April 25, 2013 6:01 am

Jewellery crossover: Historic houses explore feminine side to boost growth in sales

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The Omega ring on Nicole Kidman’s finger at the launch of the new Ladymatic models in Vienna highlights the rise of the prominence of jewels made by watch companies. Realising the potential of increasing their appeal to women, even the most masculine of watch houses is keen to explore a more feminine side and are lifting their gaze from gear differentials and carbon-fibre go-faster cases.

Witness the plethora of elaborately decorated dials, diamond-set tourbillons and bedizened bezels that paved the way for bracelets, rings and earrings stamped with the name of a well-known watch brand.

As double-digit growth for watches looks set to wane, moving into the largely unbranded territory of jewellery makes sense for watch houses. It seems sensible for them to extend their offer, particularly if they have an expanding boutique network around the world to fill and workshops that can go from setting diamonds into a bezel to placing them into a ring.

But as ever, nothing is as new as it seems. Stephen Urquhart, president of Omega, says watch houses making jewellery is in fact not such a novel idea.

“Omega has created jewellery and jewelled watches for the better part of a century,” he says.

“We’ve won numerous design awards for them over the years. In the closing decades of the last century, when there was uncertainty in the Swiss watch market, we refocused our energies on our core business which was, of course, watchmaking. But from 2000 onwards, Omega has been producing new jewellery collections that would complement our watches.”

In the 1960s, Gilbert Albert, a prominent jewellery artist, designed for Omega as did Andrew Grima, the British jeweller who created exotic jewels and jewellery watches for the house in the 1970s.

Patek Philippe also confirms that jewellery has always been a part of its product offer. “In our contemporary collection, jewellery items are created to complement watch models such as with the Twenty~4 or the Nautilus line. In the past, we can mention famous jewellery lines such as the 1970s Golden Ellipse designs or in the 1980s the La Flamme line,” says Jasmina Steele, international communication and public relations director.

It seems that having your own network of boutiques is part of the equation. Mr Urquhart says: “We have taken advantage of our global network of mono-brand Omega boutiques. A customer will come in looking for a watch, but will also be attracted by the jewellery that complements our timepieces.”

Breguet, a Swatch Group sister company, has a history of producing enticing watches for some of the most indulgent women in history, such as Marie-Antoinette, Carolina Murat, Queen of Naples and Josephine, Empress of France.

'Marie-Antoinette a la Rose'

'Marie-Antoinette à la Rose' inspired Rose de la Reine range

But, since 2001, this historic house has also produced equally indulgent jewels to match its watches, such as the La Rose de la Reine range inspired by the painting “Marie-Antoinette à la Rose” by Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun. The house confirms that though jewellery is a growth area. “Breguet is [and will stay] a watch manufacturer proposing alternatives to its women clients.”

TAG Heuer, perhaps the last brand you would think to make jewels, admits that it was surprised by the success of its jewellery pieces. Last year it made two rings to match a new steel and ceramic watch. Distribution was limited to TAG Heuer boutiques, but such was the demand that it was extended. Buoyed by this response, a ring and bracelet were added to the Link Lady line, presented by ambassador Cameron Diaz.

Building on the success of these events, this September TAG Heuer will be presenting rings and bracelets as part of its Link Lady range. The brand confirms that half the sales of these items are gifts for women from men.

But it is not a money-spinner. “It is a side revenue and small volumes,” says Françoise Bezzola, communications director at TAG Heuer. “It is to complement and enhance the watch offer. Therefore the key asset of this diversification has to be calculated in terms of image.”

And that is no small consideration.

Audemars Piguet has created jewels since 2000, notably the Royal Oak rings favoured particularly in the US. But plans are under way for a wider offer for women to be unveiled in 2015. Not much has been disclosed, but the house confirms that it will be integrating jewellery into its strategy and is focusing its women’s items on elaborate high jewellery timepieces such as the Haute Joaillerie watch shown at the SIHH this year.

Chopard, which started life as a watchmaker, is in the enviable position of having developed a jewellery line as famous as its watches.

Caroline Scheufele, co-president and the woman who brought jewels to Chopard, says: “In 1985, I created the first line of jewellery for Chopard – the Happy Diamonds collection.

“This was an important turning point ... I felt that the concept of mobile diamonds spinning freely between two crystals was so unique that it should not only be incorporated within timepieces but also be transferred to jewellery.

“We now have extensive high jewellery collections. Chopard is now famous for jewellery as well as watches. For a watchmaker to successfully enter the jewellery world it is important to have a real purpose and a strong concept.”

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