PARIS — Department stores around the world may be in retrenchment mode, but Galeries Lafayette is bucking the trend and on Friday revealed plans to purchase a majority stake in French jeweler Mauboussin.
With the purchase of the historical Place Vendôme jeweler, the family-owned group deepens its foothold in accessible luxury jewelry, a traditional department store draw. Mauboussin, which was founded in 1827, is known for upending norms in France by advertising reduced prices for its diamond rings and necklaces — often upward of $1,000.
“This transaction will bolster Galeries Lafayette Group’s historic expertise in the jewelry business and accompany a new phase in Mauboussin’s expansion,” the company said in a statement.
The move comes as department stores have largely retreated from forays into brand-ownership. One high-profile example was Neiman Marcus’ purchase of Kate Spade in the late Nineties. The department store company wound up selling the label to Liz Claiborne in 2006; the brand had lost momentum, having reached too far beyond its popular nylon handbags to sell footwear, strollers and bedding. Kate Spade is now part of Tapestry Inc.
Galeries Lafayette, which owns watch label Louis Pion, jewelry brand Guérin Joaillerie and watch retailer Galeries Lafayette-Royal Quartz, has been working to reinvent the traditional department store business. It recently opened an airy flagship on the Champs-Élysées, with a sprawling jewelry section featuring modern, steel and cement display cases. It also has refashioned the neighborhood surrounding its BHV Marais store with Eataly cafés and a store dedicated to the streetwear brand A Bathing Ape — the group owns the licenses for both in France.
The group is teaming with Mauboussin chairman Alain Némarq for the purchase of the jewelry house. Némarq, who was recruited by owner Dominique Frémont, has held the position since 2002. He steered the company’s expansion through quirky advertising and accessible positioning, geared to women buying for themselves. The jeweler pulled out of its Place Vendôme flagship in the early Aughts to avoid soaring rents, settling on nearby Rue de la Paix, alongside jewelers Cartier and Mellerio. The house is known for colored stones, especially its rings, as well as its original marketing campaigns. When Mauboussin opened a store in Tokyo in 2010, it offered free diamonds to the first 5,000 customers. The house, which also sells handbags, collaborated with Arielle Dombasle for a perfume in 2017 and the previous year brought in fashion designer Bouchra Jarrar to devise affordable pieces for the label, billing the move as updating its high jewelry roots.
Meanwhile, the department store group has been repositioning its Galeries Lafayette-Royal Quartz Paris stores of late, recently adding high-end jewelry to its selection of timepieces from luxury labels like Rolex, Cartier, Chanel and Bulgari. It refurbished the Rue Royale flagship in Paris last fall, moving the store upscale with a more service-oriented approach. The retailer also has a new store in the city’s Marais district and operates nearly a dozen airport stores.
Mauboussin, which generates annual sales of nearly 80 million euros and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of more than 10 million euros, is sold in its network of 75 stores in France and 20 stores abroad, as well as hundreds of multibrand stores.
The transaction remains subject to approval by competition authorities.