The House of Van Cleef & Arpels, the noted Parisian jewellery firm with a famed Vendome Place address, has added jewelled watches to its offerings. Founded in 1906 by Alfred & Charles Van Cleef and Julien Arpels, the brand has become a global name that has counted Maria Callas, Marlene Dietrich, Florence Jay Gould, Princess Grace Kelly and more recently Julia Roberts, among its celebrity clientele. Stanislas de Quercize, President and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels, spoke to Emirates Business on the sidelines of SIHH 2008 (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie) in Switzerland about the company's offerings and its expansion plans in the region.
—Van Cleef & Arpels has steadily evolved from an exclusively jewellery brand to include jewelled watches in its new broadened range. Could you provide us a historical perspective on this evolution?
—The story of the House of Van Cleef & Arpels is a love relationship that began with Alfred Van Cleef and Estelle Arpels who then set out not only to begin a new family but also a new jewellery brand, famous to this day. The couple moved out of Amsterdam to Paris because the latter was considered more of a trendy, stylish, tourist-oriented, international and cosmopolitan city. Love is essentially the foundation on which the company was built. The brand therefore has an emotional connectivity to love. There are two aspects to the company – the love for nature and the love for couture. The key for designers of jewellery was to transform these happy ephemeral moments into something eternal.
—What, in your opinion, are the strengths of the House of Van Cleef & Arpels?
—Every creation from VCA is a work of art. There is a lot of attention to detail and uncompromising commitment to every product that emanates from our brand. Stock markets may crash and money deplete but the value of a VCA product increases with time. Buying a VCA product is a good investment – it is a safe return and one whose monetary value appreciates with time.
—To what do you attribute the success and longevity of the company?
—The success of Van Cleef & Arpels can be attributed to the three-point philosophy that guides all our endeavours. These are focus on creativity, the embellishment of the feminine form and individualisation. We are uncompromising on quality and adhere to high standards of craftsmanship and presentation. The materials we use include gold and platinum set with precious gemstones and diamonds, which lends an aura of exclusivity and style to our products. Our products are designed for the classy lady who values elegance and beauty. We establish an emotional bond with our customers so we can link together as partners. We also do not believe in mass, assembly line production and wish to stay as individualistic as possible.
—Could you explain the transition from a purely jewellery brand to producing jewelled watches?
—I do not believe there is any conflict in this area. It would be natural for a company like Van Cleef & Arpels to evolve into the watches arena. After all, the brand clearly remains 'a treasure to be discovered'. We are a brand for watch and jewellery connoisseurs and to that end it is only logical for us to serve our distinguished clientele in ways that are consistent with their expectations and our own brand philosophy. In fact, we have over 45 new watch models.
—Why is it necessary to have such a large number of watches on offer?
—The reason is that we are a creative and prolific brand and cannot remain static. One of the hallmarks of creativity is newness and we enshrine that aspect of our philosophy.
—How important is the Middle East for Van Cleef & Arpels?
—The Middle East is one of our fastest growing markets. There is tremendous potential for us in the GCC. Middle Eastern customers are attuned with our philosophy and exhibit good sensitivities towards craftsmanship and luxury. In the UAE, we have proposed to open our second boutique in Dubai after BurJuman and have a boutique at the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi.
—Which are some of your most emblematic brands?
—VCA is famed for some of its classic collections that include the Ballet Precieux commemorating the meeting in the 1960s in New York City between choreographer George Balanchine and Claude Arpels. Other collections that have propelled the company into the front lines of design and creative excellence include the Alhambra, Charms, Fleurette, Folies des Pres and Lady Arpels and VCA's Charms, Lady Arpel's Papillon.
—What do you make of the boutique trend much in vogue with big brands?
—Boutiques can be a useful tool for promoting sales if tastefully done. They are welcoming and provide privacy and exclusivity for an elite class of customers and we are in favour of it.
—What are the challenges facing the industry and VCA in particular?
—At VCA, we are proactive and stand prepared to ward off challenges that may adversely affect our productivity and creativity. Being part of the Richemont Group has its advantages in terms of availability of movements and distribution network. One big challenge for us is how to convince the 90 per cent of people who purchase unbranded merchandise to switch over and buy authentic and trusted jewellery such as ours.
PROFILE: Stanislas de Quercize CEO, House of Van Cleef & Arpels
Stanislas de Quercize is the President and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels. He first joined the Richemont Group – which acquired a 60 per cent stake in the famed jewellery house in May 1999 and subsequently increased it to 80 per cent in April 2001 – in 1990 and worked in several high-level positions with some of the other constituent group brands. A licensed lawyer and graduate of the Ecole Superieure de Commerce, a leading French business school in Rouen, de Quercize was appointed to his current position in 2005.