Piaget Debuts Jewelry In First U.S. Boutique

It had the excitement and flare of a minimovie premiere: a fanfare of trumpets, curious crowds held back by barricades and police, lots of glistening jewels, even two of today’s top young actors. But this premiere on New York City’s stylish Fifth Avenue was not for a star of celluloid, rather for a star of luxury jewelry and watches.

The House of Piaget, the 122-year-old Geneva, Switzerland, company known as the “Jeweler of Watchmaking,” unveiled its first North American boutique at 750 Fifth Ave. and its 10th in the world on Sept. 10. It’s the company’s third new store this year, reflecting an aggressive marketing and growth strategy.

The 3,750-sq.-ft. store — Piaget’s largest — was officially opened by Yves G. Piaget, chairman of the House of Piaget; Gedalio Grinberg, chairman of North American Watch Co., Piaget’s exclusive U.S. distributor and the store’s owner/operator; and Efraim Grinberg, president of North American. Joining in the festivities were actress Kyra Sedgwick (Phenomenon) and her husband, actor Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13, A Few Good Men).

Sedgwick and Bacon weren’t the only stars on view. Horological eye-catchers included Piaget’s Kanthara, a $2.7 million pair of handcrafted diamond and emerald timepieces flown in from Geneva for the opening, a Piaget 18k diamond and jade watch once owned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and a minimarvel with a 1.35mm handwound movement that Piaget calls the world’s slimmest mechanical watch.

Elegance: “Environment is crucial,” says Yves Piaget. The new boutique features a facade of European blue marble. The 24-ft.-high foyer opens into the elliptical main showroom with walls of exotic Norwegian wood and alcoves filled with fresh flowers.

There are no showcases. Instead, shoulder-level display windows featuring one or two Piaget items are built into the walls. This removes the “showcase barrier” and lets customers view the jewelry up close, says Efraim Grinberg. Salespeople at strategically placed desks are ready to sit down with a customer when he or she is ready. “It is the same atmosphere we try to create around the world,” says Piaget.

The second floor of the building includes space for a watchmaker for on-site service, a salon for private sessions with customers and a boardroom.

‘Intensify & expand’: The new store on New York’s street of luxury jewelers serves two purposes, say the Grinbergs and Piaget. It’s “an answer to market demand” for Piaget watches, which has grown under North American, says Piaget. And it’s part of a strategy to “intensify our exposure and expand [consumer recognition] of the Piaget identity.”

Piaget has a distribution network of about 900 locations in 40 countries and a small but growing chain of strategically placed stores designed to showcase and promote the Piaget image. “We need to meet our customers in distribution and retail channels,” he says.And with the U.S. economy improving, “now is a good time to be here.”

An important element in Piaget’s market expansion is the launch of its jewelry collections in the U.S. Though best-known for exquisitely handcrafted watches in 18k or platinum, Piaget also has produced jewelry since 1989. Until now, though, the jewelry has been sold only in Europe and the Far East.

Collections debuting in the new Piaget store and selected Neiman Marcus stores include Tanagra (a counterpart to Tanagra watches), featuring interchangeable settings to enhance necklaces, rings, earrings, even cuff links; Possession, an innovative collection featuring two linked rings in constant motion with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies; and the Piaget D’Or signature collection, with equestrian-influenced designs.

Jewelry’s role: The jewelry will play an important role in broadening Piaget’s market to younger, affluent consumers, say Piaget and Efraim Grinberg. It’s more affordable. An average Piaget watch costs $17,000 retail, says Grinberg, while the jewelry starts at $1,000 to $1,500, “opening the Piaget world to many more consumers.”

And, says Piaget, “We want to adapt our collections to the new clientele of this generation, whose [taste in jewelry] designs is different than the older generation,” says Piaget. “We live in a changing world and must adapt to it.”

Exposure of the Piaget name through jewelry sales will benefit watch sales also, says Efraim Grinberg. He predicts the company’s watch business could double within five years.

Meanwhile, North American is investing heavily in promotion of the store in the New York City region, spending $1 million on advertising this fall alone. In addition, Piaget cosponsored the gala opening night of Carnegie Hall’s 106th season on Oct. 3 and sponsored the “Great Performances” telecast of the concert on PBS.