In the consumer psyche, fine jewelry from the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Christian Dior is no less evocative of the brand than its latest shoe or handbag. It’s easy to forget that the merger between fashion and fine jewelry is a relatively new phenomenon—Chanel and Dior, for instance, entered the haute joaillerie business in the aughties. And now—lured by the gleaming prospects of diamonds, precious metals, and gemstones—a slew of fashion companies have thrown their hats into the fine jewelry arena.
For globally recognized fashion labels, the carrot is hard to resist: U.S. fine jewelry and watch sales are projected to have reached $66 billion–$68 billion in 2011, according to the Jewelry Research Institute. Globally, that number is estimated to be $135 billion–$140 billion. Additionally, all eyes are on Chinese luxury consumers, whose appetite for fashion brand names is legendary. Although China’s growth may be slowing and Europe is continuing to experience economic setbacks, fine jewelry sales, while not expected to reach the record levels notched in 2011, are due to grow in 2012.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pent-up demand across the board,” James Mischka tells JCK, by way of explaining why Badgley Mischka launched a fine jewelry collection last November. “Women were really cautious for a long time. You can only be good for so long. Women want to indulge themselves. They want to have fun. They don’t want to be depressed.”
The New York fashion house forged an alliance with licensee Clyde Duneier to manufacture jewels featuring moonstone, champagne and black diamonds, sapphire, blue topaz, citrine, and amethyst on behalf of the label. The line is made up of sterling silver and 18k gold necklaces, rings, earrings, and bracelets that appear to mimic the intricate beading and embroidery seen in Badgley Mischka’s ready-to-wear collections. But in fact, it’s the other way around. “All the gowns have been inspired by vintage jewelry,” says cofounder Mark Badgley. “We have a huge affinity for it.”
The designers, well aware that consumers’ idea of luxury could mean anything from small, delicate pieces to major investments, gave the collection a wide retail price range, from $1,000 to $30,000. Bloomingdale’s and the Badgley Mischka boutique in Manhattan hold the initial exclusive with a rollout to fine jewelry stores slated for later this year. “We have high hopes for this collection,” Badgley says.
Diamond Link necklace in 18k white gold with full diamond pavé; $168,600; Ralph Lauren, New York City; 212-434-8000; ralphlaurenwatches.com
Milton Pedraza, president and CEO of the New York City–based Luxury Institute, believes fine jewelry is a natural progression for fashion companies. “These brands have seen companies like Chanel really build up their jewelry business,” he says. “They have a wonderfully loyal customer base, they sell accessories anyway, and jewelry doesn’t take up much space in the store. And jewelry has very high profit margins. It makes sense. It’s easy for the designer to expand into jewelry. It is just a literally custom-made business for them. It’s a wonderful fit.”
For many companies, fine jewelry is simply an extension of the brand. During creative director Tomas Maier’s decade-long reign, Bottega Veneta seamlessly moved from crafting artisanal leathers to creating a line featuring citrine and diamond earrings in blackened gold for $8,800, a yellow gold crochet choker necklace for $39,600, and white gold rectangular rings for $5,000. Many of the pieces mirror the leather-weaving signature of the Venetian accessories label, garnering rave reviews among fashion critics.
Eager to trade on its well-known mark and capitalize on the luxury boom, Dolce & Gabbana unveiled its first-ever fine jewelry line last September. The 80-piece collection is inspired by the Mediterranean, Sicilian iconography, and Catholic references. Echoing a theme that often plays out in the fashion collections, jeweled crosses, black jade rosaries, and ceramic icons of the Madonna strung from Byzantine chains are rendered in tri-color gold, rubies, sapphires, and pearls. Pendants and charms are composed of hand-engraved keys, coins, hearts, hexes, and horseshoes that hang from bracelets or necklaces. The collection, which bowed in the United States in December, ranges from $975 to $25,500 retail.
For some houses, however, fine jewelry is something of a publicity stunt. In March, Hermès unveiled a miniature Birkin bag made of rose gold and studded with thousands of precious stones designed to be worn both as a handbag and as a bracelet. Each piece is tagged at a staggering $1.9 million. “We’re a little crazy here,” Patrick Thomas, CEO of Hermès, told the Financial Times. Pierre Hardy joined Hermès as the creative director of the jewelry division two years ago and introduced the Parisian brand’s first “Haute Bijouterie” collection, 14 pieces available by special order that got plenty of play in the press. Chunky horse hoof–inspired Centaure necklaces in black jade and rose gold ringed with diamonds, Centaure rings and necklaces paved in diamonds, and a Fouet necklace in the shape of a whip ranged priced from $23,675 to $880,000.
(From top) Ralph Lauren Diamond Chunky Chain rings in 18k rose gold with diamond pavé, $13,700, with brown diamond pavé and amethyst, $15,800, with diamond pavé and prasiolite, $16,200
At Ralph Lauren, a fine jewelry collection that premiered in October 2010 is part of the company’s ongoing lifestyle statement, which includes forays into home interiors and a collection of vintage silver jewels found in the American Southwest. The first Watch & Jewelry Salon opened stateside at 888 Madison Avenue in New York City, a mansion that enshrines all things Ralph Lauren. Although produced in a partnership with global giant Richemont, the collection is currently limited to Ralph Lauren boutiques in Hong Kong and Saint-Germain, Paris. From pavé chains and romantic chandelier earrings to a diamond RLR monogram adorning pearls, each piece is handcrafted and finished. The opening price for the Signature Diamond square band ring in rose gold is $1,400, while the collection reaches to $40,000. The Diamond Link necklace in white gold, set with 2,646 diamonds (not just on the exterior, but set along the side and back) is $168,600 and requires 200 hours, or five weeks, of production time.
While that level of detail and workmanship is not new for fashion designers, Badgley and Mischka, for example, admitted that fine jewelry comes with a learning curve. “It’s not as seasonal as ready-to-wear,” Mischka says. “These are big purchases for our customer. The design really has to stand the test of time.”
JCK 5: We Can Get It For You Wholesale
Gucci 18k gold Diamantissima rings with white and black enamel; $995 each
Fashion houses’ fine jewelry lines that are or will soon be available at wholesale
1. Badgley Mischka, 212-849-1333, badgleymischka.com
2. Alexander McQueen, 212-229-1546, alexandermcqueen.com
3. Chanel, 212-688-5055, chanel.com
4. Gucci, 212-750-5220, gucci.com
5. Yves Saint Laurent, 212-832-7100, ysl.com