Live From Madrid: Carrera y Carrera Headquarters Tour

This is the final installment of a series of blogs written live from the city of Madrid, part of a series based on a trip to the Carrera y Carrera headquarters. Click to read parts I, II, and III.

A driver picked me up at 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday to take me to the Carrera y Carrera headquarters on the outskirts of Madrid. According to the CyC team, factories are forbidden downtown, a pleasant problem considering the jeweler set up operations in a spacious golden-tone building that houses about 100 employees, including an in-house manufacturing department. One hundred percent of CyC’s roughly 16,000 jewels made annually come to life under one roof; there’s no outsourcing.

From first sketch in the six-man design department to the brand stamp and serial numbers inscribed on each piece, CyC stays true to its attention to details of every kind. And it’s not hard to understand why the brand highlights mainly Spanish themes, considering the vast number of museums in Madrid—the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemisza all call the city homeSpain’s rich history of royalty, religion, and its Golden Age. “The collections are deep in our cultural roots,” explains Cristina Moya, head of international communications.

Inside a showroom in Carrera y Carrera headquarters on the outskirts of Madrid

Inside a showroom in Carrera y Carrera headquarters on the outskirts of Madrid

Renderings from the six-person design team at Carrera y Carrera

Renderings from the six-person design team at Carrera y Carrera

And unlike luxury brands from the U.S., France, and Italy that highlight important stones, CyC tells a gold story first and foremost. “CyC is a goldsmith carrying on traditions from the 15th century,” adds Moya. Thanks to the handiwork of CyC’s modern-day founder Manuel Carrera, the firm’s signature style of sculpted, voluminous, matte, and polished gold jewels have earned acclaim, particularly in the realm of tricky-to-make surreal numbers like hands. “Manuel works body jewelry like no one else,” observes Moya. For sure, CyC is not interested in mass-market production, a point underscored by the fine finishing and details on the backsides of pieces, which are as impressive as the fronts.

Those familiar with the brand may remember that it was in 1977 when Carrera and his cousin Juan Carrera formalized the firm that already had more than 100 years of family jewelry history. CyC took part in the third edition of the Baselworld show in a 16-square-meter booth that became a 100-square-meter space three years after success took root. Today, celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez choose to wear CyC jewelry, they are not paid to do so, insists Moya. “We are a small company—we can not afford to pay for placement,” she says. Carrera, too, is still involved in the business, though it has been bought and sold numerous times since 2001. He still makes an annual collection and periodically consults with the design department.

After a brief meeting in a showroom—complete with playtime with some of the jewels—communications team member Svetlana Kuznetsova walks me through the facility. We start in the design center, where I meet five of the six designers, including Rafael Herrera, an English speaker who explained how ideas shape. “In this stage, everything is possible,” he says. The team sketches ideas for several months, eventually selecting the best 10 percent of looks to make technical drawings for the manufacturing department next door to create. “We use 3-D technology only to help with metal weights and numbers of stones,” says Herrera. After waxes are carved, silver models are made to ensure that no mistakes are evident. When that process is complete, rubber molds are made, pieces are cast, stones are set, and a careful group of female finishers ensures that the signature matte-glossy effect will shine through in completed pieces thanks to a proprietary painting process with enamel. Pieces are then polished and go to the lone man who handles quality control— one guy does it all. What happens when he’s out? “The whole company takes holidays at the same time,” says Kuznetsova.

A close-up look at one of this season's CyC jewels

A close-up look at one of this season’s CyC jewels

A closer look at a highly detailed snake jewel from CyC

A closer look at a highly detailed snake jewel from CyC

A female bench worker in the Finishing department applies a proprietary technique to a piece to achieve the brand's signature matte-high-polish style.

A female bench worker in the finishing department applies a proprietary technique to a piece to achieve the brand’s signature matte-high-polish style.

By this time it’s nearly 2 p.m., and CEO Svetlana Kupriyanova is meeting us to dine. Production director Luis Sanchez drives Moya and me to a local lunch spot, where we order a traditional Spanish gazpacho-like cold tomato soup, and I interview Kupriyanova, who is—fortunately for me—in between road trips. Just last week, she met with new accounts in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, which is landlocked by China to the east, Tajikistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, and Kazakhstan to the north. The soft-spoken Russian doesn’t strike me as a typical CEO since she’s not slick—not a salesman like most I meet. She does tell me matter-of-factly that she’s been a CEO since age 23, and that she’s smitten with the company’s “traditions in place since 1885.” In the job for two years, this is her first position in jewelry, and she’s fascinated by the differences in developed and developing luxury markets. “The customers have to be in a good mood, there has to be stability, and no risk,” she says of criteria for choosing new countries to find partners. At the top of the company’s list is Mexico and China, both of which are abundant in opportunities, and both of which will support U.S. sales. “There are global shoppers now,” she explains, adding that they will buy CyC during trips outside of their local markets.

Still, challenges exist. Consider China’s common fine-jewelry-buying practice of assessing items primarily by gold weight, with no consideration to artistry. CyC opened its first Chinese account in Beijing in March 2013, so it’s clear that the firm is trying to make inroads in Asia. “What’s most important in emerging markets is that average incomes are growing fast, then a love of brands develops to show off, and then shoppers want to have something special—that’s the time for us to move in,” she explains.

And while she would like to increase distribution in the States, finding good partners isn’t easy. High-end department stores like Neiman Marcus offer a solid structure for distribution, but these powerhouses have also hurt the independent-store landscape. Retailers who are intrigued by CyC’s uniquely Spanish provenance and manufacturing, attention to detail, and limited-production pieces needn’t worry about a financial minimum buy-in: “We are interested in balanced assortments,” maintains Kupriyanova.

Something else of interest to CyC: strong female characters to wear their jewelry. “You either love our jewelry or you hate it because it’s emotional,” she says. “We don’t want to be everywhere, but we do want to attract women with big personalities.”

Fortunately for Kupriyanova, that population isn’t too hard to find in the States.

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