Though it is rapidly approaching its centenary, Italian-born, high-end jewellery marque Buccellati hasn’t lost its shine. Here, its Group CEO Gianluca Brozzetti talks to Daniela Aroche about its success, lasting luxury and what’s next.
At a time where whispers of luxury losing its artisan touch and the art of ‘savoir faire’ are running thick and fast through industry circles, the impregnable Italian jewellery house of Buccellati stands stoically out of the crowd, immersed in a rich history and – for the moment – still owned and run by the family which bears its name.
The brand – founded in 1919 by Mario Buccellati, and now run by Andrea Buccellati, the son of Gianmaria, and his daughter Lucrezia Buccellati – is now almost 100 years old, and while competition comes and goes, it has successfully managed to hold its sway through the ages with a global high-end clientele who consistently turn to the brand for its unique, hand-made designs, still carefully crafted by artisans ‘til this day.
Brozzetti – Group CEO at Buccellati Jewellers, since September 2014, and ex-president and CEO of Louis Vuitton Paris – says its this network of approximately “200 craftsmen who are working by hand, using the techniques of the past, and repeating and perfecting the style of the product that Buccellati has become famous for”, along with the brand’s unwavering dedication to quality and ‘savoir faire’, which is what sets the marque apart from the rest – and continues to fuel its consistent growth.
As Brozzetti reiterates, Buccellati reported sales of 41 million euros in 2015 – which is possibly what caught the eye of giant luxury conglomerate Richemont, who is now reportedly in exclusive talks to buy a controlling stake in Buccellati from local private equity firm Clessidra.
Clessidra bought a 67% stake in the company from the Buccellati family in 2013 – an acquisition which, according to Brozzetti, has been instrumental to the brand’s expansion.
“Prior to the acquisition of the company, Buccellati was always running around 26-27 million turnover, but in the last two years alone the company is 50% bigger,” he says.
Now, in 2016 – and regardless of the Richemont reports – Buccellati continues to keep its eye on expansion, and with Lucrezia Buccellati on board – who was named co-creative director and co-designer at the company in 2014 at just 25 years old and is also the first female designer in the history of the family business – the brand is also increasing its focus on the younger generations, with a refresh which Brozzetti points out, is strikingly evident from one of its latest campaigns.
“From a generational point of view I think that we are in the process of making Buccellati more and more relevant to a younger audience. For example, the recent advertising campaign we made with the well-known photographer Peter Lindbergh.
“We also launched a campaign that for the first time, is showing a lifestyle-type aspect, with a young lady in her 30s in the different moments of the day… So, we are in the process of, let’s say, making the brand more and more relevant to a younger audience,” he says.
Geographically, Brozzetti reveals that Buccellati is now also ready to start more actively tapping ‘new’ markets – with the Middle East and Asia-Pacific areas high on the list.
Here, he talks to Luxury Society exclusively about what else is on the horizon for the historic high-end jewellery brand.
Tell me about the Buccellati business and what sets it apart in your mind, from others in the crowded luxury jewellery market?
Well, firstly, it’s a family-owned business and a company which is almost 100 years old.
It was founded in 1919 in Milano, so it’s one of the most important jewellers in Italy, and today, also one of the oldest in the market.
Over the years, Buccellati has also created a unique style, inspired by products from the Italian Renaissance, mixed with some influential Venetian style, that as you know gets inspiration from the Byzantine style.
So it’s a brand which is homemade; a brand which is decorated; and it’s a brand which uses a lot of craftsmanship throughout.
In a sense, it’s similar to other historical brands because it is 100 years old, has been a jeweller used by famous and important people in history – but every single piece of the Buccellati assortment is really a work of art – made by hand in Italy, with a lot of skills.
And every piece of product is always characterized by one element which is unique to Buccellati which is the engraving. Buccellati never sell a piece of a jewelry which is just plain gold. There is always some sort of workmanship that is refining the gold – like a piece of fabric, like silk, like a lace – thus giving a very unique and distinctive style.
So, it’s this unique style and unique craftsmanship, which is what sets Buccellati apart from the rest of the market.
At some of the big industry fairs – SIHH and Baselworld – there’s been talk recently of a certain type of talent drought in the market, brought on by economical pressures and reduced training – one which is resulting in brands losing their ‘savoir faire’. What’s your view on that?
I think in terms of Buccellati itself, this business is probably is one of the true examples of where the tradition in craftsmanship is extremely, extremely rare today and there’s nothing lost, but is the fundamental cornerstone of our products.
So, just to give you an idea – as I said, all our products are made in Italy, uh, and we have a large number of craftsmen, about 80-90 workers who work for us internally and we have a network of probably another 100 craftsmen which are, let’s say self-employed, but which also work for the company to produce the products. So, in total, almost 200 craftsmen who are working by hand, using the techniques of the past, and repeating and perfecting the style of the product that Buccellati has become famous for.
