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Qeelin to Expand Footprint

The brand plans to double the number of stores in Mainland China.

PARIS — Qeelin plans to double the number of stores in Mainland China over the next two years as the jewelry brand continues to expand its retail network following its acquisition by Kering in December 2012.

This story first appeared in the June 19, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Guillaume Brochard, cofounder and chief executive officer of the Hong Kong-based company, disclosed the expansion plans on Monday during a visit to the French capital, where Qeelin will unveil its first high-jewelry collection on June 30.

Known for contemporary interpretations of auspicious Chinese symbols such as pandas, wulu fruit and lotus flowers, the brand will show about 35 pieces priced from 50,000 euros to 500,000 euros, or $67,700 to $677,000 at current exchange.

“Joining Kering has allowed us to go further and faster, namely in the development of the collections,” said Brochard, who launched the company in 2004 with chairman and creative director Dennis Chan, and retains a minority stake.

The company is betting the high-end line will not only prove a commercial success, but also help establish Qeelin in the elite group of international jewelers.

While Brochard would not disclose sales figures, he said the brand was posting double-digit growth in same-store sales and had not felt a slowdown in China, despite a government crackdown on gift giving that has dented luxury spending.

“Qeelin’s customers have never bought the brand as a symbol of social ascension or wealth,” he noted.

The company has increased its store network to 21 from 13 since joining Kering, whose recently created luxury watches and jewelry division also comprises Boucheron, Pomellato, Dodo and watch brands Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard.

Qeelin today operates 12 boutiques in Mainland China, seven in Hong Kong, one in Paris and one in London — a shop-in-shop in Selfridges. It has just one wholesale account: Colette in Paris.

“We think we can at least double the number of stores in China in the next 24 months,” said Brochard.

“The idea is not to open stores at a frenetic pace and to flood the world, but to achieve a certain visibility in our core markets such as China, Hong Kong and shortly Macau and Taiwan,” added the executive, whose wife Jiang Qiong Er is the ceo of Shang Xia, the Chinese luxury brand established by Hermès International.

In a second stage, Qeelin plans to expand into new territories such as the Middle East, Japan, Russia and Ukraine, though it has no plans at present to open stores in the U.S. “Our idea is to proceed in stages. We don’t want to do everything at once,” said Brochard, adding that e-commerce would also follow later.

He noted that Qeelin, which employs around 100 people worldwide, had not changed its retail concept since the acquisition, with stores averaging about 540 square feet.

It produces fine jewelry, accessories and watches using mainly white and rose gold, platinum, diamonds, sapphires, rubies and jade. Retail prices start at 500 euros and average 4,000 euros, or $677 and $5,415, respectively.

Its jade collections are produced in Hong Kong, while jewelry featuring colored stones — such as rubies and sapphires — is made by a partner in Bangkok. Gold and diamond pieces are manufactured by a workshop in France and ladies’ jewelry watches are produced by a partner in Switzerland.

The brand, which sells earrings individually rather than by the pair, was first seen on fashion plate Maggie Cheung, who wore one of its earrings while scooping up the best-actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004. Since then, it has won a celebrity following including Katy Perry, Marc Jacobs and Salma Hayek, who introduced the brand to her husband, Kering chairman and ceo François-Henri Pinault.

Pinault has said he spies massive potential for fashion and accessories as demographics and economic development promise to deliver some three billion young and affluent consumers from such emerging nations as China, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil and Russia.