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LONDON — A quiet revolution is taking place at Boodles, the luxury British jeweler, including plans to set up shop in the U.S. for the first time in the company’s 207-year history.
Founded in 1798 and run for six generations by the Wainwright family, Boodles — formerly known as Boodle & Dunthorne — is famous for its diamonds and candy-colored semiprecious stones, its quirky approach to marketing and its popularity among the sports and celebrity set.
David and Victoria Beckham bought their engagement rings at Boodles, and Madonna, Olympic track gold medalist Kelly Holmes, singer Charlotte Church and actress Martine McCutcheon have all worn Boodles jewelry to red-carpet events.
But while most might expect such a venerable firm to be stuffy and snobbish, the new mood at Boodles is all about fun, lightness and youth, which is why the company recently shortened its name.
“Our customers and friends always referred to us affectionately as ‘Boodles,’ so it was a natural decision,” said James Amos, marketing director and part of the sixth generation of Wainwrights to run the company. “Plus, Boodle & Dunthorne sounded just a little old-fashioned. We think Boodles is more contemporary.”
Amos, 27, a former stockbroker for HSBC in the City of London financial district, is mapping out ways to build on the Boodles name internationally. Boodles’ profits in the 2003-04 fiscal year were 1.5 million pounds, or $2.9 million at current exchange, and its sales were 30 million pounds, or $57.6 million. Amos said he expects both to be up by 10 to 15 percent in the current fiscal year.
One of his first plans is to set up a department store concession in the U.S. as early as this summer.
“We have a good American following already in our London stores and we’ve been very successful selling privately to Americans in the past. We think a concession could work quite well,” said Amos, adding the next step would be a shop on Madison Avenue.
In London, Boodles has stores on Sloane Street, Regent Street and The Royal Exchange and an in-store shop at Harrods. It also has units in other U.K. cities, including Liverpool, Manchester and Chester.
Amos has been setting up Boodles’ Web site, boodleanddunthorne.com, where customers will be able to order jewels ranging in price from 500 pounds, or $960, to 500,000 pounds, or $960,000, as of February. There will be a gift-wrapped delivery service, initially just in the U.K. Amos views the site as a key tool for overseas expansion, although he acknowledges that selling precious gems online might not be so easy at the outset.
“Five years ago, I would have had trouble spending even 100 pounds online. Now I’d spend 500 pounds without a problem,” said Amos during an interview at Boodles’ Regent Street store with its warm lighting and taupe and cream interiors. “I think jewelry is about brand trust and I think our customers trust our name enough to start buying online.”
Keeping up with the fashion brigade — and the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior — is not part of the Boodles philosophy.
“We try to avoid being fashion-led,” Amos said. “We see our jewelry instead as an investment, and we want to maintain an aspirational quality.”
Boodles is probably best known for its diamonds, which are often mounted into organically shaped jewelry such as flowers, leaves and fireflies. One of its iconic prod-
ucts is a piece called Roulette, a white gold circle pendant covered in white or black diamonds or sapphires. However, Amos said the company has also begun to promote colored gemstones such as aquamarines, peridots, tanzanite and kunzite.
“We advertise the diamonds and push them, but we also want to be known for our one-off pieces designed with colored stones,” Amos said.
Boodles has also made a name in the U.K. for its quirky marketing. The catalogue features a strip of pink and green stickers with arrows and featuring phrases such as: “You love me how much? This much?” with an arrow that wish-makers can peel off and stick beside their favorite jewels. Other stickers read: “Roses are red, violets are blue, I’d love you more if you buy me these, too” and “Darling, may I make a suggestion?”
There’s also a guide to buying an engagement ring with cartoons of couples looking at rings and dialogue that reads: “Size isn’t everything, I’m told,” and “Now that’s what I call foreplay!”
Collections have names like Kit and Kaboodle — bangles, rings and earrings in gold or platinum with princess-cut diamonds; Go On, Keep Me Dangling diamond hoop earrings, and Glittering On-Line, a string of Asscher cut diamonds set in line as a bracelet.
At the Boodles stores, in the early evening hours, customers are offered a glass of bubbly from a champagne bar, whether or not they are buying.
“Ours is a very customer-facing business,” said Amos. “We like to see and interact with the people we’re selling to and let them know the brand is about having fun. We’re trying to create an experience and make people feel relaxed.”