GRAFF ENTERS U.S. WITH OPEN ARMS
Byline: Wendy Hessen
NEW YORK — There is more to the house of Graff than big, fancy diamonds and the firm’s president, Henri Barguirdjian, wants any and all to feel free to explore the company’s first store in the U.S.
Although Graff, based in London, has built its reputation on grand jewels like vivid yellow diamonds for grand pocketbooks, “you don’t need to bring your financial statement to walk in here,” Barguirdjian quipped, seated in his nearly finished office below the 800-square-foot main salon upstairs at 721 Madison Avenue. “We sell very exceptional pieces, but we still want people to feel they are welcome to come in and look around.”
Being the new jeweler in town can be an advantage, Barguirdjian said, who was, for the last seven years, president and chief executive officer of Van Cleef & Arpels.
Graff’s advertising before the opening has highlighted the cut, color, size and other pertinent information about each stone, resulting in numerous calls to the only telephone number the company had — Barguirdjian’s personal cell phone.
“I have been amazed at the number of calls I’ve received from all over the country. It’s something I have never experienced before. Since we’re new, people aren’t intimidated as they are with a more established house that they have known about for years. They call asking me to explain about the cut or the size — it’s been fun. After all, that’s what we’re here for.”
As Laurence Graff, the owner of the company, hovered over workmen completing the details of the limestone and marble interior, accented by gilt-trimmed, planed mahogany vitrines, Barguirdjian pointed out that the salon offers plenty of more accessibly priced options.
“We can cut anything,” Barguirdjian said. Unlike some of its competitors in the haute jewelry sector, Graff is a sightholder — one of the roughly 125 major wholesale purchasers of diamonds around the world — which have first access to the world’s diamonds through its major producer, De Beers.
Graff buys practically all of its supply through De Beers, with finishing completed in its cutting factory in Johannesburg. The factory produces about 15,000 carats of diamonds a month, Barguirdjian said, much of which is sold to other dealers and jewelers.
“The cream of the crop is reserved for our stores,” said Barguirdjian, referring to Graff’s standard of using only the highest quality diamonds: stones with D, E or F color and flawless to VS2 clarity. That reserve is then shipped to Graff’s workshop on London’s Hatton Garden — the equivalent of Manhattan’s 47th Street — where its 40 jewelers set the stones into pieces designed and approved by Laurence Graff.
While Graff is particularly strong in rings, the company is also known for pins. Its whimsical koala pins in one or two colors of diamonds can be worn together or split apart and can reach $150,000. A group of butterfly pins, selling for about $60,000 each, has also been popular, Barguirdjian said, since making their debut at February’s Palm Beach Antiques show.
Although Barguirdjian currently has an 11.5-carat vivid yellow, ascher-cut diamond that will likely be priced around $1 million, the company also has one- and two-carat engagement rings and diamond eternity bands that start at about $4,000.
The company has only been in the retail side of the business for eight years. There are two stores in London — one in Knightsbridge and the three-level headquarters and flagship on Bond Street — and last year, the firm saw the opening of a unit in the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. Besides the Palm Beach show, Graff participates in high-end art and antiques shows here and in Dallas, Monte Carlo and Paris. Barguirdjian declined to estimate first year sales for the Madison Avenue store, but industry sources said $20 million to $25 million would be readily attainable.