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Jewels in the Crown

The top 10 most prestigious jewelry brands ranked by high net worth consumers.

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The top 10 most prestigious jewelry brands ranked by high net worth consumers.

This story first appeared in the February 7, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The jewelry business continues to thrive despite the economy’s wobbles. So which jewelry brands are sticking in the minds of luxury consumers? For its 2008 Jewelry Brand study, New York-based Luxury Institute provided more than 500 wealthy consumers (whose net worths averaged $15.1 million) with a predetermined list of 20 luxury jewelry brands and asked them to rank the names on four key aspects: superior quality; uniqueness and exclusivity; their social status, and which had excellent customer service. Scores from all four attributes were converted into the institute’s Luxury Brand Status Index. “This ranking tells us what the wealthy deem to be prestigious, true luxury jewelry brands,” said Milton Pedraza, the firm’s chief executive officer.

1. HARRY WINSTON
Overall Luxury Brand Status Index score: 8.14
Respondents have ranked New York-based Harry Winston as having a great reputation and being the “ultimate for diamond design,” said the Luxury Institute’s study. One respondent concluded, “Harry Winston is the epitome of luxury.” The brand, which had 18 stores at the end of last year, is planning to more than double its store count. Thomas J. O’Neill, president of Harry Winston Diamond Corp. and ceo of Harry Winston Inc., told WWD in November that the firm’s ideal number would be between 40 and 45 retail outlets worldwide. O’Neill estimated that, once the brand hits 40 stores, sales will surpass the $1 billion mark. The opening price point in the stores is roughly $3,700 for a small pair of diamond earrings, and prices climb from there into the multimillions. The average sale is $40,000 to $50,000.

2. BUCCELLATI
LBSI score: 8.04
“Buccellati isn’t a ubiquitous brand, which is exactly why it ranks so highly,” said Pedraza. “Each item in the collection is very customized — luxury consumers are recognizing this.” Company president Andrea Buccellati said the firm’s clients are looking for “luxury and exclusivity.” The firm is known for its engraved brushed-gold and platinum jewelry embedded with fine stones, including rubies, emeralds, diamonds and sapphires. “We have owned their merchandise for years and feel it is the essence of great design and good taste,” said one respondent in the study. “It’s a trusted name and the quality is high,” said another.

3. VAN CLEEF & ARPELS
LBSI score: 8.04
Owned by Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, Van Cleef & Arpels is “moving up the ranks of the most prestigious jewelry houses,” according to Pedraza. “They are doing a great job at positioning themselves as truly high-end.” One respondent stated, “This brand is so high-end, its styling is timeless, and the designs are elegant and tasteful.” The brand has been known to have a celebrity following over the years: Names from Marlene Dietrich and Eva Perón to Reese Witherspoon and Maggie Gyllenhaal have donned Van Cleef jewels for special events. In November, the firm unveiled its high jewelry collection, Ballet Précieux, at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden. The 80-piece collection mirrors the “Jewels” ballet and features three dance-inspired ranges centered on emeralds, rubies and diamonds.

4. GRAFF
LBSI score: 8.01
“Ultraexclusive luxury is riding a wave of unparalleled wealth — and it could just catapult uberexpensive jeweler Graff into a $1 billion brand,” WWD noted in October. “We are in times we have never seen before,” Henri Barguirdjian, president and ceo of Graff America, said. “There’s more money than ever floating around.” The average sales transaction for the firm: $400,000. Graff, which is based in London, is working to expand its presence worldwide with store openings in locations such as Tokyo, Hong Kong and Geneva scheduled for this year, as well as the long-planned new Manhattan flagship designed by Peter Marino.

5. TIFFANY
LBSI score: 7.97
“It’s all about the little blue box,” noted one respondent when asked about Tiffany. “The brand is an American classic you can always depend on.” WWD stated in November, “As more brands such as Chopard, De Beers, Tiffany, Leviev and Graff expand their assortments and store counts, diamonds are becoming more expensive.” Tiffany has indeed been growing its store base, particularly in locations such as Japan, an historically weak spot for the brand. Last month, the retailer said it will open boutiques in Tokyo and Fukuoka on March 1. During its most recent quarter, Tiffany said it opened six locations, including Nagoya Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Hong Kong, London and Mexico City.

