French luxury jeweller and watchmaker CARTIER is the jewel in the crown of its parent group, Richemont, which also owns labels like IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Van Cleef & Arpels, Montblanc or Chloe.
Despite global turbulent market conditions but also changes within Richemont, Cartier has consistently remained the best performing company of the group, driving double digit growth for Richemont fine jewelry in the first half of 2019.
Mr. Vigneron describes his mission: “One, to re-establish Cartier’s brand territory in a fast-moving and global market. Two, to reconsider all product lines and make sure they fell firmly within the vision of those new parameters. And three, to revitalize our retail and communication strategies, which had become a bit conventional and dusty.
“Cartier has long been a leader because of the timelessness of our designs and craftsmanship,” he added. “However the challenge is also to feel timely, and to express that to clients of both new generations and geographies.”
“I don’t think there has been a striking new ring launch in the jewelry market for a decade. I think this one can be, and I feel confident that we will sell it for years to come alongside our best-known collections that have never lost their appeal,” he said. “A worrying jewelry trend in recent years has been this rush to produce novelty or flash-in-the pan items. But distinctiveness is more important than newness in this business. That is what will stand the test of time.”
Revaluation and rigorous testing of pricing strategies was another key priority. According to Mr. Vigneron, a common thread of contemporary luxury is that customers are savvier than ever before about the value of the jewelry they buy.
“Luxury used to be a field of secrecy, but the world is more transparent in terms of what is worth what today. As a fine jeweler, you also have to be realistic about the value judgments your clients are then in a position to make,” he said, noting that values and spending patterns differ across different markets.
For example, millennials in the West — where the next generation is less affluent than its parents — shy away from big-ticket items, opting for more accessibly priced pieces that better fit into their less ostentatious, more casual lives.
Cartier has been investing heavily in renovating flagship locations, including New Bond Street in London, which reopened in December, and ensuring these stores could also be used for meetings and events. The house also has hosted several high-profile museum-style exhibitions of key pieces from its archives, and reconsidered its product introductions.
“As digital gets evermore important so, too, has sharing, learning and finding a community in the physical world, too. If a luxury brand can move beyond product and also facilitate those relationships as they then develop both on and offline, then it is a very powerful thing,” Mr. Vigneron said.
“Traditionally, luxury has always been a very centralized business, both physically and philosophically,” Mr. Vigneron said. “The guardian of the temple will remain an artistic director, but today you also need to democratize and spread and test yourself across new markets — far beyond just your stores — in order to really resonate wherever you are. “Inclusivity is critical to most many luxury shoppers who are shaping today’s industry.”
For Cartier, beyond building its local teams worldwide, this has meant experimenting by, for example, adapting its video and social media campaigns for different cultures (like deciding its Sofia Coppola-directed video was too provocative and creating a different video for Middle Eastern markets) or male celebrities (like Lu Han in China) to model high jewelry designs directed at women. A retail innovation lab to test new technologies has been opened in Brooklyn, with sites in Tokyo and Shanghai planned for later this year.
Mr. Vigneron remained upbeat, noting an ongoing sales momentum for Cartier in both the Asia-Pacific and North American markets. “Luxury spending is less impacted by political or social uncertainty than you might think, especially in jewelry where purchases tend to hold their value far longer than, say, shoes or handbags. Things only really change dramatically when stock markets or real estate values start to crash,” he said. “What you are currently seeing, thanks to this more turbulent market, is the difference between those brands who are doing very well in this climate and those who are not.”
Mr. Vigneron added that this difference was not about large brands versus smaller rivals, though he acknowledged being backed by a large group could make a real difference to the prospects of a business.
“There are lots of big and well-known names spending a lot of money still getting it wrong, and a lot of small independent labels getting it right,” he said. “The key now is about maximizing brand recognition while steadily upping your brand territory. You cannot have any confusion about who you are or where you need to be. You must know your narrative inside out. Here at Cartier, we know we have become pretty good at storytelling.”
*Despite Mr Vigneron’s very optimistic outlook, Cartier has yet to revamp its communications campaigns which are still quite predictable, but also to come up with an innovative branding and communications approach to its fragrances, accessories and eyewear lines. Although the share of these categories may be relatively small in comparison with watches and jewellery, they all carry the Cartier brand and have all been showing signs of ‘fatigue’*
*Unlike some of its direct competitors on fine jewellery, Cartier has been (probably intentionally) missing out on being present at the Paris Haute Couture but also at major events such as the Oscars. As for its watches, it will be interesting to see how Cartier will be weathering the joining of SIHH and Baselworld exhibitions.*
adapted from The New York Times with additional CPP-LUXURY.COM editorial comments*.
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