4 May 2007
A Brand New World(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 05,2007)
More and more fashion houses are introducing their own jewellery collections or licensing their names to them, watch companies are entering the fray, and an ever-increasing number of jewellery lines are being introduced each season.
This has led to a trend for an eclectic mix of styles using new gems and precious metals in an effort to create unique collections that reflect the philosophy of the brand.
Add the fact that e-commerce is transforming consumer purchasing patterns, and the fine jewellery business has clearly entered a whole new world.
This was the changing industry scenario outlined by Didier Brodbeck, Chief Editor of the authoritative industry publication A World of Dreams, at the recent Major Trends in Jewellery seminar at the highly successful Hong Kong International Jewellery Show 2007.
According to Brodbeck, old family jewellery businesses such as Alain Boucheron and Pierre Chaumet have either sold out to large investors or gone bankrupt. "In their place have come large groups and investors such as LVMH, PPR, Richemont and the Swatch Group," he explained.
This trend began some 12 years ago with top fashion brands such as Chanel, Dior and Hermés from France; Gucci, Armani, Fendi, Versace, Dolce & Gabanna and Prada from Italy, and others such as Calvin Klein, Guess, Tommy Hilfiger and Nike all expanding into jewellery.
The last 10 years have also seen such big names as Montblanc, Louis Vuitton and De Beers (DTC) launch jewellery and/or watch lines, often using their popular brand logos within designs. "A new fashion brand is appearing almost every month, often starting in watches and then moving into jewellery," Brodbeck observed.
Some of these moves are licensing arrangements, such as Calvin Klein with Swatch, and some are aimed at specific markets, like Omega's jewellery line that is specifically targeting Asia.
"Today, everyone is designing jewellery," Brodbeck noted, adding that Swatch wants a jewellery line behind every watch group because "watches command one-third of the total business against jewellery's two-thirds".
These upheavals have led to the disappearance of traditional "territories", with jewellers designing watches and watchmakers introducing jewellery.
Brodbeck gave as examples jewellers Boucheron, Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels and Bulgari, and watchmakers Breguet, Omega, Piaget, Audemars Piguet, Swatch and Léon Hatot.
"Piaget has very good jewellery designs, Léon Hatot's expensive jewellery collection is available mostly in the Middle East, and Audemars Piguet will be launching its jewellery line at the Basel fair," noted Brodbeck.
Changes in purchasing channels are also impacting the industry. "A big new challenge is e-commerce, which will represent more than 30% of the business in the next five years," he claimed.
"For example, Blue Line has a bigger turnover than Tiffany, and the Paradisepearl site is now selling over US$50m," Brodbeck claimed. "Every hour there is a new jewellery website."
He dispelled the notion that e-commerce is only about discount. "E-commerce is practical, informative and discount," Brodbeck claimed, and noted that several top names use the medium.
For example, he said, Louis Vuitton and Hermés sell on the Web because it is more informative for the consumer and buyers can take all the time they need to choose their purchase. "People like shopping at home," Brodbeck noted, and added that even active women find time to shop this way.
Changes are also occurring in the global jewellery manufacturing industry.
"There is a huge movement to manufacturing in the East - in Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand, which is popular for cutting stones."
Companies in these areas may offer huge production opportunities, but they also represent fierce competition, with many now launching their own brands.
"East has moved West," Brodbeck claimed, and cited the opening in Paris in the last six months of such high-end stores as Japanese jewellery brand Karati and Chinese brand Qeelin.
Brodbeck also highlighted several other major trends in jewellery design and materials:
- men's jewellery is "now a real market, not a niche", with recent successes in Italy and Spain of the black pearl for men
- "think pink" for gold, as well as grey, black and blue, as designers introduce new things to get new customers
- rediscovering the past, with "people going back to the archives for things that have been forgotten"
- charms to remain popular as they exemplify very personal jewellery, with Louis Vuitton expanding its logo charm to create special charms for different markets that travellers can collect
- cabochons are back - especially in bright necklaces - and briolette cuts are in vogue
- trembleuse, clips and brooches, collier de chiens and tiaras are making a return
- the huge Goth movement for skulls is to stay, with virtually every large jewellery brand introducing the theme
- pearls are back in a "new wave" that will be around for 5-6 years, with Tahitian black pearls and freshwater pearls particularly popular
- hi-tech is hot, thanks to new materials such as cacholong, tantale, titanium and ceramic, with Chanel launching a ceramic watch and jewellery collection
- unusual stones, such as tourmaline paraiba, imperial topaz, spinelle and rubellite, are attracting attention as they offer something different.
Brodbeck ended his presentation by discussing the marketing move towards what he termed "The Scoop" or themed stories behind new collections, and cited Dior's creation of Belladone Island on the Internet for its top-of-the-line collection that sells from US$150,000-1.3m per piece.
In summary, Brodbeck said that for jewellery, the trend was "be creative, be innovative and anything goes", which could just as easily be the theme for the fashion industry as a whole.
If big fashion brands, along with their massive marketing campaigns, are dominating the fine jewellery business, where does that leave the creative independent designer?
A specialised French public relations agency, Joailliers-créateurs, offers a unique concept to help these designers not only prosper but also challenge some of the traditional perceptions of fine jewellery in France, and perhaps the world.
"If we take the mother and daughter high-end jewellery consumer, the mother may opt for haute couture and big brands, but the daughter is looking for something much more personal and unique; that daughter is our target group," explained Erwann Bigot, media relations manager for Joailliers-créateurs, who spoke at the Major Trends in Jewellery seminar at the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show 2007.
Every year since this independent company began in 2002, it has created a theme and invited selected independent jewellery designers to design unique pieces for the collection.
"Our role is to brainstorm the theme, offer this to selected designers and then launch the new collection in a way that attracts maximum media and buyer attention," he explained. "Our criteria for designers are quality, talent and style, and while designs can be quite diverse, there is an overall harmony unifying the collection."
The collections themselves have even helped dissolve some of the more entrenched barriers surrounding fine jewellery in France. "For our collection themes, more recently we have concentrated on little-known gemstones or used large semiprecious stones, which are not usually the norm in fine jewellery in France."
For example, 2004's Blue Velvet theme focused on the use of tanzanite, an intense dark stone unknown to the French market. "In 2005, our Translucent collection featured large, transparent-coloured stones to create big yet still affordable pieces," described Erwann.
Joailliers-créateurs' 2006 collection, Prémonition, centred on the opal and exhibits work by 17 French jewellery designers. "The opal is traditionally seen as bad luck in France and is virtually unknown in French fine jewellery," noted Erwann.
"We wanted to change this perception and create a demand for this magnificent gemstone."
The resulting collection presented the opal in multifarious colours and designs, with prices for one-off handmade creations ranging from US$2,000-50,000.
This year was the first time that Joailliers-créateurs had exhibited the collection in the Jewellery Designer Galleria at the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show.
Some of the designers accompanied the collection, such as Nathalie Castro, who previously worked for Dior and is now looking to align with a large jewellery design company.
Another collection contributor, Nadine Pagliani, is a fourth-generation French jeweller, who has owned her own shop in Paris, Pagliani Joaillier, for 17 years. "I wanted to experience the fair with like-minded designers," explained Pagliani. "As a designer, it's important to be open to the jewellery world. Also, I love jade and pearls and would like to try and source these here."
The Prémonition collection certainly drew the crowds at the Designer Galleria, including jewellery designers from other countries interested in the Joailliers-créateurs initiative.
They may not have to wait too long for a similar opportunity. "We are currently finalising our 2007 collection, but in future, we may look at introducing an international one," Erwann said.
TEXT BY SANDRA JENNER