Frédéric de Narp is back in the fine jewelry business with an investment firm that’s looking to revive historic French jewelry houses and help them to put sustainable materials and socially responsible practices at their core.
De Narp, who was most recently chief executive officer of Bally but who spent most of his career at Cartier and Harry Winston, has joined with industry colleagues Sandrine de Laage and Coralie de Fontenay to form the Paris-based Luximpact.
The Luximpact team wants to work alongside brand owners and descendants of the storied jewelry houses to resurrect the DNA and recast them for the 21st century from a creative, financial, and ESG angle.
Luximpact has already taken a minority stake in Vever, an Art Nouveau pioneer, and is poised to make two more acquisitions in 2022. The team plans to create an ecosystem of management, and creative direction, aimed at supporting all the brands in the portfolio.
De Narp and his partners are looking specifically at French jewelers founded between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, a golden age of creativity and craftsmanship in France when the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements were flourishing. That period saw the birth of houses such as Cartier, Boucheron and Van Cleef & Arpels, which are now owned by big luxury groups.
De Narp and his partners have raised money privately (de Fontenay, the former managing director of Cartier France is a top angel investor in the country) and have also received funding from BPI, the French public investment bank.
“I’m back to my first love, which is jewelry,” said de Narp in his first interview since cofounding Luximpact.
“For me, jewelry carries values in itself: it is always there to celebrate something that stays, something that is timeless. Jewelry also promotes the beauty of planet Earth, whether it’s a diamond that was created two years ago, or a lab-grown one that is the result of human genius. It’s always promoting the beauty of craftsmanship, and the best products that human beings are capable of making,” he said.
De Narp said he’s been drawing on his past experience in charity fundraising to promote Luximpact’s sustainability — and positive impact — strategy.
His first job at Cartier was in Tokyo, where he worked on the shop floor at the Ginza store. He later took on management positions with Cartier in Switzerland, Italy and Greece before becoming president and chief executive officer of Cartier North America, bringing much attention to that brand.
At Cartier, De Narp raised millions of dollars for charity via the Love campaign and corralled a host of famous names — including Salma Hayek and Sarah Jessica Parker — to promote sales of the Love Charity bracelet, which raised additional funds for a variety of causes.
After leaving Cartier, he became president and CEO of Harry Winston, turning that company around, and helping to engineer the sale of its watch and jewelry business to The Swatch Group for $1 billion in 2012.
There, he launched the Harry Winston Hope Foundation, which donates a percentage of pre-tax profits to educational causes. De Narp said that raising money, and funneling commercial profits to charities, has been the highlight of his career so far.
Although he’s now raising money for investment, de Narp said he’s committed to empowering green-minded designers and entrepreneurs with Luximpact.
Going forward, he said, the Luximpact brands will be using lab-grown diamonds and recycled gold, and working toward circularity and transparency across the supply chain and manufacturing.
De Narp noted there will also be a big focus on jewelry métiers d’art, and that Vever is already working with the French enamel expert Sandrine Tessier. He said Luximpact’s brands will make their jewelry in France, with a focus on “unique products” rather than big volumes.
His partners, de Laage and de Fontenay, are overseeing different aspects of the business. De Laage, who spent 25 years in art direction at Cartier, Harry Winston and De Beers, and who also has an eponymous fine jewelry brand, is the creative director.
De Fontenay, who spent much of her early career at Cartier, is now an investor, supporting start-ups and digitally native vertical luxury companies that offer “sustainable and ethical alternatives.” She is co-CEO along with de Narp.
He said the team will be investing on a case-by-case basis, taking minority or majority stakes in the French jewelry houses, and working with family members and descendants, when it can, to revive the businesses.
Vever, the first company to join the Luximpact portfolio, is owned and run by Camille and Damien Vever, seventh-generation members of the family.
Today Vever, which had been dormant since 1982, is pursuing a “sustainable and responsible luxury” and touts itself as the first “entreprise à mission,” or mission-oriented company, in France’s jewelry and luxury sector.
The Vevers are also taking to heart the French business law known as PACTE, which dictates that companies must consider social and environmental issues. Indeed, the jeweler said its approach to business is with “full respect for man and the environment.”
The ivory that Vever plans to use in its designs is vegetarian, the gold is recycled and the diamonds are lab-grown. The company said there is no unnecessary stock, the jewels are tailor-made to order, and delivered within about three weeks.
And while Vever looks forward, and aims to approach business in a new way, the house also wants to leverage its past as an Art Nouveau leader. In its heyday, Vever created award-winning jewels for customers including Czar Alexander III and the Imperial Court of Russia; the Shah of Persia; socialites, and demi-monde figures as well as American industrialists.
Luximpact has big plans to leverage Vever’s rich past, and has already collaborated with Sotheby’s, which staged a five-day exhibition marking Vever’s 200th anniversary this year, and its return to Rue de la Paix where it now has a showroom. From Nov. 25 until Dec. 5, Vever and Luximpact will also be present at the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris.