Gucci Goes for Gold (and Diamonds, Too)
PARIS — Gucci’s much-touted inclusivity is not limited to community: It extends to products, too. There is little, it seems, that the brand and its creative director, Alessandro Michele, do not see as potential parts of their magic magpie mash-up vision, from sneakers to china and, as of this past week, haute jewelry, that top-end intersection of rare gems and elevated workmanship.
They can go low, they can go high, they can go everywhere.
The brand has already moved into the neighborhood. During the couture, the twice yearly gathering of the wealthy to view the finest and most expensive clothing creative minds can make, Gucci opened a boutique on the Place Vendôme, the 17th-century square in central Paris known as the center of the high jewelry universe.
And it presented a collection called Hortus Deliciarum, or Garden of Delights, more than 200 pieces designed by Mr. Michele, in the same flamboyant and somewhat gender-fluid style that has become his runway trademark. Most of the necklaces and bracelets are statement size — no fragile chains or ethereal compositions for Mr. Michele — and use the lion, tiger and snake motifs rampant in the house’s costume and fine jewelry collections.
But it is the rings that dominate: Chunky hunks of yellow, white or rose gold, some twisted into snake shapes with glittering gem eyes, others forming rather expensive finger splints and a few with relatively simple settings for enormous stones (there is one almost 35-carat pink tourmaline that can’t be much smaller than a quarter).
Why would Gucci even want a relationship with high jewelry? The Kering-owned fashion house has a sales goal of 10 billion euros or $11.3 billion, for this year and recorded sales of €2.3 billion in the first quarter, up 20 percent year-on-year. And it repeatedly has credited much of its growth to millennials attracted by Mr. Michele’s exuberant fashion and — in particular — his accessories.
The pieces in the collection are billed as ranging from €50,000 to €800,000 (the high jewelry category usually starts at about €100,000). So experience-loving, material goods-shunning millennials don’t immediately come to mind as eager buyers of Mr. Michele’s version of what their grandmothers called cocktail rings. (Though the tiaras, — which Gucci labels hair accessories — might appeal for New Year’s parties.)
But as Bain & Co.’s worldwide luxury study in late 2018 pointed out, millennials and the Generation Z that followed (so everyone born between about 1980 and 2012) accounted for 47 percent of the luxury consumers in 2018 and for 33 percent of luxury purchases, including virtually all of the market’s growth.
Jewelry was one of the two top luxury growth categories — the other was shoes — with sales rising 7 percent last year in both markets.
Gucci has been edging toward high jewelry for some time. In late 2017 it presented what it called a “medium-high” version of its midrange fine jewelry collection, saying that a move upward was probable in its next offering. At the time, Maurizio Pisanu, then the house’s director of jewelry merchandising, said: “The new generation is going to want a more modern jeweler.”
Other brands, however, beg to differ, and have offered arguments for their own continuing relevance in the past week.
Van Cleef & Arpels, for example, was inspired by “Romeo and Juliet” — “It’s been a beautiful story for a few centuries now,” said Nicolas Bos, the company’s chief executive — and the ballet retelling being created by Benjamin Millepied, one of the house’s longtime collaborators. Jewelry in the approximately 100-piece collection drew on Renaissance architecture, such as the diamond-set brooch that recreated Juliet’s balcony in Verona laden with ivy in emeralds, tsavorite garnets and diamonds. Yet several had a modern twist, including the Flora between-the-finger ring with an eight-carat cushion-cut sapphire and three stylized emerald-set flowers that echoed the paillette motif introduced by the house in the 1930s.
Modern also was the look of The Ciels of Chaumet, an 88-piece collection evoking the shapes and colors of the sky, its elements and creatures, including highly stylized swallows that, in earrings of tsavorite garnets, yellow and green sapphires and diamonds, had a sharp two-dimensional look from the house’s traditional fil couteau, or knife-edge setting.
As part of the extended celebration of its 100th anniversary year, Buccellati showcased its new 57-facet diamond cut, developed in collaboration with Taché Diamonds of Antwerp, Belgium; a labyrinthine design in diamonds by Andrea Buccellati, the house’s creative director; and diamond-encrusted cuff bracelets in its traditional rigato, or matte looking, gold finish. “Always the cuffs,” said Maria Cristina Buccellati, the global communications and marketing director.
Chanel roamed the Russian steppes, showing two-headed imperial eagles, military honors and traditional rushnyk embroidery patterns in a glittering mash-up with the house motifs of camellias and wheat tassels. Louis Vuitton visited knights and their ladies fair, including dagger brooches in yellow and white diamonds, while Cartier presented an extension of its Magnitude collection, introduced in June in London, which mixes precious gems with rutilated quartz and other ornamental stones.
Boucheron stayed close to home, with Claire Choisne, its artistic director, drawing on Paris landmarks including the horses atop the Opéra Garnier, created in frosted quartz and baguette diamonds on yellow gold. There also is the Pavés de Cristal necklace, of polished white gold behind rock crystal and edged in diamonds, meant to evoke rainwashed cobblestones of the Place Vendôme, which she can see from the windows of the jewelry house’s hôtel particulier on the square — as well as its new neighbor, Gucci.
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