PARIS — This is what a gold rush looks like in the 21st century. In Paris, that is, during couture week. Starting with gold the metal, back in yellow, it runs the gamut of stones, from the imperial topaz up to a fancy intense yellow diamond, over 30 carats.
Not to neglect the gold-as-an-investment department, the brand-new online jewelry brand Mené unveiled a digital display for its collection of rings, necklaces and cuff bracelets at the Gagosian Gallery, just off the Champs-Elysées. The jewelry sat on shelves that flashed their weight in real-time gold rates, directly linked to their prices, as cofounder Diana W. Picasso and creative director Sunjoo Moon showed the pieces to visitors in a side room of the “Picasso and Maya, Father and Daughter” exhibit.
The bid to tap into gold’s perennial appeal, including its status as a refuge value for savings, came as the industry seeks to find its station in a shifting global environment.
The sector looks set to fare better than its watchmaking peers, who recently clawed out of a slump and are expected to maintain steady annual growth at around 3 percent in the next few years, according to Bain & Co.’s luxury goods study. The management consulting company estimates that jewelry, one of the smaller but fastest-growing segments in the industry for high-end goods, grew at around 10 percent in 2017.
Women buying for themselves are fueling the growth, especially in China, Bain noted in a December report on the country’s luxury market, citing high-end jewelry, along with more affordable fashion and bridal jewelry.
Branded jewelry, which accounts for around a quarter of total jewelry sales, is gradually taking market share from nonbranded jewelry, according to analysts at HSBC. Compagnie Financière Richemont brands Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, along with Bulgari, which belongs to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, are likely to be the strongest brands, according to HSBC.
“The jewelry market is still a very strong market,” said Van Cleef & Arpels’ chief executive officer Nicolas Bos, in the run-up to couture week. The brand’s flower-infused collection included a secret watch meant to depict a dandelion, and another decorated with mini daisies. A “Beauté celeste” ring featured a 4.05-carat emerald-cut fancy vivid yellow diamond as well as white and yellow diamonds set in 18-carat yellow and white gold.
Christian Dior showed Victoire de Castellane’s third and final installment in her Versailles-inspired triptych, which it already previewed in New York in November. While Louis Vuitton, which has settled into its refurbished Place Vendôme flagship, did not present during couture week, its owner flagged a bumper year for the brand in high-jewelry sales.
With bigger brands positioning themselves as the dominant players, Chanel conveyed strength with a high-jewelry collection centered on that perpetual source of energy for the house’s founder: the lion. Born under the Leo astrological sign, Gabrielle Chanel decorated her apartment with lions, adding the figure to handbag fasteners and suit buttons as well.
The house began working the lion theme into its high-jewelry collections in 2012, explained Marianne Etchebarne, the label’s global head of watches and fine jewelry product, marketing, clients and communication at its Place Vendôme address, while a screen projected images of a teeth-baring lion.
The animal’s introduction was subtler then, coming as part of a series on zodiac signs, and shown in Venice, a city famous for its lion protector.
“The studio wanted to bring it back, based this time on the spirit of the lion, on the character of the lion — very strongly affirmed — he’s grown up and wised up, this lion,” said Etchebarne, pointing to an “Eternal” brooch of a lion head, surrounded by a thick mane of diamonds — 423 in all, weighing 26.23 carats.
The diamond-encrusted lion head on the yellow gold Dazzling necklace presides over 32 oval-cut yellow beryls. The set’s earrings are mismatched, with four of the oval-cut stones. The Legendary necklace in white gold and 1,200 diamonds offers the color as a contrast to white diamonds, with a 30.19-carat cushion cut yellow diamond.
Another high jeweler offered a theme of force: the elements this time. Chaumet called the Siberian winter-inspired collection “Promenades Impériales.” Evoking dawn and daylight, those moments when the sun isn’t quite yellow, the house built a necklace around two Padparadscha sapphires: one pear-shaped, sunset-colored stone weighing 16.31 carats and a cabochon-cut stone weighing 9.03 carats. The necklace comes in white or pink gold, and is transformable, with removable pieces, and also features an oval-cut 1.13 carat diamond.
The matching bracelet reflects snow, featuring lacy rows of marquise and brilliant-cut diamonds, anchored with a 7.07-carat sapphire.
