THE MOTHER LODE
FOR HIGH-END JEWELERS, THERE’S GOLD IN THOSE HOLLYWOOD HILLS.
Byline: Wendy Hessen
NEW YORK — It’s pretty easy to see what the stars get out of being wooed by jewelers and accessories designers. But what such a prime placement does for the makers of those jewels or handbags is harder to pinpoint.
Of course, there’s the exposure to more than a billion people, many of whom are watching in rapt attention what the megastars are wearing and carrying. Indeed, for diamonds, Oscar night has long been the mother lode of publicity.
“There are other awards shows, but the Oscars are the single most important event worldwide for diamonds,” said Joan Parker, director of the Diamond Information Center, the marketing and promotional arm of the diamond powerhouse DeBeers.
But what about mining the event for subsequent sales?
“We’re not there to sell, but to be part of the glamour,” said Jim Haag, director of sales and marketing at Harry Winston, which has been lending jewelry to stars for the Oscars since the Forties. “I don’t think any company would go into this thinking they will get immediate sales. We do it because Harry was totally enamored with Hollywood, and we’re continuing that tradition.”
On the other hand, several seasoned Oscar night participants say it is about the bottom line as well celebrity.
“We’ve had very specific instances where the Oscars have had a direct effect on our sales,” said Edward Asprey, corporate director of the jeweler Asprey & Garrard. “The first was four years ago — the first year we participated — when Claire Danes wore our blue topaz daisy necklace. Literally, within a matter of weeks, we had sold between $300,000 to $400,000 worth of pieces from that collection.”
Asprey credited that experience with solidifying his firm’s belief that, while it may be the self-proclaimed oldest jeweler in the world — it has been the appointed jeweler for the British monarchy since Queen Victoria’s reign in the mid-19th century — it can still attract younger, or at least young-minded, customers. “That necklace was young, exactly as she is,” he said, referring to Danes.
Colleen Caslin, senior vice president of marketing for Asprey & Garrard, said the company has even started to time the launch of its new collections with the Oscars, and relies on the occasion as a showcase for the jewelry’s versatility.
“When Cate Blanchett wore several small bracelets together and earrings as barrettes, it set off a demand for lighter, delicate pieces and raised our number of multiple sales as well,” said Caslin. “And after several stars wore antique pieces, our demand was so great for antique jewelry that we reopened that department after it had been virtually closed for years.”
Van Cleef & Arpels is another Oscar jeweler with tangible results, having sold several pieces after they were worn at the Academy Awards, according to Muffy Potter Aston, director of marketing. “A pair of diamond and platinum earrings that were worn by Sharon Stone one year were sold shortly thereafter, as were a pair of gardenia ear clips Stone wore another year.”
Although a piece sold here and there might sound inconsequential initially, that post-Oscar business carries more weight given that the market for this type of high-end jewelry is obviously much smaller than that for the average pair of studs. Those Van Cleef diamond and platinum earrings given exposure by Stone were valued at $97,000; and the company’s signature gardenia earrings are typically in the $50,000 to $65,000 range.
“Besides being good business, the Oscars give us international exposure,” said Aston. “There are a lot of people that love to emulate what Hollywood personas are wearing.”
Jeweler Fred Leighton often sells pieces that are worn at the event, especially when the star is someone with legendary status, said a spokeswoman for the firm.
“We got numerous calls for the double-strand diamond necklace that Sophia Loren wore last year, and it was sold a few months later,” said the spokeswoman, who said the selling price was in the “high six figures,” but wouldn’t be more explicit.
The awards show can also set trends that reverberate throughout the entire industry.
According to the Diamond Information Center’s Parker, diamond stud earrings got a big boost last year after they were seen on actress Helen Hunt. “It’s no different than one big fashion show,” Parker said. “It can really help push an item.”
Other executives agree that the Oscar mega-event helps in their brand’s overall marketing efforts.
“It’s a synergistic effect,” said Scott Woodward, global marketing director of the Movado Group, who said the firm ties in such things as advertising and a retail program around events like the Oscars, where the company promoted its Concord watch brand. Movado, he added, has also seen that “sales do sometimes spike around the time of an event.”
Concord was a major advertiser in Vanity Fair’s Oscar insert that was tied to Neiman Marcus. And some of the Concord pieces worn to the Oscars are slated to tour several Neiman Marcus stores later this year.
“This is our second year [of Oscar-related promotions], and one of the things we’ve tried to do is put some focus on watches, which haven’t gotten much attention in years past,” said Woodward. With a watchmaker available in its hotel suite, the firm offered actresses the chance to custom-match their watch straps to their dresses with a satin strap.
The company has also sought out men attending the event, who often have little to say when interviewed about what they are wearing.
Still, the process of creating and producing an item that will catch an actress’s fancy can be pricy, with no guarantee that a company will get a return on its investment.
“We know that consumers are impressed with what celebrities wear and do,” said Daniel Busby, chief financial officer at handbag maker Kathrine Baumann. “Our Japanese partner, for instance, wants only photographs of celebrities carrying our bags. As far as they are concerned, it’s something that relates directly to sales.
“But sometimes it costs us more to work on the Oscars than we get back. Right now, we’ve got over $30,000 invested in the creation of the “Jesse” bag from “Toy Story 2.” If it’s well received and gets some coverage, we will likely ask Pixar (the movie’s production company) for permission to make it for sale. But it usually takes about 75 to 100 pieces before we recoup our costs.”
Still, the lure is irresistible, particularly when it comes to associating a brand with younger, hipper consumers.
Famed evening bag and minaudiere maker, Judith Leiber, joined the fray for the first time this year.
“It’s a bit of a gamble,” admitted Leiber’s chief executive officer, Victor Lipko. “We felt we wanted to push an association with Hollywood, something we have never done before. We hope it will turn into sales as well as notoriety. You only need one bag at the right camera angle.”