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NEW YORK — At the Van Cleef & Arpels boutique on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street here, Alain Bernard, the brand’s new president and chief executive officer of the Americas, looked genuinely giddy as he pushed back the sleeve of his slate gray suit.
This story first appeared in the April 1, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“Only 15 exist, and I have one,” he said, revealing a Pierre Arpels men’s watch equipped with a white lacquered face and black alligator strap.
Bernard, who was promoted to the top job in the Americas, effective today, comes from the brand’s Japan office, where he served as ceo for three years developing the jeweler’s presence in the region.
Prior to that, he worked for 15 years at Cartier, Van Cleef’s sister brand, under the Compagnie Financière Richemont SA umbrella. At Cartier, his positions included organization project manager, an Internet director and managing director for the brand’s Southeast Asia business, based in Singapore. Bernard returned to Paris for a brief stint to head up Cartier’s worldwide development of customer satisfaction and loyalty before moving to Van Cleef.
In his new role, Bernard hopes to apply some of what he learned in Japan to the U.S. market, including a strong focus on customer service.
“We want to grow very selectively,” Bernard said. “We want to do things to our rhythm.”
For the house, that doesn’t necessarily mean a big retail expansion, he said, but it does mean “strategic” renovations. One of those renovations is happening in the Fifth Avenue boutique, which Van Cleef has inhabited for 71 years. Set to open in November, the jewel-box-size shop will morph into a three-story town house capable of containing the brand’s full collection and rooms for VIP clients.
Like its Paris flagship in Place Vendôme, which was redone in 2006, the New York store has tapped interior designer Patrick Jouin. He designed Van Cleef’s Prince’s Building Hong Kong store and will revamp the house’s Tokyo flagship.
“We want to keep intimacy. Big is not always beautiful. Intimacy is beautiful,” Bernard said of Van Cleef’s decision to focus on renovation rather than store expansion.
That may be true, but growth is also beautiful, and in order to continue developing its business, Van Cleef will focus on product innovation and service. Although the high-end jewelry market is thriving, the French brand recognizes the importance of compelling design. In addition to its signature Alhambra clove jewelry, Van Cleef is focusing on other offerings, such as men’s and women’s watches that include colorful enamel dials and diamond bezels. The house also continues to develop one-of-a-kind pieces inspired by nature, as well as less expensive baubles that nod to the brand’s identity. Van Cleef’s wares can cost anywhere from several thousand dollars to the six-figure range.
Holding a $32,000 diamond encrusted white gold lotus ring that opens to sit across the ring and middle fingers of the wearer, Bernard noted that in order to be successful, the brand must continue to develop wares that offer value.
“The economy of the world is not in the best shape. We are in a paradoxical situation. There are fears…a lot of uncertainty but people are looking for a lighthouse,” he said. “People are looking for trust. We are one of the unique cases where our identity is above a specific strategy. Our clients know we will be here. They trust in the value of Van Cleef & Arpels.”