NEW YORK — It may be surprising that Josie Natori, a designer whose name many women hold dear as a trusted source for underpinnings, conceded one recent afternoon: “I don’t have any fetish for lingerie, believe it or not; zero. What I do have is a fetish for jewelry.”
Over the last 42 years, Natori has built a house that balances refinement with the kind of nonchalance that comes from valuing a woman’s comfort and mobility. Now, the designer will translate that same attitude to fine jewelry — her first love — with a 300-piece collection that launches today.
In doing so, Natori joins a burgeoning category that has been highlighted by analysts as a key growth area for the fashion industry. Recent indicators — like Compagnie Financière Richemont’s acquisition of Buccellati, Gucci’s push into the category with duty-free fine jewelry concessions in key airports worldwide and Saks Fifth Avenue’s unveiling last month of its new high jewelry department The Vault — point to jewelry’s new strength.
Natori’s line, crafted of sterling silver and 14-karat gold with semiprecious and precious stones, will range in price from $300 for a sterling band ring to $45,000 for a necklace set with 750 diamonds.
Bamboo cane earrings and dragon motif pendants take cues from Natori’s “East meets West sensibility,” as well as pieces in the designer’s personal jewelry collection.
“In the Philippines, jewelry is what you receive as a gift. I’ve been exposed to it since I was a baby,” the designer said of her formative relationship with gems. “We were doing fashion jewelry early on, and I started to think about fine about 15 years ago but it’s not something we wanted to do on our own. So it was about waiting to find the right partner.”
As a result, the designer has signed a license with Angara, a direct-to-consumer jewelry firm owned by husband-and-wife team Ankur and Aditi Daga. Aditi’s family in India has been in the jewelry trade for more than 350 years and she and Ankur have parlayed that expertise into a digitally native company.
Angara, launched 14 years ago, allows customers to deeply customize jewelry — stone weight, metal gradient, etc. — and the finished product is manufactured and shipped within 48 hours. The company’s model affords it certain liquidity — it holds no back stock other than raw materials.
Each time an order is placed, Angara’s technology team in India digitally transmits a 3-D printer model to the company’s manufacturing facility in Bangkok — where 90 percent of orders are fabricated within 24 hours. All aspects of the manufacturing process — from casting to rhodium and stone setting — are completed in-house, where Daga says thousands of pieces are produced each month.
Natori is Angara’s first license — a business model they hope to explore more. “We have been doing more basic gemstone jewelry and wanted to go into the fashion sector. We thought partnering with a fashion house was the best way going forward, so they can bring their design and fashion know-how, whereas we have the manufacturing expertise,” said Daga.
While Natori herself is partial to dramatic pieces, like oversize dragon-shaped earrings, Daga mediated in the design process to ensure there was a certain commercial appeal.
“Aditi came to my home and we went into my vault, but at the same time had to be cognizant of where the market is today. We wanted something to build on, and it’s why we wanted to get started with holiday. There are enough codes of the house, like texture and florals — many different facets of the brand — that can translate to jewelry,” said Natori.
Nonetheless, Natori “forced” Daga into a few exaggerated designs. “It’s fun,” said the designer. “It’s not the core of the collection, but why not?”
Angara has not yet worked with wholesale collections, which generally require bulk order fulfillment. Anticipating an adjustment, the company has set a target to complete large orders from retailers within a week, “and have it on display in the store within 10 days,” Daga said.
“Retailers say the hard thing about jewelry is that if they have run out of a ring size, they have to quote the customer a four-to-six-week lead time. We can have it to them within four days,” she added.
For Natori, this is all part of the allure of launching into the fine jewelry category. “I’m not doing this for fun; we are serious business people. We have targeted who the competition is and feel like our sensibility is one that has a place at the table.”
The collection will hit both Natori and Angara’s respective web shops today and will become available at major retailers later this fall.