Chopard went for green in the colored-gem department, seeking to project the feel of a “goldsmith’s wardrobe” with a lacy feel, through light stone settings. An 18-karat white gold necklace featured an 18.7-carat pear-shaped emerald as a centerpiece, with a ring of six other pear-shaped emeralds totaling 30.9 carats. Pear-shaped, marquise-cut and brilliant-cut diamonds build the lacework, and the set is matched with a 7-carat emerald ring.
The house is in the process of bulking up its sources of fair-trade gold, with certain machines set aside in its Geneva headquarters only for use with certified sources of the mineral.
Boucheron is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year, and presented its new pieces at a temporary exhibit space on the other side of the Seine River while its Place Vendôme flagship gets a makeover.
The jeweler presented a collection of whimsical animal figures, including a “Foxy the fox” pendant necklace set with a kite aquamarine and sapphires, with the pointy-eared, diamond-encrusted creature resting his chin on a swirly tail.
Additions to the Serpent Boheme collection included a rhodolite garnet ring with a price of 10,300 euros.
A younger Place Vendôme jeweler, Charlotte Dauphin de la Rochefoucauld, who launched her brand in 2014 during Paris Couture Week, introduced colored stones into her collection for the first time — bright red rubies, just as Valentine’s Day approaches. She used the stones in her signature chain-mail creations, fixing delicate folds of the flexible grids of jewels to rigid rings — either solid gold or encrusted with gems.
Her venture into ruby territory comes after she used pink diamonds a year ago; her jewelry is meant to be mixed and matched over time — stacked rings, for example — with pieces from successive collections building on each other.
Growing up with classical dance training, Dauphin explored sculpting as a university student before designing jewelry. With that background, said Dauphin, she has thought deeply about how objects fit into space.
“The idea is to mix with past collections, not change everything,” she said, relaying the pursuit of modern jewelers to project appeal over the longer term for more cautious consumers.
Of the gold-tinged times, Dauphin explained: “There’s more demand for yellow gold in the U.S.; this continues. The American market is beginning to integrate pink gold,” she added.
The young designer also introduced a mix of brown diamonds set in rose gold, which she calls a camouflage blending. A pair of chain-mail earrings featuring the blend comes with three layers of triangles and carries a price tag of 17,500 euros; a larger version is priced at 32,000 euros.
Switzerland-based veteran jeweler Suzanne Syz brought her latest collection to the Ritz, showing off a large white enamel ring dotted with yellow-hued diamonds. She called the ring “Sex on the beach,” setting a 2.24-carat fancy deep grayish, yellowish-green cushion diamond with 189 fancy mix colored diamonds totaling 2.66 carats. The designer also showed a bracelet starring eight of her dogs over the years, each face carved into rock crystal.
“It was a crazy project,” she said, explaining that she had to paint a watercolor for the elderly German-based craftsman who did the carving.
“The last remaining expert in his field,” she declared.
Diamond specialist De Beers, which did not present a high-jewelry collection for couture week, instead showed pieces meant to net a wider base of consumers. The company last year struck out on its own, buying up LVMH’s 50 percent stake. Stressing the need for jewelers to gain relevance with younger generations, the brand is introducing bracelets at more accessible prices, with a simple chain and diamond priced at 850 euros.
The simplest thin-chained bracelet from the gold dewdrop line features one diamond, the next one has five. Completing the range, the dewdrop bangle carries a diamond-encrusted structure for the top of the wrist. A solitaire Aella ring, featuring a 5.5-carat yellow diamond, is priced at 90,000 euros. Another ring was made with an M-rated diamond, priced at 125,000 euros, but would cost nearly 500,000 euros for a similar piece with a diamond rated D, E or F.
Reinforcing its image as a brand that speaks to women, Italian jeweler Pomellato, known for its chunky gold pieces and large, brightly colored stones, feted the arrival of a new brand ambassador, Chiara Ferragni, or The Blonde Salad, at the Italian embassy on the Left Bank. The Italian social media star, who is pregnant with her first child, is featured in a campaign shot by Peter Lindbergh. Noting a dismal proportion of female ceo’s in the world — 3 percent — the label’s ceo Sabina Belli evoked her mother, who listened to feminist singers in the Seventies and earned a doctorate, becoming one of the first of her generation to enter the workplace.
“She gave me the feeling that you could be a mother and work and have a successful life,” said Belli. Her grown daughter also attended the evening event, and so did two young princesses, Maria Chiara de Bourbon, age 13, and Maria Carolina de Bourbon, 14.