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Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

Bringing the bling: jewellery's new carat patch

by November 18, 2016 General

Most people won’t get to touch a $47,000 necklace in their lifetime much less own one.

But here I am, in the first Cerrone boutique in Melbourne, on a balmy spring evening with the deep-blue tanzanite and diamond pendant around my neck.

Nic Cerrone at the company's newest boutique, in the St Collins Lane development in Melbourne. Nic Cerrone at the company’s newest boutique, in the St Collins Lane development in Melbourne. Photo: Eddie Jim

While for me it’s a five-minute fantasy, founder Nicola Cerrone is banking on plenty of women – and men – to covet such pieces and make them their own.

The 160-square-metre store opened this week in the St Collins Lane development, which has had a sluggish start thanks to slower than expected occupancy rates and the long winter.

The new Van Cleef & Arpels boutique at 101 Collins Street, Melbourne. The new Van Cleef & Arpels boutique at 101 Collins Street, Melbourne. Photo: Supplied

But Mr Cerrone, who started his business in his mother’s garage in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt 44 years ago, is in it for the long haul.

So why Melbourne? And why now?

“Melbourne is … the capital city of fashion when it comes to food and style. I consider it the Milan of Australia,” he said.

“We offer our customer the ultimate experience of owning a special piece of jewellery.”

Australian fine jewellery sales are expected to reach about $2.7 billion this financial year, according to research by ... Australian fine jewellery sales are expected to reach about $2.7 billion this financial year, according to research by IBISWorld. Photo: Eddie Jim

The Cerrone experience is special but it isn’t unique. 

The luxury jewellery market in Australia is growing, buoyed by a weaker Australian dollar, falling silver prices and the spending power of visitors from Asia and Asian-Australians.

The Van Cleef & Arpels Melbourne boutique is the company's first foray into Australia. The Van Cleef & Arpels Melbourne boutique is the company’s first foray into Australia. Photo: Supplied

As local operators expand, international competitors are beating a path to Australia, eager to grab a piece of the $2.7-billion fine jewellery pie.

French house Van Cleef & Arpels, established in 1906, will officially open its first Australian “maison” next week in Melbourne, with the Sydney store following close behind.

The company’s managing director of south-east Asia, Elise Gonnet-Pon, said the time was right for the company to launch here.

“In Asia, the profile of the customer is on average younger than our traditional clientele in our more established markets,” she said from her office in Singapore.  

“There is [already] a very positive response from Australian-based clientele, whether they are from foreign backgrounds, including Asian Australians who have been there for several generations. Because we are already so established in Asia we benefit from that awareness.”

According to research group IBISWorld, overseas tourists, particularly from Asia, account for 30 per cent of all luxury retail sales, of which jewellery and watches account for 32.5 per cent, or roughly $200 million a year.

Senior analyst Nick Tarrant said the top end of the jewellery industry performed well given a strong preference to shop at physical stores over online, compared to other segments such as clothing and cosmetics.

It’s for this reason the likes of Cerrone and Van Cleef & Arpels are investing in bricks and mortar at the same time as other brands are floundering.

Ms Gonnet-Pon said the store has to reflect the craftsmanship and history of the house, as well as the target market. 

But innovation is also critical, with the company investing heavily in new technology, from educational podcasts to fighting counterfeiters.

“The challenge is to convey who we are and offer experiences on social media and digital platforms that are meaningful and authentic,” she said.

Whereas Van Cleef’s Instagram feed is quite focused on the product, Cerrone’s page is centred around the people who have bought a piece to celebrate a milestone.

Aside from a hefty trade in engagement rings, which average $20,000-$25,000, Cerrone’s tennis bracelets and cocktail rings in coloured gemstones or diamonds are also popular.

While Cerrone has taken nearly 45 years to branch out of Sydney, its designs have been worn by a bevy of stars including Rihanna, Barbra Streisand and Serena Williams.

After Melbourne, Mr Cerrone said the next store could be in Florence – a far cry from his mother’s house in inner-western Sydney.

When asked how he feels about both his Sydney and Melbourne stores being a stone’s throw from Tiffany & Co, the leading international player in Australia, Mr Cerrone is nonplussed.

“I love challenge, I was born with challenge, that’s what makes you better,” he said.