There is something about the talismanic quality of truly magnificent jewels that has captivated a rapt public. Whether mementos of deep, undying love, relics of enduring imperial might, symbols of wealth or tokens of sincere gratitude, important jewellery – big, beautiful and breathtaking – has always represented more than just a collection of expertly cut stones worth a fortune. Each stone, each setting, carries within it history, heritage and tradition.
Think of the Duchess of Windsor’s massive 19.77-carat emerald engagement ring, created by Cartier. The 33-carat diamond ring Elizabeth Taylor wore almost every day, one of the many dazzling jewels Richard Burton gave his wife. Or The First Star of Africa, the largest flawless cut diamond in the world, weighing 533 carats, which graces the British sovereign’s sceptre on display in the Tower of London. The Second Star of Africa, at 317 carats, is the shining jewel in the imperial state crown.
Both stones were cut from the Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond ever found. It was presented to King Edward VII in 1907 by what was then known as the government of the Transvaal. With the rise of independent jewellery designers, heritage houses – the likes of Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Graff, Poiray, Garrard – while not exactly threatened, need to remain relevant in a market that is shifting. François Graff, the son of the founder of Graff Diamonds, remains confident.
“I believe heritage brands bring a wealth of experience to the industry, allowing us to constantly evolve and advance our techniques while staying true to centuries-old methods and our classic style. Over the course of our history, we have been responsible for cutting and polishing some of the rarest and most exquisite diamonds.” Continuity and integrity, Christopher Greig feels, are key to a heritage house’s longevity.
“Charles Greig Jewellers is now in its fifth generation and perhaps more so than with any other commodity, when dealing with precious high-value luxury items, the consumer values reputation, trust and goodwill, particularly when they are bringing family pieces to us for remodelling valuation and repair. Added to this, our customers understand that typically there is a member of the Greig family present in each store, which enhances this sense of trust and confidence.”
Like Charles Greig, Graff Diamonds – a vertically integrated company that owns mines in SA in addition to the Delaire-Graff estate in Stellenbosch – draws heavily on family. “Graff has a rich British history and heritage that spans 55 years, and we have always operated at the very pinnacle of high jewellery,” says Graff.
“My father, Laurence Graff, who founded the company, continues to play an integral role in our strategic decision making, while my uncle, Raymond Graff, directs production at our London work-shop. My cousin, Elliott Graff, is
responsible for merchandising and production. To this day, our global head-quarters are located in London, along with our design atelier and workshop, where our team of 70 master craftsmen produce in excess of 50 pieces of fine jewellery a week.”
London is the international headquarters of De Beers. A relative newcomer to the fine jewellery industry, it has all the hallmarks of a heritage brand, not to mention the financial, retail and marketing muscle of LVMH. “De Beers Diamond Jewellers is a unique brand,” says CEO François Delage.
“We only opened our first store in 2002 on Old Bond Street in London, but we have 125 years of diamond expertise, which we use to create timeless designs that herald the diamond. We are the only global luxury jewellery brand that solely focuses on diamonds. This gives us a unique position, whether it’s a
young couple looking for an engagement ring, a woman looking for a piece of collection jewellery for herself, or a high-jewellery client looking for an exceptional design piece or a beautiful coloured diamond.”
Heritage brands strongly feel that advertising is vital. Greig allows that “while there is great value in the fact that the Charles Greig brand dates back to 1899, jewellery and watches are very much guided by fashion and it is important that our market doesn’t see us as being old-fashioned. Marketing and advertising allow us to convey the fact that our offering is always very current, if not slightly ahead of international trends.”
Vincent Guy Raffin, the Hong Kong-based sales director for Graff Diamonds, expresses it best when he says advertising is “a trigger that can sometimes spark a lasting flame. It brings visibility to a brand, but the heritage gives the power to its voice.”