Gucci is upgrading its high jewelry line

MILAN — It’s been a good time for Gucci, the 96-year-old house that has become fashion’s conquering luxury brand in recent years. And amid booming sales, Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director since 2015, introduced the brand’s first high-end fine jewelry line, a series of extravagant styles that feature the designer’s flowery evocations of market finds. flea like gem-encrusted treasures.

Speaking of the nostalgic inspiration behind many of his designs, Mr Michele said: “I’ve dressed a number of women in things that were gathering dust in the vintage archives – they didn’t exist anymore.”

“That also includes jewelry,” he added. “It’s beautiful to bring them back to life and give them importance again.”

At the Gucci Hub, a former aircraft factory where the brand opened its headquarters last year, the jewelry showroom reflects Mr. Michele’s opulent touch: walls covered in red velvet, red velvet partitions, ornate wooden tables covered in red velvet around a floral Oriental rug and brightly colored velvet chests lined with silk to showcase the designer’s well-established motifs rendered like precious jewels.

Tigers, snakes, lions and foxes form necklaces, bracelets and rings, mirroring earlier versions Mr. Michele has created for Gucci’s costume and mid-range jewelry lines. But the new top-of-the-line collection – which doesn’t have a specific name – is more elaborate, its 25 design styles accentuated by a range of gemstones.

The Gucci lion head ring, launched in 2015 in plated metal and Swarovski crystals, is now available in 18k gold with a mane set with diamonds. The two-headed tiger bracelet is now available in pavé diamonds; a luxe version of the leonine earring drips with fire opals, aquamarines, rhodolites and more. The new line appears to expand the reach of Mr. Michele’s remarkably successful universe for his most ardent and wealthy collectors. It’s Gucci style for Cartier spendthrifts – at a time when Gucci pledged to wear no fur, eliminating what had been the brand’s most expensive items.

Mr. Michele, who calls himself “a keen student of antique jewelry,” has resurrected animal styles, like those of mid-century American jewelry designer David Webb, and for this new collection he’s used vintage techniques like the intricate hand engraving used to create the animal faces, skipping the now common rhodium plating on white gold so it retains a yellowish tint, and the use of old-fashioned raised settings for the lower case sparkling diamonds on the fishtail of a ring.

“When you see the way I combine things with each other, you perceive everything together as a new language,” he said, referring to his fashion aesthetic that mixes animal prints with silks. Chinese and Mexican embroidery, Renaissance dresses, Victoriana, disco drama, 80s glamour, shades of Elton John and Dapper Dan, and more. “There is a complete fusion of ideas. This “break” that everyone talks about is found in the dialogue between these elements.

From the new collection, Marco Bizzarri, the managing director of Gucci, wears a woven gold bracelet with black diamonds engraved with the phrase “Blind for Love” in capital letters on the top. Mr. Michele himself has a gold ring with a fox’s head, a large brown diamond set between his ears. Although the pieces look like styles that in their antique forms were made for women, in the context of Gucci anyone can wear them.

“Clothing, like jewelry, doesn’t have very revolutionary roots, which means what’s revolutionary is how you wear jewelry,” the designer said.

So far, the collection, with prices ranging mostly from 15,000 euros to 70,000 euros ($17,900 to $83,500), has only been offered to preferred customers through private sales in Japan, China and in the United States and private meetings which began in July.

Gucci designates pieces, which are not fine jewelry (usually starting at $100,000 and running into the millions), as “medium to high” or “unique pieces” when repeating designs using different gemstones. However, the brand says it plans to dabble in the larger stones and larger price tags of true fine jewelry for its next collection.

Gucci is not the first fashion house to enter the upper echelons of jewelry. Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton made them big business as the fine jewelry market thrived during and beyond the economic downturn of the past decade.

And the brand’s fortunes grew at a pace that shocked industry watchers. Kering, its parent group, reported that Gucci’s turnover soared 42% to 1.5 billion euros in the three months to the end of September. And its biggest boost comes from millennials, which Kering says account for at least half of its sales in 2017 so far.

“The new generation is going to want a more modern jeweller,” said Maurizio Pisanu, the house’s jewelry merchandising director. “So it’s up to the brand to realize it first, and Gucci already had the right intuition two years ago – to break the rules.”

The details of the pieces in the collection – the invisible clasps, the smooth spring hinges on the bracelets, the hand-sawn honeycomb patterns that light up the pavé petals of the Flora models – already reflect part of the know-how of precision of fine jewelry.

Gucci has hired its first gemologist to search for stones around the world and maintains a jewelry workshop with around 30 goldsmiths and setters near Milan. All of the brand’s existing fine jewelry and now most of its high-end fine jewelry pieces are made there, with the help of an external workshop in Valenza, an Italian jewelry-making center about 60 miles to the south. .

According to the brand, sales of the initial pieces were rapid (although it does not provide details).

So if the collection expands, Mr. Michele’s all-is-precious antique-tinged aesthetic could disrupt the upper stratospheres of the jewelry industry in much the same way he once reset Gucci and the fashion desires of a wide audience.

The collection has arrived at a time when the codes of fine jewelry are in flux – important stones are becoming harder to find, and a new generation of customers are more interested in showing off wearable (and possibly brand-name) design than to own the special occasion of the gem-encrusted adornments of the past.

Mr. Pisanu said that design-oriented jewelry customers “benefit from a brand like Gucci, where jewelry is not our core business, but we have the ability to make high-quality jewelry like other brands. – and with a different aesthetic that is far more innovative than a classic brand would ever dare to do.