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Friday, July 22, 2011

The Second Act of Marina B

Marina B sapphire choker

The Midtown Manhattan headquarters of Windsor Jewelers is located on the 16th floor of a typical office building near Union Station. Inside the orderly, clean space there’s an area dedicated to Marina B jewelry. The brand was extremely popular with the jet-set crowd from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but for more than a decade has been left largely dormant. It is here in this office where much of the brand now resides in neatly organized boxes, binders, bound books and plastic containers and the work to re-launch it takes place.

Thierry Chaunu, Marina B director
Thierry Chaunu has been charged with bringing the brand back to life. The native of France has been a force in the luxury jewelry and watch industry for many years—serving in corporate leadership positions in some of the most well-known luxury goods companies in the world, including Leviev, Chopard, Christofle and Cartier.

Wearing a light brown casual suit, unbuttoned blue shirt on a hot humid July day, he talks about life beyond the corporate world, the enjoyment of being an entrepreneur and the challenge of working with this brand.

“What’s amazing with Marina B’s re-launch and reposition is that it is an iconic brand that has been a sleeping beauty for the past ten years or so,” Chaunu said. “To have an opportunity where I can represent something like this to the world, that’s what I find exciting.”

Marina B emerald Coeur earrings

In the office, he and Isabelle Kellogg, the high-energy public relations representative for the brand, take turns disappearing into nooks and crannies of the space and returning with books, binders and other materials that represent the brand, excitedly talking about each item even as they disappear to bring back something else. Inside a three-ring overstuffed black binder are the original jewelry drawings of Marina Bulgari, the founder and head designer of the Marina B brand. Another bulging, black, three-ring binder contains original jewelry molds, stored in zip lock plastic bags. A small closet space contains large bound books with magazine advertisements, editorial stories and other published works about the brand from all over the world. Categorizing the materials has been a major part of the operation.

Then there’s the white, man-size safe. Inside, are large plastic bins containing the original jewelry from the brand—again stored neatly inside zip lock bags. Several pieces are large 18k gold pieces that were made at a time when gold was trading at about $300 an ounce. Today, gold costs upward of $1,600 an ounce. So taking the current price of gold into consideration you’re talking about a five-fold price increase in cost without even accounting for the design and craftsmanship of each piece. They are basically priced out of the larger market and left for those who collect Marina B jewelry.

Marina B Fuji bracelet

Chaunu started the job in October 2010, not long after Windsor Jewelers CEO Paul Lubetsky purchased the brand from Saudi Arabian sheik of Jeddah, Ahmed Fitaihi, who bought the brand from Marina Bulgari in 1999. During that time it was sold primarily in his home country and had largely vanished from much of the Western world. Chaunu sees this as a positive in rebuilding the brand.

“The brand was pretty much left intact image wise,” Chaunu said. However, he noted that he was working with a “blank page.” He needed to decide what pieces of jewelry to recreate and had other questions about maintain the heritage of the brand. One of the first things he did was go straight to the original source of the brand: Marina Bulgari.

At 82 years of age, Bulgari is happily retired in Monaco. As her name implies, she was part of the iconic Italian jewelry house, Bulgari. She was the granddaughter of the company’s founder. She along with her sister, Anna, assumed central management and design roles within Bulgari. However, Marina famously left the company in 1976 shortly after her father died and two years later opened her first boutique in Milan. Her voluminous, bold, and colorful jewelry soon became the choice of movie stars like Sophia Loren, and other women of international society and best-dressed lists.

Chaunu and Marina Bulgari met in Milan in October 2010. He found her to be helpful and supportive.

“She is a fit, feisty woman with a very strong personality just like her jewelry,” he said. “She is a legend, one of the most prolific designers in the jewelry industry and it was fitting, I think, to meet with her and tell her what we are doing. She was very kind to give us encouragement and in some cases to indicate her favorite jewelry…. She couldn’t have been nicer. It will always be her baby and it’s important for her to know that it will be in good hands and that we will carry on the legacy.”

The re-launched jewelry brand was unveiled in February with basically two collections: A vintage line of the original Marina B pieces; and a line of recreated pieces from the original molds and drawings of Marina Bulgari, and manufactured in accordance with the brand’s original standards and produced by many of the original craftsmen.

The collections were showcased to the jewelry industry during the June tradeshows in Las Vegas. The response was positive, according to Chaunu. In fact, Neiman Marcus will be showing the collection in nine of its stores.

“They loved it and embraced it because there’s nothing like that in the market today as elegant and bold," he said.

In addition, an exhibition of Marina B vintage pieces will go on a tour of Neiman Marcus stores. It will include one-of-kind pieces, some of which have been purchased at auction and estate sales by Lubetsky. The company is also keeping a single piece of each vintage jewelry line that will be included in the exhibition, along with the larger gold pieces mentioned earlier whose value have surpassed the marketplace.

The exhibition is a way to show consumers the heritage of the brand. Another way the company is doing this is to include a famed reproduction of the Marina Bulgari drawing of the jewelry piece they purchased.

“They’re buying a heritage and a piece of tradition,” he said. “We feel that it’s a show of appreciation to the clientele who will value this as a piece of history and proof of the heritage of this piece.”