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Mikimoto’s Royal Strategy

The pearl giant is using its 120th anniversary celebration as a way to boost its presence outside Japan.

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July 11, 1893, was the day Kokichi Mikimoto cultured the world’s first perfectly semispherical pearl in Japan, and to mark the start of Mikimoto’s 120th anniversary celebration, the brand’s new Regalia Mikimoto collection will go on sale Thursday.

The collection — comprising 13 one-of-a-kind cultured pearl, diamond and white gold pieces —  made its debut this month with a tour that stopped in New York, Paris and London. From there, seven pieces go to the New York store and the rest head to the London unit on Bond Street.

“The designers went back into the archives to look at pieces previously worn by royalty around the world,” said Meyer Hoffmann, Mikimoto America chief operating officer. “It’s the first time we’ve taken that expertise and created an international collection. In a way, this collection is our first big foray into a special opportunity to reach the market outside of Japan.”

Retail prices range from $45,000 for cultured pearl, diamond and 18-karat white gold earrings to $65,000 for a ring with a 16-mm. cultured pearl encased within white gold and diamonds. For $320,000 there is a necklace featuring a 16-by-21-mm. white South Sea baroque cultured pearl in the center, Akoya cultured pearls and more than 15 carats of diamonds set in white gold. The company holds the majority of market share in the high-end pearl category, with a business estimated to be close to $400 million, according to industry sources. It’s also counted celebrities like Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe — who famously acquired her first Mikimoto necklace while on her honeymoon in Japan in 1954 with Joe DiMaggio — as fans and frequent wearers of the brand’s famous pearl strands.

“The pearl is the star. When you see the pieces, you’ll notice that any embellishment — diamonds or gold — can’t hide the pearl,” Hoffmann said, noting that the company only sells the top 3 to 5 percent of pearls in the world and uses an almost three-decade-old proprietary grading system that characterizes its pearls as AAA, AA, A or A+.

Pearls represent just 2 to 3 percent of the overall jewelry market, making Mikimoto’s audience a relatively finite one. It’s because of this that Hoffmann ensures the company executes tailored marketing and design strategies by region.

For instance, Japanese like their pearls small and dainty and never ostentatious, whereas Russian consumers love big pearls that reach 18 mm. in size. The American consumer lies somewhere in between — but the best-selling pearl globally for the company is the Akoya.

These cultured pearls are produced exclusively by Akoya oysters in Japan and vary in size from 3 to 10 mm. and come in various colors, ranging about $2,000 for a basic strand to $20,000, depending on quality and grading.

South Sea cultured pearls are also heavily incorporated and are larger in size (most over 10 mm.) and predominately come from Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The golden hue of this type of pearl is the most rare — and especially popular in China. The white and black versions sell better in the U.S.

Black South Sea pearls are the most plentiful, the average price for a strand of these varies from $8,000 to $15,000, considerably less than their white counterparts, which average from $15,000 to $30,000 but can reach $100,000. The golden pearls start at $25,000 and can range to $60,000.

Japan, where Mikimoto was founded and all sorting and production takes place, constitutes 50 percent of the company’s overall business, followed by North and South America at 30 percent and Asia, Europe and the Middle East at 20 percent. The firm has 29 freestanding doors and more than 500 points of distribution worldwide. The U.S. has four stand-alone stores (New York, Las Vegas, Orange County, Calif., and Beverly Hills) and about 200 wholesale accounts available in 250 doors.

Hoffmann maintains that business has steadily grown by double-digits the past two years, and he projects this will continue. He said that, postrecession, the direction of the product has elevated, and the selection has moved up to a more affluent audience.

China — the fastest growing market for the brand — will see a major push at retail over the next few years. There are eight doors across Hong Kong and Mainland China, but the company plans to double that number by 2017.

South America is another area of focus, said Hoffmann. Although the company has a presence in cities such as Lima, Peru; Asuncion, Paraguay; Bogota, Colombia, and Caracas, Venezuela, he plans to ramp up Mikimoto’s representation in the region.”

Mikimoto is also becoming more aware of the luxury consumer’s affinity to all things digital. It has quadrupled its digital ad spend the past three years, going from 5 percent in 2009 to 20 percent in 2012. A mobile site was launched last year; the tablet view is currently being modified, and optimizing the experience for the iPad is paramount right now. Today, 30 percent of visits to the brand’s digital flagship at mikimoto.com come from mobile or tablet devices, and 30 to 40 percent of these visits originate on iPads.

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