Luxury jewelry defies crisis
If you never noticed the recession, you are surely keeping good company: Haute joaillerie, or high jewelry, it seems, has not noticed it either.
In the past year, the topmost niche of the luxury jewelry market has seen the arrival of a new brand, the return of a defunct brand and the revitalization of a high jewelry brand that had lost its way.
In this lofty world, where prices start in the tens of thousands of dollars and easily exceed one million dollars, it is not only the arrival of new brands that points to the vigor of the market, it is also the adoption of new strategies by established houses to entice buyers into their gilded salons.
Two luxury names added their luster to the stage this year. In July,
, known for the jeweled eggs beloved by the Russian imperial court, woke from a 90-year slumber and, to kick off its revival, presented a collection during the Paris Haute Couture shows. In October, the fashion giant Louis Vuitton showed its debut collection of high jewelry during the ready-to-wear collections in Paris.
The two brands have in common strong name recognition and reputations for a commitment to quality and luxury. But they have gone about marketing their lines in very different ways.
Fabergé’s new investor-owners, who bought the brand two years ago from the food-to-toiletries manufacturer Unilever, have turned to the Internet and e-commerce to sell “Les Fabuleuses,” a collection of 100 unique pieces.
People who think of online shopping in terms of cut-price mass marketing are missing the point, says Mark Dunhill, chief executive officer of Fabergé, which is the possibility of spending freely without being seen.
“During times of economic uncertainly real luxury comes back,” Mr. Dunhill said. At the same time, however, “there is a tendency to approach special purchases in a more discerning and discreet manner.”
Fabergé’s online store allows customers to shop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from the comfort of their homes. But, adding an old-school touch to this new commerce approach, if they want more information about items shown online, they can call or e-mail a sales adviser — a step meant to create a more personal interaction between the brand and its clients.
Louis Vuitton’s approach has been more classic. The brand has tapped the Place Vendôme veteran Lorenz Bäumer to create its first haute joaillerie line. Mr. Bäumer has designed anonymously for brands including Chanel, Baccarat and Guerlain and has also created his own signature collection. The result of his collaboration with Vuitton is “L’Âme du Voyage,” a collection of six sets of one-of-a-kind jewelry creations.
Sharing the limelight with the designer is likely to prove a smart move. The appointment of Mr. Bäumer as Louis Vuitton’s new artistic director for jewelry has given the brand instant pedigree. While harnessing Mr. Bäumer’s designer credentials, Vuitton has kept its brand identity at the heart of the collection, which not only features elements of its iconic flower motifs and brown and gold color palette, but also includes a 30.1 carat diamond specially cut in the quadrifoil form of the Vuitton flower.
These two new kids on the block are not the only ones shaking things up at the top end of the market. Established houses like Boucheron and Verdura have been celebrating major anniversaries by revamping their brands.
Last year Boucheron celebrated its 150th anniversary with a number of partnerships, including its jeweled snake design for Vertu luxury cellphones. The results have persuaded the company to go further, combining its jewelry savoir-faire with the design skills of leaders in other fields.
“This is what we call ‘Beyond Luxury,’ ” said Jean-Christophe Bédos, Boucheron’s chief executive, “a unique expression of excellence in design and craftsmanship.”
The first fruit of this approach was a one-of-a-kind necklace produced in partnership with the industrial designer Marc Newson. The necklace, made in a design inspired by mathematical fractal theory, sold within weeks despite a price tag of over $1 million.
Meanwhile, the august house of Verdura is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Word has it that to mark the occasion, the normally discreet jeweler — best know for the Maltese Cross cuffs that its founder, Fulco Verdura, made for Coco Chanel — plans to broaden distribution, expand production and start e-commerce.
“I subscribe to the theory that ‘too much is not enough,’ so I am of course always looking to increase our customer numbers,” said Harry Fane, Verdura’s representative in London. The strategy, he said, will be to keep reaching back into the archives to inspire new collections. “Fulco Verdura was astonishingly prolific,” Mr. Fane said. “Whilst not every piece is ideal for today, it is amazing how much remains chic and super fashionable.”