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The Rock Trade

Everyone seems to know that jewelry will lag in its move to the web. It's hard to bring out the emotional attachment that leads to a purchase online. It's hard to properly convey the size of a piece on a screen. Good stuff is expensive, and regular buyers depend on a trust relationship with their jeweler. This hasn't stopped folks from rushing into the market wholesale.

Everyone seems to know that jewelry will lag in its move to the web. It’s hard to bring out the emotional attachment that leads to a purchase online. It’s hard to properly convey the size of a piece on a screen. Good stuff is expensive, and regular buyers depend on a trust relationship with their jeweler, who helps them define their own taste and keeps them from getting ripped-off.

This hasn’t stopped folks from rushing into the market wholesale. Jewelry, after all, is a $45 billion market in the U.S., and even if just 1 percent of it goes online in the next year, we’re talking about big numbers.

QVC was among the first outfits to get into this market in a big way with their GemsandJewels site, although I bought a ring from their iQVC site months before that one opened. Miadora, backed by Sequoia Venture Capital, the marketing expertise of Mark Kvamme and run by former Sharper Image executive Barry Gilbert, launched over the summer.

Now QVC’s arch rival, Home Shopping Network, has entered the fray. HSN, if you’re not aware, is owned by USA Networks, which made an abortive run at Lycos almost a year ago. They also own Ticketmaster/Citysearch, so they ought to be a player. (Technically the new effort is from USA Interactive Networks, the former Internet Shopping Network.)

The USA site is called FirstJewelry, and my first impressions are that its aim is higher than that of GemsandJewels (which has tennis bracelets on the home page), but a little lower than Miadora (which has an elegant model on the home page).

The initial FirstJewelry home page features pictures of gems, lots of navigation aids, and Western haiku-like poems (“life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced”) that float in and out next to an appearing (and disappearing) pearl.

Pamela Kelly Boogar (it’s pronounced like Bogart, and it’s Dutch), a former Mattel executive, is senior vice president of marketing for FirstJewelry. She said cross promotion is a key to her site’s strategy.

“On the marketing end we’ll do advertising on USA Networks, the SciFi Channel and broadcast stations we own. We’ll have our commercial on video releases. In addition, we’re developing promotional ideas and partnerships with TicketMaster/CitySearch, Match.Com and hotel reservation networks.”

On the technology side, the new site will leverage the Home Shopping Network’s call center, transaction processing, fulfillment and email capability – the last delivers 2 million messages per month.

There’s a lot to think about here (besides what you’re going to get your special someone for Christmas).

Big names are spending big bucks upfront in lagging niches, developing new brand names rather than going at it through a single “department store” site. But they are also bringing real world heft – marketing heft, distribution heft, buying heft – to the effort.

And none of the companies I’ve mentioned today are established jewelry chains, most of which aren’t taking this new competition lying-down.

It’s fascinating stuff, but don’t ask me who’ll win. My Timex Ironman watch works just fine, $7 from Filene’s Basement.

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