NEW YORK — From Belperron to Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, Fred Leighton is known for its selection of some of the world’s best vintage and estate jewels. Now, the Madison Avenue jeweler is trying something new, quite literally.

This story first appeared in the May 7, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

At the Couture jewelry show, which takes place from May 31 to June 4 in Las Vegas, the red-carpet favorite will launch The Fred Leighton Collection of newly designed baubles, as well as a wholesale division. The division’s role will be to wholesale the new jewels to a select group of fine jewelry retailers, as well as, for the first time, offer pieces from the Fred Leighton Estate Jewels collection to them.

It’s a significant step for Leighton, which was acquired by Kwiat in 2009. The new developments signal Kwiat’s plans to seize the potential to grow the name beyond the vintage and estate jewelry.

“One of the things about Fred Leighton that has always been so exciting, is how powerful a brand it is in the jewelry and fashion world, and how much potential it has to grow and become more than it has been,” said Fred Leighton’s chief executive officer Greg Kwiat. “The Fred Leighton name is so widely known that we wanted to build on that, and develop a collection that really captures the essence of what Fred Leighton is all about — vintage style.”

The concept behind the new collection is based on the vintage heritage closely associated with the Leighton name, but these pieces aren’t copies of existing jewels that have passed through the salon’s doors. Designed by an in-house team, the designs will loosely seek inspiration from concepts in the vintage pieces.

“The collection that we have developed is based on the idea of taking the aesthetic of vintage style and bringing it to life in a more updated, modern way,” Kwiat explained. “Our pieces will be reminiscent of different pieces like the Art Deco or Victorian period, but they’ll have a very fashion forward feel to them, so they will be both for a lover of vintage style and also someone who has a more modern fashion aesthetic.”

For the launch, the two key inspirations are the forms and geometric styling of Art Deco as well as 19th century romance, particularly during the Victorian period of jewelry design.

For example, a set of black jade earrings have their origins in a jet Victorian pair’s six sided, unusual pyramidal shape originally with added rock crystal diamond frames and detailing to give them a distinctly Art Deco feel.

This isn’t the first time Fred Leighton has created new jewelry, or planned a collection beyond antique jewelry. During Peter Bacanovic’s short-lived stint as president in 2008, there was already talk of a collection of this nature. In the past, the company also made one-of-a-kind pieces for special red-carpet appearances, but, said Kwiat, “The approach had always been to create one, whereas now, we take more of a collection approach with something more cohesive and with a new strategic direction for the company.”

The core collection is priced between $2,500 and $30,000, though there will be one-of-a-kind pieces at higher price points.

“We are looking to partner with a small number of retailers to showcase the collection,” Kwiat said. “We will keep the distribution very exclusive and limited. The retailers we will select and work with will work at the high end of the jewelry market, share a similar reverence for fine jewelry, and have a client base that appreciates styles and understand fine jewelry.”

The launch and wholesale division fit into the global growth strategy at Fred Leighton. “We have stores on Madison Avenue and at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas,” Kwiat said. “In expanding to build a new collection and take on retail store partners, and essentially build a wholesale division to Fred Leighton, the idea is to bring Fred Leighton to more people in local markets who may not have the opportunities to visit us here at the flagships, but who are certainly familiar with us and want to see more of what we do.”

As for sales projections, Kwiat said that initially, the plan is to launch the collection with 10 to 15 retail partners in the U.S. “The international discussions will follow after the U.S. launch in Las Vegas,” he said, adding that first year retail sales projections are $5 million. “We plan to grow that in the years to come as we take on additional partners — but it’s always meant to be exclusive and for a select few retail partners,” he noted.

Fred Leighton will rely on Kwiat’s jewelry background to create the new collection.

“What we have always done well at Kwiat is create fine jewelry, which is part of the company’s history over 105 years,” Kwiat said. “The Kwiat expertise and the Kwiat workshop have been a part of creating this, and the expertise we have has informed the building of these pieces. Many of them are in fact created in our workshop in New York City.”

Expect to see some of the new designs at future red-carpet events. “Beautiful things always find a way into the red carpet, and we always, first and foremost, think of what is the most beautiful and appropriate,” said public relations director Rebecca Selva, a respected jewelry historian in her own right who is a liaison with stylists and celebrities. “Certainly we will be at the level in terms of finesse and design as our vintage pieces, so why not mix? It’s all about mixing today.”

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