Fashion Brands Embrace Fine Jewelry: Balmain, Prada And Saint Laurent Enter New Market

    Fashion stalwarts like Saint Laurent and Balmain are embracing fine jewelry. But convincing consumers means offering more than glittering gems.
    Fashion stalwarts like Saint Laurent and Balmain are embracing fine jewelry. But convincing consumers means offering more than glittering gems. Photo: Saint Laurent
      Published   in Fashion

    This May, French fashion house Saint Laurent announced it was joining a brand new category: “Haute Joaillerie. The Kering-owned brand unveiled a collection of streamlined fine jewelry pieces like logo stud earrings and a 43,300 gray gold cuff that fit seamlessly with creative director Anthony Vacarello’s vision of sharp, tailored clothing.

    Last fall, Prada announced its first foray into fine jewelry as well. The through line in Prada’s jewels, however, was not so much aesthetics, but values, as the brand emphasized sustainability and responsibility in the sourcing of the materials. Twenty-something faces, including American poet Amanda Gorman, actress Maya Hawke and K-pop artist Somi Jeon, fronted the brand’s first jewelry campaign. And before that, Balmain made the leap. The fashion brand also emphasized ethical sourcing when it announced its launch into fine jewelry in January 2022, along with gender-neutral designs.

    In October 2022, Prada debuted its first fine jewelry line made with 100 percent recycled gold, showcased in a campaign starring Somi Jeon. Photo: Prada
    In October 2022, Prada debuted its first fine jewelry line made with 100 percent recycled gold, showcased in a campaign starring Somi Jeon. Photo: Prada

    On the one hand, expansion into new product sectors outside apparel is par for the course for storied labels like Balmain or Saint Laurent. The success of a heritage fashion label depends less on its ability to make good clothes as it does on its ability to translate recognizable house codes into a fully realized universe.

    Based on Louis Vuitton’s dominance on, say, the 2023 Cannes red carpet, it’s easy to forget the French brand only began making clothes in 1997 — more than a century after its founding. And few would blink at the fact that Gucci, first founded as a leather goods maker, now sells makeup and even runs a restaurant and bookshop .

    But many fashion houses’ non-apparel products like lipstick, fragrances, or even cafes allow fans who couldn’t otherwise afford designer bags or dresses to purchase a piece of the brand. Fine jewelry does just the opposite: Those who are saving up for a 1,000 Prada nylon purse aren’t necessarily in the market for a 57,500 arm cuff.

    ‘Unparalleled appetite’ for fine jewelry#

    Unlike lower-priced products like perfume, the creation of fine jewelry can help further cement a fashion brand’s luxury status. And that’s a wise choice given expanding appetites for luxury goods.

    According to a report by Bain & Company and Altagamma issued earlier this year, the luxury jewelry sector will see an “unparalleled appetite,” in particular for uber-luxe pieces. The global market grew to an estimated 29.98 billion last year.

    The bet on jewelry is already paying off for some recent entrants. Gucci only launched its first high jewelry collection in 2019, but the line, which has featured stars like Jessica Chastain and Jodie Turner-Smith as spokespeople, was granted the inaugural GEM Award for High Jewelry Excellence by Jewelers of America this year.

    Jessica Chastain fronts a campaign presenting Gucci’s third high jewelry collection. Photo: Gucci
    Jessica Chastain fronts a campaign presenting Gucci’s third high jewelry collection. Photo: Gucci

    But launching jewelry also puts them in direct competition with jewelers with many decades of craftsmanship behind their creations, like Cartier (founded in 1847) or Bulgari (founded in 1905).

    “In the fine jewelry industry, building trust with your customer is non-negotiable,” says Lydia Tufnell, jewelry category manager for luxury ecommerce platform Farfetch.

    “When buying jewelry, particularly fine jewelry, consumers have a perception of quality, craftsmanship and longevity that should come with the price. Their expectation is that the pieces should be made to last a lifetime and even be passed down for generations,” she says.

    Selling cultural influence and value#

    Fashion brands entering the jewelry sphere need to convey a value proposition as to why consumers should invest tens of thousands of dollars in their wares rather than a more trusted name.

    For Prada, that value is traceability. “We all know that luxury brands are not just selling products,” Prada’s jewelry director Timothy Iwata said at the time of the launch. “We’re selling a culture, and we have cultural influence.”

    The Prada fine jewelry line speaks to modern consumer values not just via the look of playful, oversized pieces in trendy gold or the starring role of poet laureate Amanda Gorman in its campaign imagery, but in the fact that it uses entirely recycled gold as certified by the Responsible Jewelry Council. Such a strategy is also cohesive with the brand’s wider image; in 2019 Prada launched the Re-Nylon project to make its famed purses in regenerated nylon. (The fact that Prada’s triangle emblem, used on everything from bags to tank tops, also figures prominently in the jewelry line doesn’t hurt.)

    Balmain also pledged to use what the brand describes as “ethically sourced 18-karat gold, conflict-free minerals, and traceable gemstones” in its fine jewelry line. But unlike Prada, which uses all female models in its campaign, Balmain emphasizes that its jewelry is gender neutral and showcases creative director Olivier Rousteing modeling the line in its marketing imagery.

    Men have been an increasingly prominent jewelry audience in recent years, wearing materials traditionally seen as feminine like pearls, and appearing as spokespeople for emerging brands like Julia Lang’s Veert line.

    While they lack fine jewelry heritage, fashion brands launching jewelry in the 21st century have more flexibility to build their brand with contemporary values from the start. That sets them apart from stalwart jewelry brands, which might be burdened with less malleable histories.

    By comparison, traditional jewelers like De Beers have been criticized for exploitative mining in their diamond sourcing — an image that even splashy partnerships with the likes of Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o can’t help the brand erase.

    “It would appear that De Beers and Tiffany are strategically using Black celebrity ‘firsts’ and Black culture to rebrand themselves. Tiffany made much of the fact that Beyoncé was the first Black woman (allowed) to wear the famous Tiffany diamond, discovered in 1877,” wrote Karen Attiah in the Washington Post of the jewelers’ recent deals with prominent Black female celebrities.

    French frontiers#

    And when done right, a fashion brand’s jewelry line does have the ability to disrupt the more storied brands.

    “It is perhaps of interest to add that two days after the Chanel Paris diamond show opened, De Beers stock was reported to have jumped some twenty points on the London [Stock Exchange],” observed The New Yorker upon the launch of Chanel’s first fine jewelry collection in 1932.

    Fashion names stepping into jewelry would be wise to look at the French house as a blueprint. Chanel continues to produce fine jewelry, and in 2022 it hosted a centennial event in honor of Coco Chanel’s first Bijoux de Diamantes collection. Moreover, the brand’s costume jewelry line, typically featuring interlocking Cs and heavy gold chains, is often held up as collectable and is as easily recognizable as Chanel as a quilted bag or tweed skirt suit.

    “When Chanel started reproducing their jewelry collections in 1954, they reintroduced it with one key aspect: their logo. To this day, their logo still features in almost every piece, whether obvious in design or through a subtle nod to the house,” says Tufnell.

    And that is the key aspect of any expansion into a new sector.

    “Fashion houses launching a fine jewelry line is a further extension of their brand,” says Tufnell.

    Whether the medium is a perfume sold at the mall or a silver cuff reserved for exclusive consumers, every product must tell a cohesive story.

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