By and  on September 12, 2005

NEW YORK — When Cartier's Fifth Avenue flagship rolls out the red carpet Wednesday to celebrate the launch of its high jewelry collection — Caresse d'Orchidées par Cartier — Frédéric de Narp will be making his first public appearance in his role as the company's North American president and chief executive officer.

De Narp smiled when he said he doesn't anticipate taking up much of the limelight in comparison to the luxe pieces that will be on display during the event, but he surely will be keeping a keen eye on the success of the evening. The soirée marks the first time in the nearly 160-year-old French company's history that a new collection is premiering in the U.S. It is testament to the importance the venerable jewelry brand is placing on the North American market.

Cartier, a subsidiary of Swiss luxury group Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, has 32 doors in the U.S. and Canada, as well as a wholesale business for its stationery, fragrance, watches and other various accessories. Sales for the U.S. business are estimated at $600 million and de Narp anticipates that percentage growth over the next year should reach the double digits.

"This is the most important time in my life to deliver and to give back to Cartier," said de Narp, 36, who started with the company in 1991 as a sales associate in Japan and was most recently ceo of Cartier Italy. "Even though Cartier is performing strongly everywhere, the growth in the U.S. is stronger than in any other country."

Jewelry retailers across the board have been optimistic about the domestic market based on the emergence of a female customer more willing to purchase fine pieces for herself and the continued boom in demand for luxury products.

"The luxury business has been the single most consistent channel of distribution in recent years," said Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies at Kurt Salmon Associates, a worldwide management consulting firm specializing in retail consumer products. "There is a continuing window of opportunity for companies that have a credible brand image and equity. Certainly Cartier should be taking full advantage of that now — enjoying the tailwinds, so to speak."

De Narp isn't wasting any time getting down to work on his plan to capitalize on the strong market. As head of Cartier in North America, he succeeded Stanislas de Quercize, who moved back to Paris to become global ceo of Richemont brand Van Cleef & Arpels. De Narp, who was born in Brittany, France, moved all his belongings from Italy and settled into his new home in Westchester County with his expecting wife and five children on Saturday. The next day he tapped into his experience as a sales associate by kicking off a whirlwind tour of key Cartier boutiques."It's important to be in the field," de Narp said. "In four days, I visited some 16 boutiques all over the country. Each city in the U.S. has its own customer with their own specificities and I need to know those specificities quickly."

De Narp said that, in Italy, almost half of Cartier customers were tourists, forcing him to learn the different needs of clients.

"Italians know about luxury and quality," he said. "They have so much maturity that it can be hard to surprise them. But there are different expectations when it comes to different people in the world. I feel like I have an international perspective."

Also within days of coming on board, de Narp announced a new executive management team. Joining Olivier Stip as senior vice president of marketing and communications will be Edward Wright, who will become senior vice president of retail, and Martin Gatins, who will be senior vice president of the wholesale division. Prior to the appointment at Cartier, Wright served as president of Baume & Mercier. Gatins has been with Cartier since 1992 and was most recently vice president of the wholesale division.

"It's important to be surrounded by strong people," de Narp said. "They joined me on the tour and, for me, being with them for four days and four nights speaking only about Cartier was an amazing experience."

One of the subjects the quartet discussed was the continued plan for renovating Cartier doors around the country with an updated store design concept meant to make customers feel more comfortable without sacrificing the elegant ambience. The concept was realized by architect Bruno Moinard and was first applied to Cartier's Beverly Hills boutique, which reopened in May. Cartier is renovating the second floor of its flagship here, as well as five other boutiques, including those in Chicago and Atlanta.

"We want the spaces to be more welcoming and alluring," said de Narp.

Of utmost importance of all these strategies, however, is the brand's commitment to accelerating its creativity, said de Narp.

This year, Cartier will release four new collections:

  • In April, it kicked off the push with a new bridal assortment.
  • In July, it released the Himalia collection, based on circles and incorporating white gold, yellow gold and pavé diamonds.
  • This month, it will present the Pasha de Cartier line, based on the grid in the brand's famous watch, as well as its first high jewelry collection in two years, Caresse d'Orchidées par Cartier.
This collection is the company's first high jewelry line since the launch of Le Baiser du Dragon, which made its debut in Paris in 2003."Our jewelry is the embodiment of the spirit of the brand and now women are more independent and buy for themselves," he said. "They want something special, that nobody else has."

The collection, which was three years in the making and inspired by a sketch found in the Cartier archives, hopes to fit the bill. It comprises 55 pieces, all based on orchids rendered in brilliant colorways in brooches, necklaces, cocktail rings, earrings and bracelets.

A key brooch from the collection comprises an orchid of spinels, garnets, mandarin garnets and diamonds in gradient tropical colors. It is topped off with a 30.38-faceted spinel. A cuff bracelet resembles a wrist corsage. Atop its diamond-studded cuff lays a diamond-studded orchid with touches of pink sapphires and 10 rubellite drops at its center.

The collection is going on tour following its visit to New York, with stops in Los Angeles, London and finally Paris. The collection will be at the reopening of the Rue de la Paix boutique in Paris on Dec. 13.

Retail prices start at $6,700 and go up to $3 million for the most elaborate piece in the collection, a "Y" necklace with a diamond and ruby orchid at the throat from which cascades three rows of emerald beads, each set with a small ruby.

De Narp would not divulge sales projections but said, "I'm very ambitious [about this collection]. When our customers see the jewelry, they will be moved. I want women to enjoy wearing our jewelry and to dream. The Prince of Wales once hailed Cartier as the jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers, and I want to reinforce its place as just that."

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