Chaumet banks on celebrities

What do French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and Chinese actress Angelababy have in common? They both wore jewels from the same maison on their wedding day, more than 200 years apart.

Such is the longevity of Chaumet, founded in 1780.

The French jewellery house, today owned by the LVMH Group, has a 239-year history that includes being royal jeweller to Napoleon and his first wife, Josephine de Beauharnais.

When Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804, Chaumet’s founder, Marie-Etienne Nitot, designed and set the coronation crown and sword.

Despite this, its presence as a jewellery brand has been muted in the global retail industry for the last few decades, said Mr Jean-Marc Mansvelt, who joined Chaumet as chief executive in 2015.

Speaking to The Straits Times in an interview at Chaumet’s store in Ion Orchard earlier this month, Mr Mansvelt, 55, said: “Chaumet is a paradox – it’s the oldest maison, but the most recent one in many countries. Some of our counterparts are in 40, 50 countries; we are in 12.”

Fellow French jewellery brand Cartier, founded in 1847, has stores in 125 countries.

Chaumet arrived in Singapore just 10 years ago, in line with the grand opening of Ion Orchard. Its two outlets here – in Ion Orchard and Marina Bay Sands – were recently revamped.

“The luxury market is very crowded – there are many good and strong players, so you have to find your own path to be visible. Chaumet is one of the oldest jewellery maisons, so our idea is to awaken the sleeping beauty and this beautiful story,” he added.

One way forward has been through celebrity endorsements.

The house works with specific ambassadors in key countries, loaning them designs to wear at events and special occasions.

Earlier this year, South Korean actress Song Hye-kyo was named its Asia-Pacific brand ambassador.

The brand has also benefited from organic celebrity endorsements – namely Angelababy’s wedding to Chinese actor Huang Xiaoming in 2015.

The actress’ engagement ring was a six-carat diamond ring from Chaumet’s signature Josephine collection, which features designs shaped like Empress Josephine’s tiaras, which Huang paid for himself.

When they wed, Angelababy wore a pearl-lined tiara loaned from Chaumet’s historical collection.

The wedding was widely covered by media across the globe and helped “accelerate” Chaumet’s footing in the bridal market in recent years, said Mr Mansvelt.

Since the event, more couples have been going to Chaumet for their engagement jewellery needs.

The Bee My Love collection – a minimalist line of designs in a honeycomb shape – in particular draws many younger clients for its affordability, Mr Mansvelt added.

Prices start at about $1,220 for a basic design without diamonds or precious stones and range upwards based on the design, diamond and precious stones.

“For a maison like us that is quite old, it’s important also to be relevant to people today. When you are worn by celebrities and people of the moment, it really gives you a sort of modernity,” he said.

The brand is also ramping up both its digital and physical marketing efforts.

Since 2017, Chaumet has been holding annual exhibitions to tell the story of its long history. The inaugural exhibition was held in the Forbidden City of Beijing. Last year, the showcase was in the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum of Tokyo. This year’s exhibition opens today in the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco.

Singapore may one day play host to the exhibition, but it depends on whether the brand can find the right location, said Mr Mansvelt.

For now, his plans for the region are to consolidate Chaumet’s position and introduce its story to shoppers here.

The newly renovated Singapore stores incorporate symbols and themes marking points in the brand’s history, such as wheat, an important symbol of fertility and prosperity during Napoleon’s reign, he said.

There are plans to open elsewhere in the region in the coming months – “but we prefer to wait for a good opportunity”, said Mr Mansvelt, who formerly held roles in French cosmetics company L’Oreal and fashion house Louis Vuitton.

“We don’t want to be everywhere. We are not fighting to be at every corner on every street or to be worn by everyone. Chaumet is a little bit more exclusive,” he added.

“We take the time to do it right – we prefer doing it right than fast.”