So I think the ‘savoir faire’, in our case, is extremely well kept and if we had a limit, it is that sometimes we are late in deliveries, because – in comparison to the growth of the business, we don’t have machines which are doing the products – but rather, human beings who are doing the work by hand, so naturally, there is certain capacity of production.
So, I think that in our case the tradition and the savoir faire is really well kept.
On that point – if you are late on deliveries because of the craftsmanship involved, do you find that your consumers are generally quite understanding about that – in the sense that they don’t mind waiting for this product if they need to, because it’s of such a high standard?
Let’s just say that we don’t have many issues with our clients, because clearly we have a pipeline of products which are readily available if you go in to one of our stores. You can buy our product there, so you don’t necessarily have to wait months.
But, then of course, we are also constantly developing new designs, making special orders and specially commissioned product for clients and, in this case, depending on the complexity of the product they are ordering, sometimes they are waiting for the product.
People can wait up to three months at a time, and some people will wait even six months or eight months to get their special product. And they know that that is because there is a certain time starting from the design that Mr. Andrea creates, to then going to the prototype stage and then to making and receiving the finished product.
So, it’s quite normal. There’s no complaining. They either buy what they find in the store or they have to make a special order and wait.
Customization has been a huge trend which we’ve seen taking off in the luxury fashion industry. In terms of your clientele, have you seen an increase in the volume of those asking for personalized pieces?
I think in the case of Buccellati, we adhere to our prime standards in terms of products and craftsmanship across the board – which, of course, includes the products sold in-store. We have a tendency to do products which are always quite unique.
For example, one of our best-selling products in-store was called the Buccellati Cuff, another is the Buccellati Band Wing, which sold-out – those are products that, even though sold in-store are probably all different, one from the other, even so.
It’s very rare that you can buy the same cuff with the same decoration because Mr. Andrea, which is the creative director of the company, is making the cuffs different every time, so that you buy that one and no one will have the same.
So, I think a way, in our, what we call ‘stock products’ that you can find in the store always tend to be one-of-a-kind and unique pieces anyway.
But, of course – there are clients who share their own visions and they come with a specific request and they ask for a special product.
I don’t know if I can quote on many numbers of people who request customized products per year, but I can tell you that there are many, many customers which are coming with their requests and asking to make a special design and to develop a special product.
But I would say we have many who are asking for customized products, yes. I cannot say that they are more or less, what I am saying is that customization and offering that opportunity for customers to help create their own special design is still very important for us as a business.
In terms of your target consumers – what are your key markets – both generationally and geographically?
From a geographical point of view, our most important customers are the American customers.
Buccellati arrived into America as one of the first luxury brands in 1952, when we opened up our first shop in Fifth Avenue, and today it’s still present there. We have our own branch, so, we control the business ourselves. We have five freestanding stores, in the main streets, in the main cities in America.
And then we have a network of very exclusive and prestigious department stores like Berto’s and Nieman’s, which are managing our products and some of the best retailers.
So American customers, and buyers in America are the most important group of customers for Buccellati.
But, of course we have other nationalities. We have the Italians. We have the Europeans. We have the Eastern Europeans, which are very important. And the Middle Eastern.
Probably the group of clients which is growing right now, but where we don’t have a lot of presence, are those in Asia/Pacific.
We’ve had a presence in Japan for about 40 years now, so there we have a big business, but in China and South Asia we are developing the brand right now.
We have some of that upper crowd which comes to shop in our store in Milan, in Paris, in London – but, we don’t have a huge network of distribution in Asia/Pacific, which is what we are planning to do in the coming years.
And from a generational point of view I think that we are in the process of making Buccellati more and more relevant to a younger audience. For example, the recent advertising campaign we made with the well-known photographer Peter Lindbergh.
We also launched a campaign that for the first time, is showing a lifestyle-type aspect, with a young lady in her 30s in the different moments of the day.
So, she can be on a bike in the morning or she can be in a cocktail dress in the evening, all the while accessorizing with Buccellati products. So, we are in the process of, let’s say, making the brand more and more relevant to a younger audience.
While I definitely don’t think that this a brand for 18-year-old teenagers, our target of reference is a woman between 25-45 and then, of course, also ladies which are part of the so-called ‘Baby Boomers’ – they, of course, are also great buyers of the brand.
Given your new focus to appeal more to younger consumers – how important are the Millennials to your future strategy?
Well, you know – they are important, and everybody likes to say: “Millennials are beautiful, Millennials are two billion people, they are digitally-savvy, etc – but you know, sometimes Millennials they don’t have the capacity of spending that the Baby Boomers or older generation may have, for expensive luxury products.
But in saying that, I would also say that, yes – the company is in a process of re-launch in a sense, and growth – especially since the company is now owned 67% by a private equity, 43% by the members of the family.
And, after the acquisition of the company, the strategy has been one of developing Buccellati to become more and more a global brand, and on driving the luxury industry. So, clearly we are addressing this new, young and emerging group of customers and sort of rejuvenating our target group. The advertising campaign is the example.
