m i l l i o n a i r E FA s h i o n & b e A u t y

Vicenzaoro Autumn Watch and Jewellery Fair

The apex of the

luxury pyramid

Jewellery makes a comeback at the top end of accessories, taking on bags, watches and clothes to reclaim its rightful place in the crown. An heirloom or a bauble? Millionaire reports from Vicenza
text Shalini Seth

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The Roberto Coin Cento Collection and opposite, the Fifth Season Gold Tie


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Persia necklace by Favero


The Schreiner Emerald suite

nce upon a time jewellery was luxury. It enjoyed its defining moments when Edward VIII’s love of drawing was executed into earrings, bracelets and rings by Europe’s most famous jewellers – Jeanne Toussaint of Cartier, Rene-Sim Lacaze of Van Cleef & Arpels, Nevdon Koumrouyan of Harry Winston. Or when the Maharani of Baroda famously remarked that the large cabochon emeralds in a Duchess’s necklace used to be in one of her anklets. Just about a half-century later, jewellery is scrambling for a place on the top of the luxury pyramid – above brands, upperrange brands, luxury brands – millions competing with mere thousands tagged on top of fashion brands selling bags, gowns and shoes. At Vicenzaoro Autumn Watch and Jewellery Fair, Italy’s little capital of gold jewellery with 1,600 vendors and over 20,000 buyers in attendance, the message is clear – if griffe, the creator’s signature engraved on a unique work, is the point of the pyramid, jewellery and not couture ought to be the hautest. After all, the only-one-in-existence nature of a couture gown is dependent on the whim of a designer. With the best of jewellery, it is the very nature of its being. “We only produce single pieces,” says Ulrike Kielbassa, the managing director of Gerhard Schreiner, from Munich, manufacturers of neo haute jewellery. “One of our pieces, the emerald masterpiece, with yellow diamonds, was sold in Qatar. Now we have an order for another, again from Qatar. It will take us two years to make. I hope it will be only two years…

Gems on display

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because we have to match the quality of stones.” It is a message that needs reiterating. At Vicenza, the battle lines are drawn. At the frontline is a dazzling display of jewels. Jewellery glitters everywhere. There is gold, of course – rough, shiny, matte, filigreed and even some from ancient Peru. There are diamonds – white, pink, brown, black. And there is some talk of a rare red one recently seen in the market, though not Maurizio Castro, director general Vicenza Fiera at this venue. Stones – emeralds, tanzanite, rubies – all combine to billions of euro-worth. Trade visitors who take jewellery and its message to faraway places are thronging the pavilions. Jewellery is displayed on blue, black or red velvet, traditionally. Or its contrast made clear against brown wood and even rice in one case. Black leather, classic cars in faded colours, bikes, sunflowers, dolls… all form parts of window displays – as if there is no place that jewellery is not suitable. Bundled together sometimes, in ropes of gold and piles of stones, or singly displayed with plainclothesmen at every door, not looking friendly, keeping an eye on any that hovers or tries to take pictures. After all, copying of designs is a threat, especially at a trade event.

Visitors at the fair

Jewellery display at Vicenza

A couture gown sets you bAck only
The Fifth Season Masai Collection

$50,000, At which price you cAnnot even begin to tAlk seriously About jewels


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“In the luxury market segment, fashion is growing at 14 percent, whereas gold and jewellery is growing only four percent. We want to change that. We want to give back to jewellery its place in the world of luxury. Gold and jewels can be contaminated by fashion and trends,” says Maurizio Castro, Vicenza Fiera’s director general, who is drawing up strategies to make sure this high-stakes battle is won. After all, a couture gown sets you back only $50,000, at which price you cannot even begin to talk seriously about jewels. A perfume bottle at €3,600 can draw gasps and a $1,000 bag is super-luxury. At €19,000 you get to buy a limited edition perfume out of a collection of five. Compare these to jewellery. At $2.5 million the spectacular Van Cleef & Arpels Drape de Diamantes necklace is considered not as pricey as its cousins. There is the $12 million bridal gown and the €195,000 perfume bottle but with diamonds studded all over and a jeweller as a collaborator, The Burmese heart-shaped ruby these do not really enter this debate. Serious jewellery buyers look for beauties such as the flawless 108-carat white diamond being offered by Sotheby’s Diamonds for $16 million. Or the 70carat white diamond at the centre of a multicoloured diamond necklace being offered for $12 million by Robert Mouawad’s private collection. In Vicenza, at another stand, sellers from India are quietly spreading the word that they are in possession of a 17.94-carat heart-

