Within the Richemont Group, Van Cleef & Arpels is a golden child. It’s seen continuous and powerful growth through a range of strategies that’s made it unique to the group and the luxury industry in many ways. Nicolas Luchsinger, president of Van Cleef & Arpels (Asia-Pacific) has led the brand’s innovation particularly with respect to its Heritage offerings, while Hugues de Pins, managing director (Southeast Asia and Australia) brings his experience from working in sibling brand Cartier and as Vice-President of the Americas Specialty Watch Making Key Accounts.
The choice of the two to lead one of the fastest growing luxury consumption regions in the world shows Van Cleef & Arpels’ management flair for combining experience, creativity and innovation to develop success. Something that’s not only evident in their products but also in their leadership.
From what I understand, the two of you spent time in the Americas, although in vastly different roles within the group. Now that you’ve moved to Asia and Southeast Asia in particular, are there similarities and differences between the two?
Nicolas Luchsinger: There are a lot of similarities. I’ve been working in Van Cleef & Arpels across three continents — in the US, then in Europe and now in the Asia-Pacific region. And like you said, there are similarities between the US and Asia. They are very dynamic markets, both very informed by fashion trends. Both are constantly exploring and going further in their discovery of jewelry. Our clients are usually self-made men; they didn’t inherit the money.
Hugues de Pins: It’s a great point, it’s very true that there are a lot of common interests, coming from common values. Values of pride, the search for excellence and success. That’s what people care about and despite very different cultural backgrounds and national histories, the Southeast Asian values embrace a lot of authentic, Western and particularly American values.
So what strategies are you looking to implement here? Will they be similar or different with what you’ve done in the US?
NL: The United States is a very mature market. We’ve been present there since 1938. We have clients who think that Van Cleef & Arpels is an American maison. That’s not the same here in this region. We need to spend more time informing our clients of our work and our story.
HDP: I feel that Van Cleef & Arpels has always been faithful to a very human core value. We are very caring to our clients. From what I’ve seen here in the last three or four months, there’s a very similar approach to clients, which is at the center of everything we think, care and do.
NL: It’s true that when we speak of strategy of a maison like ours, we develop products in our workshop in Paris and yet, when these products come to individual markets, our clients find an association with what we’ve created, whether it’s a watch or a piece of jewelry. The objects we make have a global appeal and a local appeal.
You mentioned telling your story to the audiences in Asia. How’s that being accomplished?
NL: So we had the exhibition in Singapore, The Art and Science of Gems, and we’ve had exhibitions on our patrimony and heritage in Asia since. We just closed one in Beijing. In Hong Kong we’re establishing the L’École, the School of Jewellery Arts that’s branched out from the original in Paris. It’s really teaching our clients who we are, what are our values and what is our heritage and craftsmanship all about.
Within the Richemont Group, you’re a unique brand. You possess only mono-brand boutiques and your products are exclusively available there. How did this retail format come about?
NL: When Richemont acquired the brand, it was already a very exclusive retail store. We didn’t have many stores at the time, maybe eight worldwide. We had a partnership in Asia where we had one store in the Peninsula and a space in a department store in Japan. When we re-developed the maison we had some other doors. You need that to grow and as we were re-developing the brand, we had various things to focus on. One was re-developing the products, another was the communications. Finally, we had to implement a retail network rapidly. That extension of the retail network took many years; in some ways it’s still going on. We have around 130 doors worldwide and we’re maybe looking at 150. But we don’t want to be everywhere. We don’t need to be everywhere. However, the stores that we have in various countries, we want to develop better retail stores in these countries. It might be a new or more interesting location, or a bigger one. We realised back then that while retail partners are a fast way to open new doors, they weren’t necessarily up to our standards in terms of image or client experiences, and it’s tough to ask partners to give the same level of service as we are prepared to inject.
