Until last month, Pandora bracelets were a phenomenon I knew nothing about.
That is, until I saw an enormous line of Pandora worshippers queuing for a chance to shop at the Pandora in Miami’s Aventura Mall. (I felt the same bewilderment when I saw a throng of shoppers waiting patiently to shop at Abercrombie and Fitch — in Paris.)
I was familiar with Pandora’s most famous products: sterling silver bracelets strung with squat beads shaped like tea kettles and enamel pineapples. But I was taken aback by shoppers’ unrestrained devotion, proselytized with a zeal that’s usually reserved for Apple products and the Manolo sample sale.
So, I dug a little deeper. During the 2014 holiday season, Pandora was one of the biggest Google searches, trending in Southeastern cities like Jacksonville, Nashville and and Memphis. According to the Baltimore Sun, Pandora’s U.S. sales grew 25 percent to $750 million in 2013 alone. (This doesn’t account for its global sales, so the figure is likely much higher.)
Sales-wise, Pandora’s popularity was empirically obvious — but I still couldn’t figure out WHAT made Pandora so special to its devotees. Unlike true luxury products, like Tiffany or Cartier, the inherent snob value is nonexistent. (Pandora is one of the biggest players in the affordable “mall jewelry” triumvirate; The other two leaders are “It Can Only Be” Jared and “Every Kiss Begins With” Kay.)
So I went to a mall in New Jersey to see the stuff up close.
After inspecting the bracelets and charms, I wasn’t dazzled by the actual jewelry — but I wholly admired Pandora’s brilliant business strategy. Think about it: The plain silver bangles start out at fairly affordable prices, ranging between $65 and $325. (More elaborate bracelets can reach $1,805 in gold.)
The bracelets themselves are completely nondescript — empty vessels waiting to be filled. And that’s where the charms’ addictive powers come into play. Pandora has marketed its charms not as jewelry, but as starkly emotional tokens that link your purchase to milestones AND your wellbeing.
With the magic of marketing, these bracelets transform from suburban status symbols to safety valves for your memories and protective talismans with the power to boost your inner positivity and loyalty.
For example, Pandora’s “Essence” collection features beads and stones assigned to attributes, like “confidence” and “sensitivity.” Ostensibly, you can string together all the stones that tell “your story” — or pick the stones that represent areas you’d most like to improve.
(If you aren’t sure which stones you should pick, Pandora has a handy quiz to help you! Pandora suggested the creativity, dedication and passion stones as my personal “essence story” — for a total of $275, which doesn’t include the bracelet.)
Pandora documents every second of your life, including major milestones (a mini bride and groom), travel destinations (a cruise ship) and spiritual proclivities (a Buddha, a peace sign).
There’s also a smattering of random ephemera, like a pine cone and a pair of scissors. (If they really want to make a killing, they’d create charms to document ALL of life’s minutiae, like a toilet paper roll or a cell phone charger.)
I can’t help but be cynical about Pandora’s success. Does the company represent the commercialization of our memories? The homogenization of our innermost desires or traits? The illusion that a purchase can cure what ails us?
I do not think it is a coincidence that Pandora markets itself as an easy one-stop shop for clueless husbands. Because if your personality is truly unique, it can’t be mass-produced or boiled down to a bead. And suddenly, what seems like a thoughtful gift may actually take no thought at all.
Do you agree with my assessment? I’d also love to hear any dissents from Pandora fans.