In growing Gucci’s jewelry business, Gucci creative director Frida Giannini hopes her customers will rotate their baubles as often as they change their bags and shoes.

A jewelry fanatic with a weak spot for pinky rings, Giannini is out to forge an identity and build credibility for the brand’s fine jewelry. “We can’t compete with companies that have centuries-old traditions like Bulgari or Cartier, so we need to create a specific identity for Gucci’s jewelry that reflects its background and heritage,” said Giannini.

When discussing growth with her two design assistants, the 33-year-old Roman designer posed the question, “Why would a woman spend $5,000 on a Gucci jewel?”

The answer: a desire to buy into Gucci’s status appeal, resting on such icons as the horse bit, the double-G logo and the Flora print.

In updating the house’s specialties, Giannini is clearly following the lead of her predecessors. Although Gucci introduced some jewelry in the early Seventies, Tom Ford designed the first real collection in 1997. His bestsellers included the Icon ring, a yellow gold band etched with the double-G logo and the Horse Bit ring, a white gold version with a stylized horse bit in pavé diamonds.

Giannini used her own variations on the themes to accessorize her first ready-to-wear collection last September. They included a ring with a full-pavé cushion cradled by four small bits, a chunky yellow gold bracelet with the bit split in half and linked to a chain, and long mesh necklaces adorned with a malachite or tigereye coin pendant etched with patterns from the Flora print. They all topped off frothy silk shifts, rugby stripe polo shirts and Bermuda shorts.

She also culled from the archives the “maglia marina,” a chunky nautical-looking chain that Gucci crafted in the Sixties.

“Back then, the chain was very popular, so I revised it by blowing up the volume and then adapted it to the hardware for bags and shoes,” she noted.

Come fall, Giannini’s pretty babes give way to David Bowie-esque glam rock chicks, aptly bejeweled with gold bands etched with the double-G logo worn in rocker-style multiples, bold horse-bit cocktail rings with pink sapphires and wide chain-mail bracelets.

This story first appeared in the June 5, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“The concept of luxury has changed so much from the days when a crocodile bag was only worn to the theater,” said Giannini. “Today, it’s used daily, which also means that consumers don’t view jewels only as a lifelong purchase anymore.”

That said, Giannini believes that jewelry should have a longer life span than fashion-forward bags and shoes. “Fashion-driven jewels can look very costumey,” she said.

While malachite, tigereye and onyx are key semiprecious stones, especially for Gucci’s horse bit-pronged cocktail rings, Giannini hasn’t shied from upping the carat count.

“I like to start with an idea in gold and semiprecious stones and then elevate it to ‘haute joiallerie’ to gain credibility,” said Giannini, who presents two collections a year on the runway, with seasonal updates.

To better control quality, Gucci acquired a workshop in Milan about three years ago to make prototypes and do part of the production. Here, a special technique called electroforming is applied to chunkier pieces because the process allows carving out the inner gold, making it lighter.

“In this case, it’s the shape that counts,” she explained. “We invested in expensive machines because they speed up the sketch-to-prototype process to a fortnight. Before, I would have waited two months to see an example of the marine chain.”

In sync with her vision for the brand, Giannini is adamant that her assistants have weekly powwows with designers from other departments.

“Tom [Ford] relied on consultants for the jewelry, but my approach is a bit more like car designing — I like people with a specific background both in terms of stones and workmanship,” she said. “Dealing with stones and gold is different from hides and fabrics.”

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