HDP: I think some points of differentiation are very important. Exclusive boutique networks is an essential part of the client experience. Mastering the whole chain of experience is important. For Van Cleef & Arpels to remain very faithful to the roots of the company in terms of design and creativity, we remain a house of high jewelry and that’s what the company focuses on, along with the transmission and development of know-how across generations in our workshops. It’s directly inspired from the roots and past of the maison. With the timepiece category for example, we’ve kept a very strong identity which is kept by many, like the Poetic Complications. We’re not trying to occupy a segment or imitate another maison because they are successful.
NL: We’re also very patient. We’ll rather wait to have the right location and space to carry out what we want to do. Even in our communication, it’s very targeted. It doesn’t need to be a big splash. Especially in this age of social media, we’re not focused on getting as many likes as we can. Our communications is well-thought out and it’s long-term in thinking.
Van Cleef & Arpels has a product appeal that works across all ages, all demographics, all eras. And most interestingly, the Alhambra collection does as much to bring attention to the brand as your high jewelry products. It’s rare for a high jewelry maison.
NL: I’d say that at Van Cleef & Arpels, everything that’s done is with a high jewelry mindset. Even with Alhambra, every piece of jewelry produced for the collection is done with the same respect to high jewelry. The stones we select are chosen and considered in the same way we’d pick a high jewelry stone. The craftsmanship is the same. We are as intolerant of flaws in our high jewelry creations as we are in Alhambra. The collection itself is borne out of a crisis, the student riots in France in 1968, and it really represents how the brand has managed to surpass crises over and over in its 112 years of history. It’s incredibly wearable for all occasions, and it’s both classic and recognizable. Yet it doesn’t shout Van Cleef & Arpels.
HDP: Jacques Arpels said, “To be lucky, you need to believe in luck.” So we definitely strongly believe in luck and the Alhambra representing luck and bringing luck.
NL: Alhambra has a continuity because we live in a world where everything changes so fast, that we feel we need something consistent. Alhambra and Van Cleef & Arpels, and everything we stand for, that offers that stability to our clients and it’s very reassuring to have that stability.
HDP: People are loyal for the wonderful journey they have with the maison. We have a lot of stories to tell about our creations, our maisons, and our clients also have stories to tell. We listen to them and we value and appreciate them. The relationship is a give and take and a dialogue that continues across generations and it’s part of our approach to the business and it’s what this is about.
One thing that you’ve succeeded incredibly well is in maintaining strong customer relationships. Yet when it comes to watchmaking the brand, while creatively established, is less known. How will you develop your watch retail strategy to fit the brand in the near future, given it looks to expand?
NL: You’re right. When it comes to jewelry, exclusivity is a huge advantage. Our clients are often repeat clients and when they come to buy an Alhambra, the next time we look to upgrade them. With watches it’s different. Watch collectors buy different products from different brands, and so we have to go to them to speak about our products. It has to be forthcoming from our end. So part of that is through publications like Revolution, or through unique events that allow us to show just how unique our watch complications are even across the entire industry. Our Poetic Complications, crafted in partnership with other watchmakers, express time differently.
HDP: I think the main core value of mastery and craftsmanship comes from our high jewelry in our case, and the combination of talents and creative minds with our craftsmanship conjures the most elegant way to demonstrate our Poetic Complications. These partnerships are extremely fruitful. The watchmakers we work with are not just watchmakers, they are automatons and their movements are ingenious.
That ingenuity and willingness to collaborate has led to some spectacular innovations like Midnight Zodiac Lumineux and the Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux. How did such developments come about?
NL: We have a few people in our Geneva office who are always looking at partnerships, and what you’ve mentioned, it was on a list of about 50 ideas that we were considering and they presented it to Nicolas Bos, our CEO. But these ideas must succeed within the environment of Van Cleef & Arpels. We are a world of poetry, of nature and we want to always have our partnerships within these realms. Now after that, it’s a challenge of feasibility. When someone comes with a new idea, or material or to integrate a technique that’s been lost, it doesn’t always work. We’ve had ideas that we’ve discarded, others that we attempted but failed to bring to life. And a handful are incredibly successful. We’re very lucky we have people who really explore what it means to bring Van Cleef & Arpels to life in a way we wouldn’t usually think possible.