By  on June 27, 2014

TOKYO — Sixty years after its founding as a small pearl farming and wholesale company in the western Japanese city of Kobe, Tasaki is attempting to position itself as a fine-jewelry player with international ambitions.

“I don’t want people to get the sense that we only sell pearls, and our diamond or gemstone things are just done ad hoc,” said Tasaki president and chief executive officer Toshikazu Tajima.

“Some people see it as [a pearl brand like] Mikimoto,” Tajima said, referencing Tasaki’s older, and arguably better-known, rival. “But Tasaki is the only De Beers Group sightholder in Japan, and the quality of our diamonds is extremely high.”

Tajima said the jeweler is looking to expand its international distribution and is scouting a location for its first freestanding store in Paris. He also hinted that Tasaki would likely be announcing another “big, surprising collaboration” by the end of the year and said the Japanese company hopes to continue its relationship with creative director Thakoon Panichgul, now in his second three-year contract with the brand.

“In order to maintain our current position in the market, we need to be constantly releasing new products, and product design is, of course, a very important part of that,” Tajima said. “For that reason, we’re always looking at the work of various creators, and I think we’ll try collaborations with many different people.” Tasaki has collaboration lines with designers such as Melanie Georgacopoulos and Marie-Hélène de Taillac.

Tajima, 61, is steeped in fashion credibility, having worked at a series of brands including Gucci, Fendi and Dior. Over the five years he has spent at Tasaki, he has worked to transform the brand’s image from that of a pearl seller to that of a fashion-forward jewelry house with a distinctly Asian point of view. He concluded that only a fashion designer, and not a jewelry designer, would be able to make the type of jewelry he had in mind for Tasaki. That realization brought him to Panichgul.

“I thought we needed to offer designs that, rather than looking nice in a showcase, looked beautiful when someone wears them and moves around,” he said, adding that Panichgul designed some of Tasaki’s best-selling products. Those pieces include items such as rings or necklaces with three or more pearls mounted on a gold bar, or items with a conical-shaped diamond affixed to each pearl.

Tajima said the company hopes to continue working with Panichgul for a long time.

“Because Tasaki is a Japanese brand — and this is another reason for choosing Thakoon as creative director — I think we need to have a kind of Oriental delicacy in our design, product selection and shop design. If we don’t do that then we’ll be just like Western brands,” he said.

Tajima’s efforts to change Tasaki’s image and reposition it in the market appear to have paid off. Its retail business in Japan alone grew 31 percent year-over-year in the first quarter ended Jan. 31. While Tajima said Japan’s sales-tax hike in April bit into Tasaki’s sales, the company still expects Japan retail sales in the second quarter ended April 30 to grow 38 percent to 4.01 billion yen, or $39.14 million at current exchange.

Between the fiscal years ended Oct. 31, 2011 and Oct. 31, 2013, Tasaki’s annual sales grew from 14.3 billion yen to 16.59 billion yen. At average exchange rates for the periods in question, they slid from $177.6 million to $176.7 million due to the weakening of the yen.

“A portion of the growth is because of the brand’s increasing pull, but another portion of the growth is due to the expansion of the overall market,” Tajima said, citing how the growth of the fine-jewelry and bridal markets in Japan has helped both Tasaki and its competitors.

“On both the design side and the quality side, the competition has become extremely intense,” the executive said.

Ayako Homma, a Tokyo-based research analyst with Euromonitor International, said moves such as hiring Panichgul have led Tasaki to a wider consumer base.

“Before the new brand strategy was implemented, Tasaki’s main consumers were those over 50. The more contemporary designed jewelry selections did not only attract these existing consumers, but also potential younger consumers with their more modern designs,” she said.

Between its retail and wholesale business, Tasaki products are carried at 78 stores in Japan, 31 in Mainland China, eight in Taiwan and six in South Korea. They can also be found at select high-end retailers in the U.S. and Europe. Earlier this year, the company established a subsidiary in France as the first step in a broader international expansion in the West.

Tajima said the company is looking for a suitable location to open its first Paris store, but in the meantime, it has opened a shop-in-shop at Le Bon Marché. While he is not focused on drastically increasing the brand’s number of overseas outlets, he said he envisions eventually having two major points of sale in Paris, two in London, two in New York, one in Los Angeles and possibly others in locations such as Chicago, Miami, Germany and Italy.

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