So, I think that, while I cannot measure the increase of how much our client base has changed in terms of acquisition of younger customers in numbers in particular, clearly we are appealing more and more to a younger target market, which is discovering or rediscovering the beauty of Buccellati.
You’ve previously mentioned expansion plans in the works for Buccellati – so, what does this expansion look like, in more detail?
Ok, so, it’s no secret that we closed 2015 with 41 million Euros of revenue. This 41 million Euro of revenue – you can look at it in two ways. It’s about 23% more than the year before, so much bigger growth than the industry as a whole – if you look at the plain foreign data.
It’s saying that jewelry is one of the growing sectors and they have been saying that 2015 grew at about 18%. So we did more than the market.
But, more importantly, you can look at 41 million as 50% more – because prior to the acquisition of the company, Buccellati was always running around 26-27 million turnover, but in the last two years alone the company is 50% bigger.
And the target in the next three to four years, as I said, is to achieve a 100 million Euro business. The fourth year, then ideally continues with growth, at a pace of growth in the range of 20-25% every year for the next three or four years.
We have that target because the beginning of 2016 has kicked off with that kind of performance, so we are very confident that we can achieve our target – even though we have not been increasing dramatically the number of stores.
Rather, we’ve been working on the product, and we have been investing in more advertising and events, but we’ve not been enlarging the retail network. So it’s a very good kind of growth, because it’s a sort of like-for-like growth.
But in the future we also plan to complement that like-for-like growth also, via the expansion of the perimeter and the network of stores.
And as I said earlier, our target in that area is moving to launch stores in the Middle East area and in the Asia/Pacific area.
How many retail stores do you have at the moment?
We had 14 at the end of 2015 we have 13 monogram stores – which are almost all directly controlled in Italy, France, the US, and the UK.
Then we have about 20 shopping shop ‘enclosements’, and about 120 department stores, or special stores which are multi-brand stores.
Approximately 153, 155 point of sales worldwide.
And, in terms of production volumes – how many pieces does Bu-, Buccellati make, more or less, per year? Not including, the customized pieces, but in terms of what you have in stores?
Well, this is a data we don’t generally disclose, but I the turnover, is sufficient to give an idea of the volume of the Buccellati pieces per year. We are not a very large brand. I think our name is much bigger than the business we are generating.
And probably this is due to the fact that the brand has 100 years of history, and makes fantastic things.
Probably, because of the history of the company which is managed by a family, we are now catching up with the group of businesses consistent with the bigger awareness of the name. But, essentially, our name is much bigger than the volume we do.
Going back to the expansion, Buccellati has partnered with Wealth Engine to successfully pinpoint your customers in your expansion markets. Can you tell me more about this collaboration and why the brand chose to use this service?
Sure. First, to give you a bit more insight into the vision of what we are doing – you know, we are leading in a market where, digital and CRM are the new frontier to cultivate relationships with your clients.
So we’ve been making a lot of investment in our information systems and also on the platforms that we use to communicate with our clients. So, our websites are really the number two priority for us.
We have a presence in the social networks like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest. We’ve been just navigating the presence, and also networking in China.
But, this company is very active in providing a presence for the brand in the digital frontier and in helping us navigate the strategy, all of which is very important today. So we are in the process of using this tool and Sales Force software to improve and increase our selling activities.
How does it actually work?
That’s difficult to answer, but essentially you make the contract and you start getting the services, and from there they provide a lot of tools to sophisticate the activity with clients because they can select clients, which are within a certain class of spending. A certain class of attitude. So, they allow you to do that and assist with direct marketing activities with potential clients, which are in target for the business.
You mentioned earlier that the brand has been very active in adapting to the new digital era – so, what does your marketing mix overall look like now in terms of what you invest in as a company, and how has that changed over the last few years?
Well, first of all, the company was not present in all the digital platforms that exist today except the leading platforms and we are present there now. And we are fully dedicated to the digital world now and going month by month, gradually escalating the ranking of these platforms, assessing competitors and immediate competitors and the small competitors – and Buccellati is growing in the ranking, in the market share and in our number of followers.
We are very active on the web, and social networks, to get the attention and to make sure that we are constantly remaining fresh. Because, as you know, today there are estimates that 50-60% of consumer purchasing practices are influenced by the digital world.
Because what clients want is to have the possibility to be informed and to have digital connection with the brand, in about 60% of cases. So, it’s very important that a company is properly present on digital platform because, otherwise, you miss the opportunity of strengthening the relationship with your clients.
So what role, specifically does social media play in the business and the bottom line? Do you see it as something that increases your global and market reach or do you see that it actually has a direct impact on maximizing sales?
It’s difficult to measure. As you know, these kinds of things are important. If you don’t have the company active on social networks, you are missing an opportunity to inform your existing and potential customers and to influence their purchasing paths and decisions.