Damiani, the Italian jewellery family, is best known for its diamond designs, often modern in inspiration. But the Alsara collection of high jewellery one-offs is a riot of coloured stones, including emeralds, rubies and sapphires with chalcedony, onyx and brown diamonds, on mixed gold colours, with tribal yet delicate shapes. The inspiration is Kazakhstan.
Annoushka Ducas’s latest guest jewellery designs have emerged from the highly-skilled Moscow studio of Maxim Voznesensky. And, later this year, the Fabergé egg flourishes once more, both as single examples of high-level craft, mixing gem-setting, stone-carving and gold latticework techniques, and as a range of 60 more accessible but still precious small examples.
Wealthy Russians of the post-communist era have been buying flamboyant jewellery ever since the word “oligarch” first made headlines. The difference now is a growing customer base in other parts of the former Soviet Union and increasingly close creative links between these markets and western jewellery brands.
European brands are casting their network of shops far wider than Moscow and St Petersburg. Damiani had a head start in the region early, becoming a known and trusted brand before much competition arrived. It has a presence in 20 cities of the former USSR including Kiev, Odessa, Almaty and, shortly, Baku. Guido Grassi Damiani, the president and CEO, says the market is the company’s second biggest after Italy and a significant contributor to a 20 per cent increase in its foreign sales last year at a time when home sales fell by 8 per cent.
Kazakh clients were already shopping at Damiani’s European stores. “They appreciate craftsmanship and so naturally looked to top-end Italian jewellery,” says Mr Damiani.
“They are adventurous and they like to buy. They are younger than the average in more mature markets and shop both for themselves and for gifts – jewellery is traditionally given to women on a particular day in March.”
The London store is funded by British-based Kazakh money, the shop manager is Kazakh and the Alsara collection was co-designed by Aliya Nazarbayeva, daughter of the Kazakh president and a keen customer. “She liked the idea of traditional Kazakh styles, which would originally have been made in silver with semi-precious stones, finely crafted in more precious materials,” says Mr Damiani. The range is an impressive blend of gem-working expertise and ethnic inspiration with pieces priced from £8,000 to £100,000 – with a proportion going to a Kazakh charity – and are available only in Almaty and London.
Mr Damiani will not disclose the identity of his Kazakh investor but says it is not the president or his family – a question asked because of the country’s human rights record.
This does not appear to affect the prospects of western openings there, however.
De Beers is the latest to open in Almaty, in a mall where Bulgari and Chopard (which has produced a range with the Uzbekistan president’s daughter) already have space.
After three months, it has the highest volume of transactions of any of the company’s former USSR outlets, says Jennie Farmer, head of communications.
“Kazakh customers travel, particularly to the Middle East, so they know our brand. The hardest thing is finding a good partner – we met ours in Dubai and the relationship grew organically. We are convinced it will work.”
De Beers is considering Baku and already has a shop in Kiev, where Graff, which recently opened there, says the rapid development of the country’s infrastructure has enabled brands to open in response to a knowledgeable luxury clientele. David Morris and the company's Moscow partner are planning to open in Almaty once the economy improves.
In the reverse flow, Ms Ducas, who has Russian ancestry, is the first outside Russia to take Mr Voznesensky’s work.
She has a flourishing Russian clientele in London, but says: “The beauty of the work and the stories crafted into each piece appealed personally. That, and the way they’re inspired by art and nature, is very Russian but I think they have wider appeal – they are so well made and original. He also does tiny figurines with detachable details, exquisitely crafted, like a latter-day Fabergé.”
With such quality craft available it seems odd that the revived Fabergé is made primarily in Paris, with only four craft collaborators so far in Russia and one Russian designer. Its primary investors are a South African mining company and Frederic Zaavy, its lead designer, is French, though two great-granddaughters of Peter Carl Fabergé are on board.
“The name was in a dormant Unilever portfolio,” says Katharina Flohr, the creative director. “It’s a huge responsibility to revive such an iconic brand and make it modern while acknowledging the extraordinary heritage. The first pieces, inspired by Fabergé’s ballet connections and his dacha – now a ruin – sold well, even though people were sceptical.
“But we couldn’t ignore the demand for eggs and Russian symbols – hence the Saisons Russes diamond collection, and the new small eggs that, in hard stones such as jasper or iolite (from £2,137), reflect the earthy fables of the Urals but, with bands of gems and gold basketwork, are beautifully made – both noble and humble.”
She says the company is “sensitive to the patrimony but we intend to be new”.
This is a Russian name with an international reputation to live up to – a Geneva store is its flagship, with London and New York to follow shortly. Only after that will Moscow and points east be considered.
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