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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Luxury Jeweler Mauboussin Brings ‘French Chic’ to US

Thierry Chaunu, Mauboussin North America CEO, is charged with reintroducing the luxury jewelry brand to a new audience in the US. Here, he demonstrates the technique of tying a ribbon on the hatbox-shaped package that customers take home. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

Thierry Chaunu appears as if he is at home sitting in an oversized red chair with a white polka-dot pattern. The French native says he feels as if he has returned to his roots at the French luxury jewelry brand, Mauboussin.

In August, Chaunu was hired as the North American CEO of the company with its flagship store at Place Vendôme and a four-story US flagship on Madison Avenue where we spoke earlier this week.

The entrance of the Mauboussin Madison Avenue boutique. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

He talks excitedly about the introducing the brand to fashion-conscious women and educating consumers in the US, Canada and the Caribbean on the history of the company.

“Here in America I think people will develop a true appreciation of the history of the brand,” Chaunu said.

Mauboussin was founded in 1827 in Paris and in the 1940s moved its store to Place Vendôme. In the early to mid 20th Century, the company catered to European royalty and also Hollywood stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Audrey Hepburn and Greta Garbo. During this time the company had a boutique in Madison Avenue in New York about 10 blocks away from its current location. Its Art Deco jewelry from the period continues to be a staple look in its current designs.

Mauboussin Festival Necklace featuring the Mauboussin star logo. This diamond necklace is available in 18k white gold or platinum. 

In addition, its logo of a star that appears to be in flight is a constant theme in its boutique and jewelry designs. The branding extends to the packaging the customers take home, which are in the shape of hatboxes. This harkens back to its 20th Century heydays, however, the design is thoroughly modern with the star logo appearing like a flock of black birds pointing upwards, gradually turning the top of the white box to black.

The brand is well known in France where there are about 30 boutiques and hundreds of points of sale. It also has a strong presence in Singapore, Japan, Morocco and Dubai.

The bridal suite is bathed in layers of white with crinoline tufting on the ceiling, and padded and feathered wall finishes. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

In 2008, the company, which hasn’t had a presence in the US since the Second World War, opened a grand four-story boutique on Madison Avenue near 63rd Street. Elaborate modern paintings, sculptures and furnishings (such as the polka dot chairs) are scattered throughout the building. The third floor bridal suite is bathed in layers of white with crinoline tufting on the ceiling, padded white wall finishes and thick white carpeting. The fourth floor used for entertaining has a full kitchen and bar. The first floor main retail space has the words amour toujours (love always), in graffiti style red paint on a white, brick wall above caricatures of what looks like snowmen and snowwomen in top hats and fancy dresses from the early 20th Century. The jewelry and watches are housed inside what the brand describes as “treasure boxes,”—sleek and modern dark wood boxes that stand on top of long, thin legs.

Sleek, modern "treasure boxes," which in this instance contains timepieces, are one of the design details of the Mauboussin boutique. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

While a great deal of money went into the location of the store on one of the priciest retail districts in the world and its design, it appears little actually went into marketing and advertising.

Chaunu is working on a number of ways to bring the brand a larger audience. The French native and longtime US citizen is a veteran of the luxury jewelry and watch industry and has worked for some of the world’s most prestigious brands, including Cartier, Chopard and Leviev. In fact, Chaunu says he considers Mauboussin a bit of a homecoming as he began his career with Cartier, another jewelry tenant at Place Vendôme.

The 18k Alessandra Ring with a a 1-carat round brillant diamond, GVS quality, and flanked by diamond baguettes.

He is focusing on finding the right product mix and retail environments to introduce the brand throughout North America. The details of how this will be done haven’t been determined and he is open to just about anything. However, he will focus on self-purchasing women.

“Our goal is to penetrate the US and go after the fashion conscious fine jewelry buyer who is into style and design and reach out to them with this Parisian chic appeal,” he says.

He has been traveling throughout North America trying to find retail partners. He is talking with independent jewelry retailers and department stores. It could take the form of having pieces as part of store’s larger display having a branded space inside a store (“shop in shops”). He also said branded boutiques in other cities may be in the mix.

18K white gold Solitaire Star Chance of Love Ring with diamond pave. It is available with a diamond from 0.10-carat to 1-carat.

Over the years the brand increased and diversified its product lines to match the changing consumer. No longer just for royalty and Hollywood, the brand produces pieces that are as fashionable as they are refined in price points ranging from less than $1,000 to well into the six figures.

In addition to its logo appearing on many designs, the company focuses on platinum and white gold, said Laurence Bouard, the director of the Madison Avenue store. Other than that, gemstones, diamonds and other materials are used freely in its designs. Within this framework, there’s a great deal of versatility with each design in terms of the sizes and types of gemstones that can be used.

In France, by far its largest market, Chaunu said the company has been successful with pop up stores and other retail programs to attract a larger, younger audience.

Chaunu explains that while he has hit the ground running since his hiring two months ago, he is being patient, looking for the right mix of products with the right retailers.

“I don’t know how this will play out but it’s a logical development for a brand,” he says. “I’m taking a cautious, step-by-step approach and develop a presence where it makes sense…. You don’t want to rush, rush, rush. You need all the ingredients to come together.”

Like most brands, the company also has other product lines, such as eyewear and very popular fragrances for women and men. However, aggressive promotion of these products will be done down the line. For now, Chaunu says the focus is on jewelry.

Please join me on the Jewelry News Network Facebook Page, on Twitter @JewelryNewsNet and on the Forbes Website.

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