewelry designers experience perpetual financial uncertainty, and why designers rejoice at the chance to work with TWIST. As Schneider relates, “Some of the jewelers we represent, such as Cathy Waterman, Judy Geib and 10,000 Things, have been with us for over two decades.”

Because TWIST offers certain jewels at 50 percent off during its annual Portland in-store sale every March, Schneider observes, “We always manage to make good on our investment in designers.” The yearly sale lasts nine days and is legendary for superb discounts on luxury artisanal jewelry, and its festive atmosphere, which includes complimentary cookies. “People start lining up in the early morning hours before the first day of the sale,” Schneider relates. “Every year, I bake 600 cookies which are handed out to customers as they wait online to gain entry into our store,” he says with a laugh. “We must control customer flow for the sanity of our staff, and for safety reasons.”

The jewelry industry has recognized TWIST for its remarkable commitment to jewelry designers, influential contributions to the fine jewelry industry and ongoing business innovations. In 2018, TWIST received the Cindy Edelstein Award from the luxury jewelry trade show COUTURE Las Vegas. This award, named for the late jewelry brand consultant Cindy Edelstein, honors exceptional creative commitment to the jewelry business via strong support of designers, enterprising merchandising and ethical business practices.

In 2020, Jewelers of America, a leading U.S.-based non-profit jewelry association, honored TWIST at its annual Gem Awards with its Retail Innovation Award. Recognizing TWIST’s creative strategies in brick-and-mortar business and its e-commerce successes, this award underscored how TWIST leverages digital technologies to thrive in a brutally competitive marketplace. Accepting the honor, Schneider credited his wife, Lauren Eulau, for her artistic judgment and visionary business practices. More recently, in June 2022, National Jeweler magazine named Schneider and Eulau as inductees into the multi-store independent division of its Retailer Hall of Fame. This annual honor recognizes jewelers who are making significant contributions to their communities, and to the jewelry industry. “TWISTonline delivers the kind of aesthetic, emotional and psychic experiences of jewelry that satisfy jewelry lovers who are sick of bland, so-called luxury jewels and empty marketing campaigns,” says Demure. While the rise in demand for certified sustainable jewelry and gender-fluid jewelry are two key factors powering growth in the online market for luxury jewelry, so are the varied psycho-social meanings and purposes of jewelry.

“Whether you call it fine jewelry or luxury jewelry, its personal significance transcends its design elements, material values and technical refinement,” says Schneider. “Jewelry is both an art form and a vehicle for self-expression. We try to convey that in everything we present in TWISTonline, and in our physical stores.”