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Tue, Dec 09, 2008
The Business Times
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All that glitters
by Melissa Lwee

AFTER decades of being the reigning master of deconstruction and reconstruction of garments, avant-garde designer Martin Margiela shocked the world of fashion when he decided to expand his fashion empire with the launch of a high jewellery range through a collaboration with renowned Italian jewellery manufacturer, Damiani.

The collection that costs from US$1,100 to US$61,800 is due to hit stores in November and has gained praise for its classic, minimalist look - a favourite with cash-strapped consumers these days who are looking for timeless pieces.

Margiela is the latest fashion house to jump on the fine jewellery (read: not accessories nor costume jewellery) bandwagon - a world previously occupied only by established jewellers such as Van Cleef and Arpels and Harry Winston.

Much like the influx of fashion labels entering the luxury watch market, fashion houses are trying to cash in on the high jewellery market as well, despite the fact that costume jewellery, and not high jewellery, has been their forte the past decades.

According to industry players, it is a matter of branding and making sure that the label is positioned correctly in an increasingly competitive luxury market: In a world where exclusivity reigns supreme, it has become more important for fashion labels to keep the prestige of their jewellery range in line with the rest of the products from the brand.

Take fashion label Versace, which ventured into high jewellery only in 2006 but already has plans to eventually replace its costume jewellery and accessories with fine jewellery over the next few seasons.

'Versace has always produced costume jewellery, but we're definitely paying more attention to the high jewellery market these days,' says Arnoldo Cassuto, regional jewellery manager for Versace Fine Jewellery.

'I think that a luxury fashion label like Versace has to pair itself with luxury jewellery because fine jewellery is more in line with the ethos of the brand.

'This is why you will see in the following seasons, our fine jewellery collection will be featured on the runways during the fashion shows instead of the usual accessories range.'

But will jewellery aficionados bite?

One such collector, Frank Cintamani, believes that it will be a rough road ahead for these fashion labels. 'When you think of a fashion label that sells clothing and bags for say a few thousand dollars, even tens of thousands, it is difficult to associate that with jewellery that costs a few hundred thousand dollars or even upwards of that, especially when there are already big established jewellery labels in the market to choose from,' he muses.

That is not to say that fashion houses will never be able to make it big in the fine jewellery market. Time and investment are what it will take for them to flourish, he adds. He cites the example of Harry Winston a label that has managed to make headway in a new industry through sheer staying power.

'When Harry Winston first started to produce watches, nobody took them seriously because everybody saw the watches as a piece of jewellery with a dial and not the other way round. 'But they stuck it out and worked on the mechanics of their watch and look at the brand today.

Harry Winston watches are winning prestigious watch prizes which only goes to show it is possible to break away from stereotypes.' Labels like Versace however, remain unfazed. 'The idea is to work with trusted jewellery companies all over the world,' says a confident Mr Cassuto.

'For example, in Singapore we are working with Soo Kee and in Dubai we are working with Samra. People trust these companies to bring in quality jewellery and thus in turn will

Sold on sparkle and gold


A pioneer when it comes to fashion houses and fine jewellery, the first line of Chanel Fine Jewellery was launched in 1932, the year Mademoiselle Chanel created her 'Bijoux de Diamants' collection about which she always said: 'If I have chosen diamonds, it is because they represent the greatest value in the smallest volume'. The sky is the limit when it comes to prices and Singapore's first Chanel watch and fine jewellery boutique will be opened in March next year so watch this space.

Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton's entry into high jewellery was in 2001 when Marc Jacobs launched the charm bracelet and it now boasts a formidable fine jewellery range. Its newest gold collection - the Monogram Gallea is inspired by the Monogram Flower 'skin' of the famed Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Look out also for its 'les Ardentes' collection featuring two new shapes of diamond cuts using Vuitton's iconic Monogram flowers. Prices start from about $700,000 for a pair of earrings to a necklace at around $6 million.


Gucci's newest fine jewellery collection, the Chiodo line (chiodo meaning nail in Italian) highlights the iconic symbol that has adorned Gucci's designs since the 1960s and which was added to it bracelets and watches in the early 1970s. Today, the symbol lives on through its fine jewellery and watch collections.


Versace fine jewellery aims to add glamour to the already famous fashion house. Featuring the famed Versace icon, the magna Grecia, the jewellery line uses gold and precious stones to create collections of colliers, rings, earrings and bracelets for a very Versace type of luxury.

Dior Joaillerie

In 1998, the House of Dior created its brand new Fine Jewellery department with the Artistic Director Victoire de Castellane, then costume jewellery designer and extravagant personality on the Parisian scene. Each collection is said to be an occasion for de Castellane to tell a story or evoke a place. Her newest collection is the Milly Carnivora featuring eight new varieties of carnivorous flowers, blossoming in Dior Joaillerie's extraordinary garden. Comprising 24 pieces in lacquer and coloured stones as well as 13 pieces in spangled lacquer and diamonds, this collection was launched in boutiques during last month.

This article was first published in The Business Times on Dec 6, 2008.

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