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Mon, Oct 15, 2012
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Piaget's new focus
by Ong Soh Chin

The Yves Piaget rose is not a shy bloom. It is visually exuberant, with its voluptuous peony-like petals; and it is generous with its intoxicating perfume, whose warmth and delicate sweetness it surrenders easily.

This year, the rose celebrates its 30th anniversary, having been named in 1982 for Mr Yves Piaget, president of the established Swiss watch-making and jewellery company that bears his name.

Mr Piaget is not only a purveyor of luxury goods, but also an aficionado of roses, you see.

He says, on the company's website: "I have always been in love with roses, fascinated by the work done by breeders, whose imagination is matched by their absolute discipline. They seek only beauty and performance."

It is apt, therefore, that the anniversary of the flower that bears his name dovetails with the company's decision to restore the legendary rose garden at Chateau de Malmaison.

The erstwhile residence of Napoleon Bonaparte and Empress Josephine was the seat of the French government between 1800 and 1802, together with the Tuileries Palace.

Josephine's real name was actually Rose. She was rechristened by Napoleon, who disliked her original name. The rose garden she created and managed was world-famous in its day as it contained hundreds of species of roses from all over the world.

Over time, however, the garden withered and was forgotten. Under Piaget's sponsorship, however, it will now be restored in time for the bicentennial of Josephine's death in 2014.

A blossoming tradition

The rose, of course, is also a key design element in Piaget's jewellery and timepieces.

The company, founded in 1874 in La Cote-aux-Fees in Switzerland, started out as a manufacturer of watch elements and its reputation for horlogerie continues strongly to the present day. But it is also known for its magnificent high jewellery, a fact which its chief executive, Mr Philippe Leopold-Metzger, wants to emphasise.

Speaking to Urban last month in Paris, he says: "For a long time, we have focused on our skills as a watchmaker. Now, we want to spend more time promoting our high jewellery."

This latter point was reinforced recently with Piaget's second appearance at Paris' prestigious Biennale des Antiquaires, probably the world's most important fine arts and fine jewellery fair since 1962.

Unlike its debut showing two years ago, where it displayed both new as well as existing pieces, this year, Piaget fashioned each of the 59 jewellery items and 12 watches specifically for the Biennale, which took place from Sept 14 to 23.

Mr Leopold-Metzger adds that the Biennale is the ideal showcase of skills in high jewellery, as well as luxury watchmaking - Piaget's two great traditions.

At the Biennale, these came together beautifully in the form of lavish jewel-encrusted timepieces, which feature the best mechanical movements as well as exquisite jewellery work.

Mr Leopold-Metzger says the project was a great team-building exercise for the company's artisans and designers.

"Normally, the watch and jewellery designers don't talk to one another much. But for the Biennale, they worked together to come up with the luxury timepieces."

The stakes were high, says Mr Leopold-Metzger of Piaget's participation at the Biennale: "We are competing for attention against the top jewellery brands in the world. So, the challenge was to do something that was creative, as well as elegant."

One of the stunning results of this collaboration is an 18K white gold and diamond cuff which features a multi-laced bangle holding a small watch face, the latter of which is worn discreetly on the underside of the wrist. The piece is part of the Radiant Lace collection.

This makes the piece appear like a dazzlingly lavish diamond bangle, which it is. But only the wearer and, perhaps, astute observers, would also notice the elegantly hidden timepiece.

It is the perfect accessory for the woman who wants to give every admirer her full attention, yet be able to secretly check the time with a delicate turn of her wrist. It is, if you like, the perfect confluence of form and function, beauty and business.

A dazzling future

According to Mintel, a global consumer, product and media intelligence agency, the luxury jewellery and timepiece market is still strong, especially in China and emerging economies, despite the economic uncertainties.

Mintel reports that the category saw a surge of 23 per cent growth in global market size from 2010 to last year and it shows little signs of slowing, especially in key high-end watch buying and collecting markets such as Hong Kong.

Says Mr Leopold-Metzger: "These markets, at the start, tended to be male dominated and demand for watches, therefore, was very big. But now, increasingly, as women become more successful and enjoy more disposable incomes, we have seen an increased demand for high jewellery."

In addition, in mature economies such as the United States, for example, more people are turning to high jewellery for investment, he notes.

Mintel expects this category to post growth of at least 20 per cent through this year.

Piaget is particularly well-placed to reap this expected bounty as it enjoys a hallowed reputation in China and, particularly, Hong Kong. In a Financial Times article last year, Mr Erwan Rambourg, head of consumer and retail, global research at HSBC in Hong Kong, noted that "there is often a higher perception of the brand than Cartier".

Piaget's approach, says Mr Leopold-Metzger, is to distinguish itself with its creativity and design; and to always emphasise quality.

"We do everything ourselves. All pieces are developed and manufactured in our own workshops, and this is a crucial aspect of our business," he says.

"Money is never the issue. Otherwise, we could easily subcontract different parts of our operations to third parties. However, once you start chopping off the little finger, you find you will eventually have to chop off the whole hand. And we won't do that."

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