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Hugues de Pins, managing director, South East Asia and Australia, Van Cleef & Arpels: “Some women are building jewellery collections in the way that men build watch collections.”

Despite the general luxury market slowdown, the French jewellery and watch maison is seeing more independent women and self-made female entrepreneurs investing in jewellery.

Growing up in Versailles, Hugues de Pins was fascinated by the pomp and splendour of his city’s greatest attraction, the Palace of Versailles. The sprawling 17th century royal palace was home to France’s most famous king, Louis XIV, and boasts some of the most opulent staterooms, bedrooms and gardens the world has ever known.

The young de Pins developed a deep appreciation for the finer things in life, such as art, architecture, literature, food, dance and music. So after graduating from a business school in Marseilles in 1994, he joined the luxury giant Richemont Group which owns several prestigious brands such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Officine Panerai, Piaget and Vacheron Constantin.

On Sept 1, 2018, the group appointed Mr de Pins as the managing director, Southeast Asia and Australia, of Van Cleef & Arpels. Under him, the legendary maison known for its exquisite jewellery and watches is expected to continue on its growth path in the region, despite the general luxury market slowdown of recent years. Mr de Pins is married with three children.

How has 2018 been so far for Van Cleef & Arpels?

It has been a great year, consistent with the previous years of tremendous growth for the company. We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of our Alhambra recollection, which today is our Number One product and which has become an iconic piece of jewellery. We also unveiled a new collection in Vienna in June where we invited our top clients from all over the world to discover the Quatre contes de Grimm, a high jewellery collection inspired by the Brother Grimm’s tales. And in Singapore we’ve just unveiled the Nature en Majeste collection, which is a unique ensemble of high jewellery centred on the theme of nature. Overall, the jewellery category under the Richemont group is enjoying strong growth. And we’re definitely a big part of it.

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How has the company managed to shrug off the general luxury market slowdown?    

Van Cleef & Arpels has consolidated itself as one of the main leaders in jewellery and we’ve maintained the long-term strategy designed by our CEO Nicolas Bos where we basically offer a unique experience to our clients, whether they come in to buy an Alhambra necklace or a piece of high jewellery. We’ve created and developed our own boutique network with over 120 boutiques in the world, and we have almost no wholesale distribution. So we pretty much control the purchasing experience completely. And that makes a big difference.

How would you describe the tastes and demands of your clients today? How have they evolved?

I would say that tastes are as diverse as the clients we have. But there are some clear purchasing patterns. First and foremost, we see our clients becoming more and more educated. It’s become very rare to see people who come in with only price as the determining factor, or people coming in with a tour guide and shopping very quickly. Those times are over. Instead, we see people coming in independently, having researched a lot about the brand, the product and obviously the price. And what they are really looking for is a unique experience. We’re also attracting a lot of independent women and self-made female entrepreneurs of different ages…. (as well as) women who are not just buying one stone for that once-in-a-lifetime event of an engagement or wedding, but more frequently to celebrate something important, such as the birth of a child, a graduation or an anniversary. Some women are also building jewellery collections in the way that men build watch collections. They want to understand what particular pieces they should have, so as to have a selection of pieces they can wear on different occasions, that doubles as an investment portfolio. So we advise them on the value of their collections, based on auction results and the provenance of the pieces.

What about the millennial set? How are you attracting the younger generation to what is essentially a very established maison?

What I would say is that younger clients are not faithful to one brand. They would mix an Yves Saint Laurent jacket with a pair of sneakers from Adidas and a Van Cleef & Arpel’s Alhambra necklace. They would also purchase, say, a Van Cleef & Arpel’s Perlee bracelet to stack on their wrist with a Love bracelet from Cartier. So it’s a generation which is very agile in terms of knowing their brands, and very adaptable in choosing the way they want to mix and match the brands. Van Cleef & Arpels offers a span of creations with some very affordable pieces for the younger set, so as to encourage their first purchase of luxury jewellery. We have pieces that start as low as S$1,200, so we can begin building a relationship with them.

(RELATED: Why Swiss luxury watchmakers need to woo millennials in the digital space – and soon)

Are there specific jewellery trends you’re currently looking at?

What we’ve found is that women, especially younger women, are no longer shy about wearing yellow gold and rose gold. There was a time not too long ago when yellow gold and rose gold were considered too loud. But now they’ve become completely acceptable and trendy. And, in fact, we’re seeing a real appetite for colourful, joyful jewellery.

You grew up in Versailles where you were surrounded by a lot of art, design, architecture and music. What forms of art are you consuming now?

I still enjoy a lot of modern and contemporary visual art. One of my favourite shows at the moment is the double exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris of the paintings of Egon Schiele (1890-1918) and Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). Both artists lived short lives but each created an extraordinary body of work that continues to resonate across generations. In terms of literature, I’m enjoying the novels and plays of the young French writer Florian Zeller whose writings say much about our contemporary lives.

(RELATED: Why the fashion world is in love with museums as show stages)

What management book have you read that made an impact on your career?

I would say a book called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith made me realise the importance on never resting on what you’ve done, and always pushing yourself and your team to do better. I think it’s very relevant in today’s world where the customers’ habits are changing quickly and constantly. You know, I’m very fortunate to have such a long career within Richemont Group. And the main reason is because I’ve managed to be agile and mobile, and understand different cultures from Europe to the Middle East to North America and now Asia, and seeing how I can promote our brands within the context of the local customs.

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

Photo: BT/SPH