PARIS — When Jean-Christophe Bedos arrived as president of Boucheron in April 2004, he started sifting through the archives that the Place Vendôme jeweler had accumulated since it opened in 1852.
“I spent six months immersed in them,” said Bedos, who had left his position as managing director at Cartier in France to join the company.
His reasons were twofold. For one, he didn’t want to “apply to Boucheron the same Cartier recipes.” He also suspected the brand, brought into Gucci Group’s stable during the acquisition days of Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole, had plenty of heritage left to “shore up and consolidate.”
“What I discovered was impressive,” said Bedos, who hosted a party during the Paris collections to unveil the brand’s renovated maison. “I found a house with roots that today are incredibly modern.”
In his first interview about the direction in which he’s guiding Boucheron, Bedos said the brand will move upscale with its high jewelry lines, but also will boost other categories, including the important watch category.
Representative of the direction, an upscale jewelry collection Boucheron introduced this summer saw average prices increase by 40 percent, with necklaces dripping with diamonds, emeralds and other exquisite stones.
The gambit paid off, Bedos said. Most pieces over a million euros, or $1.2 million at current exchange, already have sold.
“The high jewelry customer today wants more extraordinary pieces,” he said. “They don’t want something run-of-the-mill. They have money and they want pieces that are out of this world.”
Concurrent to the high jewelry launch, Boucheron also launched a collection riffing on the house’s signature serpent design, a less-expensive ring collection and three different wristwatches.
“It was the most products that we launched at one time,” said Bedos, adding that a higher level of creativity would lead efforts to bring the money-losing business into the black by 2007.
Strides have been made already. This year, Bedos said sales have grown 50 percent, thanks to brisk business with high-ticket items. Meanwhile, operating expenses have been reduced 25 percent through administrative restructuring since he took over.
Gucci Group doesn’t break out Boucheron’s financial figures, but when reporting second-half earnings last month, the firm said its “other brands” unit — including Boucheron, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Sergio Rossi, Bedat & Co. and Stella McCartney — saw losses trimmed by 39.9 percent to 25.7 million euros, or $33.1 million. In July, second-half sales for this same group of brands was up 45.8 percent to 64.9 million euros, or $81.8 million.
“Gucci Group sees Boucheron not as a global luxury brand, but [as] very selective, even niche,” Bedos said.
This is somewhat of a departure from the Ford-De Sole days, when there were plans to open some 40 Boucheron boutiques around the world.
The firm now operates 25 freestanding boutiques, and Bedos said only a couple of new shops in cities such as Geneva and New York would eventually bow.
For the moment, he said the revamped Paris shop best represents the efforts to bring the brand back in line with its roots.
Designed by Jean-Pierre Hanke to resemble a sumptuous town house, it has a lighter and more open feel than it had in its previous incarnation.
The studio that was directed by Solange Azagury-Partridge before she left in May 2004 has been reshuffled, too.
“Traditionally, a team approach is applied to the creation of jewelry,” said Bedos. “More than a designer’s vision, what’s important is the vision of a house.”
Three designers who were with the firm “before, during and after Solange” provide the impetus for new creations, explained Bedos, adding that he, too, has assumed a part as a creative arbiter.
“My role is not to design, but to orchestrate the whole — to incarnate the philosophy and to give the conceptual and intellectual guidelines,” he said. “This is a fabulous brand that’s been a little bit asleep. But it’s really very modern. It’s mystery, luxury and rarity that we’re showing today.”