By  on April 9, 2007

While many fine jewelry brands rely on extravagant gift-giving for the bulk of their sales, Ippolita has cultivated a customer who wants to reward herself.

The company has built a following with an artsy, downtown, fashion-forward consumer looking for a piece of jewelry that's fine, feminine and mostly approachable.

"Ninety-nine percent of our customers are women who buy for themselves," said Ippolita, the Florence-born chairman and creative director of the firm, who goes by only her first name. "Wearability and accessibility are things I very much believe in."

The company has experienced fast growth since it was founded in 1999, with sales increases of 77 and 75 percent in 2005 and 2006, respectively, to $40 million last year.

"It started as a slow growth," said Ippolita. "And then it got vertiginous."

Specializing in hand-wrought gold, diamond and gemstone jewelry with an artisanal vibe — wholesaling for $250 to $3,400 — the firm has expanded its category offerings in recent years to include furniture and various objets d'art.

The line is now sold in 80 U.S. doors, including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Forty Five Ten in Dallas. It is sold in an additional 30 doors outside the U.S., including Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Holt Renfrew in Canada. The brand will be launched at Harrods in London this summer.

"The thing that's always drawn us to her designs is there's an artisan feel," said Brian Bolke, co-owner of Forty Five Ten. "Everything has a real handmade quality to it and feels very organic. Our store has a real organic point of view and her jewelry makes sense with it. A lot of women comment that her jewelry feels good on, and I think that's the key to her success."

Ippolita studied sculpture as a teenager in Italy and later moved to California to study dance and further her craft-making ability. After that, she moved to New York to pursue jewelry design and sculpture. Now she splits her time among Brooklyn, East Hampton, N.Y., and a 12th-century farmhouse and vineyard in Tuscany.

Soon her devoted customers will be able to enter the world of Ippolita with the company's first signature stores. Ippolita and chief executive officer Lauren Sharfman are ironing out the details for a 400-square-foot Madison Avenue store. A second Manhattan unit and a Los Angeles store are also in the works."We wanted to have a foothold in the major luxury market with our wholesale partners before we broke out our brand identity," said Sharfman. "We have a lot of traction now, a lot of repeat customers and the critical mass that needs to be there to give the brand a lot more momentum."

Ippolita has begun designing the stores, which embody her aesthetic. The stores will offer some exclusive jewelry styles, the firm's furniture and will act as a testing ground for new products such as handbags.

"[My aesthetic] comes from a European sense that everything in your world is crafted, so therefore the fact that there's love of craft and there's an attention to detail was a very formative experience," she said.

The company isn't looking to expand its network of retailers, but rather to further penetrate its current doors. In the next two years, the firm is considering opening boutiques in Milan, Rome and London and, eventually, in Asia.

In tandem with the debut of its fall collections in stores in July, the company will relaunch its e-commerce Web site, ippolita.com, with a redesign and an expanded product offering.

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