Maharaja Rings by Favero

Gold items on display at the fair

shaped Burmese ruby. While to those not inclined to Valentines, a heart-shaped anything might be a liability, in the jewellery business it is highly prized. “First of all, it is Burmese, which is where the best rubies are from. Second, it is heart-shaped. That is the most desirable shape because there are not very many stones that lend themselves to this shape naturally,” explains Siraj Ahmed of Takat Gems from Jaipur who claims to have sold a 58-carat Columbian emerald. He will sell the stone at about €400 per carat for about €8,000. By the time they are set and sold by a manufacturer to a retailer the price would have gone up several times. Back at Schreiner, the most expensive item in the collection is an unheated ruby priced at $25 million for trade. Sources tell us that by the time a piece reaches the American market, it is marked up 100 per cent. In markets such as the Middle East, the mark-up is as much as 200 per cent. “The Middle East is very important for us,” Kielbassa says. “It is the second-most important market in the world, after Russia. Russians want jewellery that costs $80 million to $100 million easily. In the Middle East, nice designs with diamonds and coloured stones are popular. The Middle Eastern taste comes close to Italian. Russians want big stones, and everything of the best quality,” she says, dismissing fellow Germans as shoppers of small baubles, with presumably small budgets.

blAck leAther, clAssic cArs in fAded colours, bikes, sunflowers, dolls… All form pArts of window displAys – As if there is no plAce thAt jewellery is not suitAble

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These baubles are hoops, which are form the bread-andbutter business at Schreiner. Hoops in all colours, matching rings, set with all kinds of sapphires and yellow, green, orange, brown and black diamonds range from $5,000 to $24,000. “Gold is different. Everyone knows the price of gold. On the other hand, if you are dealing with a high-priced stone, first it is not easy to get a large one,” Kielbassa explains, bringing to mind shrewd customers at Dubai’s Gold Souk getting the jeweller to reveal the exact amount of gold used in a piece and how much he has charged for making it. Italian gold does not follow that rule. Here, fashion is a friend and lessons learnt from the luxury fashion industry are useful. Experts forecast that this is the era of the intangible economy – the best kind for the luxury market. “This is the era of perceived value, of intangible economy because it follows the age of information,” says Paola de Luca, TJF’s creative director, giving participants tips on what is expected to work in the jewellery market in the next few years, with emerging markets as a key focus. As part of its strategy, Vicenza Fiera announced it will launch two new events in 2008, adding to its traditional three – winter, spring and fall – editions. The first of the new shows, scheduled for March 2-4, 2008, in Milan, will focus specifically on the high end of the market. According to Director-General Castro, the show will open with 80 exhibitors and expects to draw 300 by-invitationonly retailers who will be selected from the “aristocracy of international retail”. Exhibitors will also represent the elite of the world’s brands. “We will look at their brand policy and will take a number of direct producers. Fashion houses that produce jewellery are welcome, but only if they produce gold, not steel or bronze,” he says. Castro wants to win over Italy as well. After all, while fashion brands – whether Valentino or Prada or D&G – have worshippers in Italy, it is only outside that the country is known for its jewellery. Roberto Coin, the Fifth Season or Luca Carati are better known in Dubai than in Milan. “Italy is not known for silver or gold; that is Mexico. You are entirely mistaken,”

Quality check at the Favero factory

Jewellery from Jaipur

one recalls being told by a self-appointed guide in Milan, quite the label queen himself in his choice of cars and clothes. The Italian jewellery sector is suffering significant decline, its high prices resulting from the combined influences of currency inflation vis-à-vis the dollar, escalating gold prices and growing competition from jewellery-manufacturing centres with much cheaper costs. “Gold is important to European identity. We need to popularise it in Italy,” Castro insists. Vicenza wants to take on BaselWorld, its main European rival for fine-jewellery trade show primacy. At Basel, Switzerland, jewellery is secondary and watches take centre stage. “We are not looking at watches. We want to be number one as far as jewellery is concerned,” Castro says. The Milan show is slotted immediately after the haute couture shows and just before Basel. Castro declares: “Absolutely, it is a war! A top jewellery manufacturer may wonder where to take his new collection. And we think Milan is more seductive than Basel.”


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