Jewelry houses entice VIPs with first dibs at high-priced items

As high-end customers flock to Paris this week for the haute couture shows, potential buyers might be surprised to learn that some high-jewelry pieces have already been purchased.

This is thanks to the brands that have welcomed their most important customers at exclusive events that take place in glamorous locations before the main trade shows.

Travel is at the heart of these private events, with customers flocking from all over the world to be offered a first taste of the brands’ latest creations. “Jewelry is intrinsically linked to various countries, industries and customers around the world,” said Michael Burke, President and CEO of Louis Vuitton. “You can’t think of jewelry without thinking of a stone mined in one country, cut in another, polished in a third country, mounted and set in a fourth country, and sold in a fifth country.”

Last month, Louis Vuitton unveiled its 125-piece Spirit high jewelry collection, the house’s largest to date, which notably includes custom-cut stones in the shape of the house’s monogram. Held over several days in Marrakech, the occasion was a gathering that Burke said was “natural and necessary”, especially after successive global shutdowns.

Destiny necklace from the Louis Vuitton Sprit collection © Sølve Sundsbø

Grace necklace from Louis Vuitton’s Spirit collection © Sølve Sundsbø

“Clients are looking for a genuine physical relationship — they’re not looking for Zoom,” he says. The tangible quality of the stones is also a factor. “These are not inert materials. They shine and they have a soul. Seeing them must happen physically.

The majority of customers in Marrakech had attended Louis Vuitton’s high jewelry events in the past. Burke says recurring events are important for “nurturing and building trust,” especially for those big ticket items that can easily cost upwards of six figures.

Madrid was the destination this year for Cartier, with high jewelry events held in notable – and highly Instagrammable – venues that set the scene for the brand’s Beautés du Monde collection. This celebrates beauty in multiple disciplines, from flora and fauna to art and architecture.

The 18th century Liria Palace, home of the 19th Duke of Alba, was the majestic setting for a gala evening. Meanwhile, the collection was displayed in the former British Embassy, ​​a brutalist-style building that had fallen into disrepair and had been uninhabited for more than a decade. Cartier rehabilitated the property, including removing the asbestos.

Launch of Cartier’s Beauties of the World collection in Madrid © Francois Goize

The Cartier Récif necklace © Maxime Govet © Cartier

In addition to presenting 95 creations of Beauties of the World, Cartier presented 420 jewels. These included old fine jewelry designs and restored vintage pieces, as well as important archival jewelry, such as the 1966 snake necklace commissioned by the late actress María Félix, in the colors of her native Mexico.

There was a room dedicated to Cartier’s bespoke service, with a lapidary, a stone polisher and a watchmaker also on hand demonstrating their craft. The intention was to create a unique experience with an element of surprise, which is increasingly expected by customers, explains Cartier Managing Director Cyrille Vigneron.

“Our stores need to be designed less to show products that people know, and more to showcase what they don’t expect – to make things comfortable so they want to stay,” says Vigneron. “Being comfortable talking, cuddling, drinking and wanting to share experiences about what’s important to them.”

Cartier has performed unexpectedly during the pandemic – since 2019, sales have doubled in the United States and China, Vigneron explains. But brands, he points out, need a clear identity, with desirability and visibility at the forefront: “Identity is about being unique and doing something that says ‘only you can do it. ‘. This is the part that is difficult.

Bulgari is increasingly influenced by tourism, giving the Roman jeweler a finger on the pulse in two industries.

Last month saw the launch of its nature-themed high jewelry collection in Paris, home to Bulgari’s latest hotel and the seventh in the brand’s hotel portfolio.

Bulgari’s Emerald Glory necklace doubles as a necklace and a tiara © Bulgari

The presentation took place in its recently renovated flagship store in Place Vendôme, now the largest Bulgari store in the world. “We have a hotel now, so we can measure tourism,” says general manager Jean-Christophe Babin. He adds that Paris is “blooming”, thanks in particular to a strong dollar and American tourists.

The collection is among Bulgari’s most balanced in decades – in terms of stones and price. Significant diamond and spinel designs complement those in emerald, with Babin adding that jewelery worth more than €1m, as well as those between €500,000 and €1m, are the focus . The latter, he says, were “a bit under-represented last year – they were probably too much below €500,000 and too much above”.

Anne Hathaway attended the launch of the Bulgari Eden Garden of Wonders in Paris © Getty Images for Bulgari

However, not all brands are convinced that international gatherings are the way to go. Van Cleef & Arpels has been curating high jewelry experiential events for some 20 years now – it’s being showcased in Paris this week – with collections contextualized with their chosen destinations. But Nicolas Bos, chairman and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels, does not see the wanderlust returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Travel is probably a less dedicated and obvious part of people’s lives,” Bos says, adding that smaller, more local gatherings are increasingly popular with his customers. “Proximity is now coming back as something valued as an asset.”

Piaget chief executive Benjamin Comar echoes that sentiment. Solstice, Piaget’s new illumination-themed high jewelry collection, was fittingly launched in Paris – long known as the City of Light – last month, and just 18 new pieces were presented alongside some previous collections.

It is the first of three chapters that Piaget will unveil over the course of the year in several locations, as opposed to a singular grand event.

The smaller format, says Comar, better reflects the craftsmanship and time required to create fine jewelry, some pieces of which can take thousands of hours to complete.

The event took place at the 17th-century Hôtel de Coulanges, now a destination for artists and designers and one that aligns with Piaget’s values, says Comar. “The goal is not to travel for the sake of travel but to go to places that represent either the collection or the brand and its state of mind”, he specifies.

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