Fashion Houses Get in on 'Hard' Luxury Boom

Louis Vuitton Store
Louis Vuitton Store

As the fashion industry descends on Paris this week for the haute couture shows, one of the first stops will be the new Louis Vuitton jewelry boutique, a 160 square-meter store opening on Monday on Place Vendôme that represents the hottest trend of the moment: a move by companies that specialize in ‘soft’ luxury goods into ‘hard’ luxury.

On Sunday, Versace launched its first high jewelry collection, the one-off couture version of fine jewelry; in March, Salvatore Ferragamo introduced a fine jewelry line. Similarly, Bottega Veneta, Hermès, and Ralph Lauren have all moved into fine jewelry in the past few years, following the lead of Gucci, Chanel and Dior.

Hamdi Chatti, director of Louis Vuitton Watches & Jewelry, said the Vuitton brand extension, which began 10 years ago, was driven by consumer requests. Now the brand is actively looking to open further standalone stores in cities from New York and London to Hong Kong. “We intend to be a true player in this area,” he said.

Gian Giacomo Ferraris, Versace chief executive, also confirmed his company was planning stand alone fine jewelry stores.

Thomas Chauvet, a luxury goods analyst at Citibank , said: “The opportunity is enormous. Say the jewelry market is approximately $150 billion, and you take 5 percent of it: that’s about $7 billion. That’s almost two Cartiers.”

“Branded jewelry” – jewelry with a stylistic signature and brand name attached to it – is currently estimated to represent only 19 percent of the global fine jewelry market. By contrast, branded leather goods represent 50 percent of that market, and branded eyewear 38 percent.

On this basis, Thomas Tochtermann, a director at McKinsey, believes branded fine jewelry’s share of the market could double in size by 2020.

Caroline Reyl, manager of the Premium Brands fund at Pictet, said China, where the luxury market overall is expected to increase 10 percent in 2012, would be a significant source of growth for branded fine jewelry. China recently overtook the United States as the country with the highest demand for branded luxury watches, according to the 2012 Worldwatch Report. That trend is expected to be matched by branded fine jewelry.

Mr Ferraris said China was Versace’s fastest-growing fine jewelry market. The Asia-Pacific region also represents 42 percent of sales at Richemont – the owner of such brands at Cartier, Piaget and Van Cleef & Arpels – which is planning to increase its retail presence in China from 160 to 250 stores.

As fashion brands attract new consumers who may have been intimidated by the traditional jewelry world, the market will differentiate between fashion branded fine jewelry and heritage fine jewelry names, much in the way luxury overall is being segmented into high luxury, premium luxury, and accessible luxury.

One thing is certain, said Mr Tochtermann: right now “the unbranded family jewelry business is not a good place to be.”