SHANGHAI — The Résonances de Cartier high jewelry exhibition opened its doors to clients on Saturday at Fosun Foundation Shanghai, a new art and cultural center wrapped in a golden, rotating bamboo curtain facade, located at the city’s waterfront Bund area.
The exhibition encompasses more than 400 high jewelry items, including a royal pearl that once belonged to Queen Mary, which has been preserved and fashioned into a platinum and diamond necklace.
The selection of high jewelry pieces arrived here after stretches in London and New York, and will go on to make appearances in other Asian markets such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, before returning to mainland China for a Beijing showing in the latter half of 2018.
Cartier first opened an exhibition to the public during a half day showing at the first high jewelry exhibition in China last November. This year, the company returned and extended the public opening to a full day.
“We had a very diverse crowd and a lot of young people who were here actually looking at the jewelry, not just for the value of it but for what it carries in terms of design and what it carries in terms of the cultural component of high jewelry. So it is really about enriching the experience that people have with us, sharing our culture,” said Renaud Litré, chief executive officer of Cartier China.
Clients attending the exhibition this year will not only come from mainland China, but also other parts of Asia and the world, according to Cartier. It comes on the back of other high jewelry exhibitions in the country. “I think the China market is becoming more and more sophisticated and our clients are expecting more diversity in terms of not just being offered more upscale product but more diverse product and more exclusive product. So that is one of the reasons why there are probably more high jewelry exhibitions these days than there previously [have been],” Litré said.
Being the third stop on this exhibition’s world tour might allude to the importance the company places on the China market. Although the Compagnie Financiere Richemont-owned firm declined to share figures, it claimed that sales in China were, and would continue to be, good. “There is a significant increase in demand for high-end product through the premiumization of the market and we see an increasing interest in high jewelry and exclusive products,” Litré said.
“This year is a very good year for Richemont group in general. Cartier is performing well and Asia is doing extremely well, and China is playing a significant role in the growth of our maison throughout Asia. The market in general is very active and we are quite satisfied with the way that we operate at the moment,” he added.
Bain & Co.’s 2017 China luxury report, released last week, showed overall growth for the domestic luxury market, a major turnaround after four years of poor performance and decline. Jewelry was noted as the highest growth category in mainland China and was propped up by the very high end, as well as more affordable fashion and bridal ranges.
This turnaround comes as the domestic market recovers and rebalances after the government’s anticorruption campaign, which severely hit the luxury sector in 2012. “Jewelry has recovered for quite a while and I think we see both the new China but also a China becoming a bit more like the other markets worldwide. In other words, the category mix is shifting a lot more toward female categories, which is the way luxury is everywhere else in the world. It used to be very male orientated in China because of the gifting tradition that took place in 2011 and 2012,” said Bruno Lannes, a partner in Bain’s Greater China office, who wrote the luxury report.
This rebalancing of the market also impacted Cartier in China, but the current growth is now seen to stem from a genuine consumption market. “I think the anticorruption [campaign] had definitely one benefit — it helped eliminate a portion of the business that we had at the time, collectively, that was unhealthy, and this has completely disappeared,” Litré said. “Even though, effectively, the campaign may be not as visible or as strong or as vocal as it used to be, it is still there. It’s still there and it is a good thing. That part of the business has completely vanished and has been replaced over time, more than replaced, by more genuine activity related to the upcoming of the market here in China, the upcoming of the upper middle class. We have a more diverse and a more significant population who are interested in buying our product.”
In May 2016, it was widely reported that Cartier was one of the first international brands to open a store on Tencent’s multipurpose messaging app WeChat. Alongside the WeChat store and dedicated brand e-commerce web site, Cartier operates 34 boutiques in China covering top-tier cities as well as watch stores, taking the brand to almost 50 cities around the country. Litré does not see the WeChat store as a tool to expand the brand’s reach to new consumers in cities not penetrated by Cartier’s network of stores, but rather a compliment to the service already offered in store.
“It’s really contributing to the overall experience that we want to create for our clients, and making sure that there is a strong synergy between this channel and our boutiques and also our watch retailer to create a real omnichannel experience for the clients,” he said.
“This year, we have launched a new platform using WeChat that allows us to create one to one communications between our sales associates and our clients. WeChat is all about connection and connectivity, it’s not so much about we are going to sell on WeChat. We do, but it is more a consequence than the actual goal,” he added.
Cartier’s offerings on its WeChat store are not as vast as the range in its brick and mortar stores, and it is currently unclear whether this will be increased in the future. “When the format would be right to present the wider collections, I have no problem to do that. It is not a restriction by principal; it is more, again, to make sure that what we propose and the way we propose is allowing the clients to have a good experience,” said Litré. “I don’t see an issue, for example, one day of being able to offer absolutely everything on WeChat. As long as the format is right to provide the right experience.”
Litré does not believe that Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com offer the right e-commerce environment to retail its products. “For the time being, the channel is not right for us in terms of the experience that we want to create using the different touch points between us and the clients. The conditions are not yet met for us to be able to work with these channels,” said Litré. The ceo listed quality, experience, exclusivity and making sure that clients can have a real dedicated Cartier environment as conditions that would need to be met before opening a store on one of those e-commerce platforms.
Cartier will launch a red edition of the celebrated Ballon Bleu watch exclusively for the Chinese market to coincide with Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day. This year sees the two typically high-performing sales dates fall within days of each other — with Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14 and Chinese New Year beginning Feb. 16 — which could cannibalize profits. “Cartier traditionally performs extremely well during those specific events — Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, Chinese Valentine’s Day or Christmas. Those are times where we tend to be extremely relevant and powerful, usually more than the rest of our peers. This year, Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day being so close to each other might be an issue for us,” Litré said.
Predictions for the brand remain upbeat. “We are not very concerned. Worst case scenario, it will be a better Valentine’s Day for some of our overseas boutiques because we expect a lot of people will travel and will enjoy traveling and shopping abroad,” Litré said.