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NEW YORK — Graff made big news late last year when it began to wholesale its upscale jewelry and now other jewelers are following suit.

This story first appeared in the February 24, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Brazilian retailer H. Stern is initiating a wholesale component to its business, and Lalique, best known for its crystal offerings, is beginning to sell its jewelry line to specialty stores and boutiques.

Here, a look at what these two companies are doing:

H. STERN

Rio’s hot-blooded youth may still be refining their samba moves for this weekend’s Carnevale, but its resident jeweler, H. Stern, is getting ready for some steps of a different kind.

For the first time in its 58-year history, the 160-store chain will wholesale its fine jewelry and watches, and will preview a selection of its jewelry and watches at the World Watch & Jewellery Show in Basel, Switzerland, April 3-10.

“It’s a natural step in our expansion strategy,” said Andréa Hansen, H. Stern’s marketing director. “We expanded quickly in the Sixties and Seventies by opening our own stores. We believe we have strengthened the brand to a point where we need a wider distribution network, which will hopefully also allow us, in turn, to expand the number of H. Stern flagships worldwide.”

Company executives plan to use the Basel show as a launch pad for the wholesale strategy and will start to search there for partners to represent and distribute the line in the U.S. and Europe. In the U.S., the company wants to distribute to upscale department stores and select jewelry specialty stores.

“There are some key markets where we want to be, such as Chicago, Dallas, Boston, San Francisco and Houston,” Hansen said. “We will start slow. It would be great to have about 12 doors in the first year. The objective now is to reach the affluent, style-conscious person regardless of where that person lives.”

Founded by Hans Stern in 1945, H. Stern sold its products exclusively through family-owned stores, which are in 12 countries today. A new, 1,722-square-foot store will open in Munich next month. Stern steered the company to target the affluent tourist market, with the lion’s share of units in airports and hotels. This has undoubtedly become more challenging in the past year with the global downturn in tourism and challenging economic climates in Brazil, where the company has 80 units, and Israel, which is home to 35 H. Stern boutiques.

“In Israel, tourism is very low,” Hansen said. “However, the local market is strong. People want to live their life to the fullest, despite sociopolitical tensions, or perhaps they’re not traveling as much and spending their money for significant loved ones.”

In Basel, H. Stern will present a selection of new watch and jewelry designs and best-selling pieces, among them, watches from the Form and Sfera lines, including four jeweled watches featuring gold and gemstone accents on the cases and straps, as well as a selection of jewelry from the Gold and Justine collections.

“We will wholesale both watches and jewelry because watches have increasingly become a more important area of our business,” said Hansen, who declined to disclose the privately held company’s annual sales. However, industry sources estimate the company’s annual sales volume at $500 million.

LALIQUE

Best known for its crystal creations, Lalique is looking to build up its jewelry business in its own stores and at the wholesale level. The French company has never sold its jewelry at wholesale until now, preferring to concentrate on selling its fashion jewelry offerings in its own shops, of which there are seven in the U.S. and about 70 worldwide.

Now, the firm has introduced a more extensive collection of fashion jewelry styles designed to attract the brand’s loyal followers, as well as younger clientele.

“We are looking to expand our customer base and attract younger, more fashionable shoppers,” said Daniel Barth, president and chief executive officer of Lalique North America, who recently joined the company from Lacoste. “This is a very important category for us and we feel there is a lot of potential.”

The 117-year-old firm is not known much for its jewelry business, which currently accounts for about 20 percent of its volume. Nonetheless, jewelry is an important part of Lalique’s heritage, as the firm’s founder, Rene Lalique, was a master jeweler who created a range of bold pieces in the late 1800s and early 1900s using materials such as horn, ivory and enamel. Jewelry stopped being produced around 1912 when the firm began to focus on glass, and the category wasn’t reintroduced until 1989.

Now, the company is looking for jewelry to account for about 25 percent of total sales. Lalique’s sales in the U.S. are $35 million, and worldwide are $100 million, according to Barth. Its other product offerings now span the gamut from stemware and belts to fragrances and bridal gifts, although only the crystal is available in stores outside of the Lalique boutiques.

Not surprisingly, crystal is a key component of the newest jewelry designs and some harken back to Lalique’s original creations. The cabochon glass rings were first created in 1931 and are now available again in 20 different colors. Other new styles include cuff silver bracelets and brooches, as well as a wide variety of pendants.

Most of the pieces are made with silver or gold plating and there are plenty of colored crystal styles, as well as a range of motifs such as butterflies, hearts, stars and leaves. Everything is made in France and suggested retail prices for the items range from about $85 for a pendant to $2,050 for a necklace, with the bulk falling in the range of about $100 to $450.

To build this business, Lalique has hired Rosita Djahannia as operational marketing manager for jewelry. Djahannia, who was formerly in the private label department at Lord & Taylor, said the Lalique jewelry is already sold in a few boutiques where it was tested this holiday season, and the firm is looking to sell the line in select department stores and in hip boutiques such as Fred Segal and Scoop.

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