6. PIAGET
LBSI score: 7.91
“This brand’s watches are excellent in craftsmanship,” said one respondent surveyed. La Côte-aux-Fées, Switzerland-based Piaget is certainly known best for its lineup of watches — in fact, the brand introduced a $2.5 million one last year. Philippe Léopold-Metzger, president of Piaget, told WWD at the time, “The very expensive watches [in diamonds] used to be for the Middle East and Russia. Today, Europeans and Americans are also buying diamond watches.” The brand has plenty of other sparkly offerings for big spenders beyond watches, however, such as the items from its diamond-studded Hearts & Charms collection, or the Limelight collection, which features gemstones such as purple and pink sapphires, along with a brilliant white opal and diamond Magic Hour ring. “Piaget is the Rolls-Royce of jewelry,” another respondent said of the company.

7. CARTIER
LBSI score: 7.9
Last fall, Cartier opened its first South African boutique inside the Sandton City Mall. The Richemont-owned jeweler until recently only retailed a limited range of watches and accessories through authorized dealers in South Africa, but “is pulling out all the stops to make the new 2,700-square-foot space a destination store for South Africa and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa,” reported WWD. “It is one of the truly great luxury brands,” one respondent said. “My personal experience with them has always been superb.” Interestingly, Richemont, which also owns Van Cleef & Arpels, IWC, Dunhill and Chloé, may alter its corporate structure because of planned changes in a favorable Luxembourg tax law. The company is considering several options, including whether to split its luxury goods operations from its tobacco holdings.

8. CHOPARD
LBSI score: 7.89
“Riding the red carpet and rising demand, Chopard is staking much of its growth on one-of-a-kind jewelry that sells for millions of dollars,” WWD said in October. In November, the Swiss watch and jewelry brand opened its 100th store, a 3,000-square-foot flagship at 709 Madison Avenue in Manhattan featuring a new design scheme. “This global creation of wealth is affecting us,” said Marc Hruschka, Chopard’s U.S. president and ceo. “It’s a mixture of our traditional shoppers and a new growing-wealth class in the U.S. and globally. Our challenge is to communicate that we’re not only a watch brand….People are looking at diamonds as art.” The brand’s jewels are worn by some of Hollywood’s leading ladies, including Kate Winslet, Penélope Cruz, Hilary Swank and Charlize Theron.

9. BULGARI
LBSI score: 7.87
“Bulgari is unique and exceedingly elegant,” commented one of the study’s respondents. The company has officially launched e-commerce on bulgari.com, WWD reported in December. U.S. consumers “can have access to more than 800 styles including watches, jewelry, leather goods, accessories and gift items. Items on the Web site range from just under $200 to in excess of $38,000.” The company also has been on an expansion tear, having opened stores across the globe, including two in Tokyo (one, a 10-floor tower in Ginza), along with locations in Boca Raton, Fla.; St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Costa Mesa, Calif., to name a few. Fourth-quarter sales of jewelry, Bulgari’s core business, rose 14.3 percent to 148.3 million euros, or $214.7 million, which the company described as “outstanding.”

10. MIKIMOTO
LBSI score: 7.69
Founded in 1893 by Kokichi Mikimoto, the Japanese brand is perhaps the best-known manufacturer of cultured pearls worldwide. “If you like pearls, this is the best quality,” said one respondent. Said another: “The brand pays meticulous attention to detail — I am extremely fond of the Mikimoto pieces I have purchased.” Last year, the brand teamed with Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto to develop a fine jewelry collection. Composed of three separate groups totaling approximately 20 various pieces devoted to the pearl, the collection launched during couture week in Paris.

SOURCE: LUXURY INSTITUTE’S LUXURY BRAND STATUS INDEX: JEWELRY BRANDS 2008 STUDY; MORE THAN 500 RESPONDENTS WITH AN AVERAGE ANNUAL HOUSEHOLD INCOME OF $789,000 AND AN AVERAGE NET WORTH OF $15.1 MILLION WERE SURVEYED ONLINE; THE BENCHMARK SCORE FOR THE LBSI WAS 7.63; *INDICATES A TIE

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