The Australian - Wish Magazine - - NEW WATCHES - STORY MI­LANDA ROUT

If you turned back the clock five years, the lux­ury watch and jew­ellery land­scape in Aus­tralia would be al­most un­recog­nis­able. There were only a hand­ful of re­tail­ers, in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne, and the of­fer­ings were lim­ited. In fact, many Aus­tralians were trav­el­ling over­seas to Paris or Rome to get one-off high-jew­ellery pieces from Bulgari or Louis Vuit­ton or Van Cleef & Ar­pels. To­day it could not be more dif­fer­ent. All the ma­jor play­ers in the world are not only in Syd­ney or Mel­bourne but in Bris­bane and Perth and have even mi­grated to the sub­urbs. So why has Aus­tralia gone through this lux­ury jew­ellery boom, who is buy­ing the pieces and will it last?

“Lux­ury prod­ucts have more vis­i­bil­ity and lo­cal cus­tomers have ex­pressed more in­ter­est in our pieces,” says Lau­rent Dordet, the CEO of Her­mès’ watch­mak­ing arm, la Mon­tre Her­mès, adding that the re­sult has been a boom­ing mar­ket. “We have no­ticed many new brands en­ter­ing Aus­tralia. There is def­i­nitely more aware­ness of lux­ury watch and jew­ellery houses and most brands have also opened up their ex­clu­sive bou­tiques rather than [us­ing other] re­tail­ers.”

It is an ob­ser­va­tion shared by all other lux­ury houses in this space in­ter­viewed by WISH: Aus­tralia has gone from a young mar­ket to one that is now oc­cu­pied by all the big play­ers. “Aus­tralia is boom­ing at all lev­els, on the artis­tic, de­sign and cre­ative scenes in par­tic­u­lar,” says Van Cleef & Ar­pels’ south­east Asia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Elise Gon­net-Pon, on why the French jew­eller de­cided to make an en­trance into the Aus­tralian mar­ket over a year ago. “This world-class of­fer­ing, which com­bined with the nat­u­ral won­ders and scenery of the coun­try, make it unique as a des­ti­na­tion.”

Both Gon­net-Pon and Dordet have recog­nised the key driv­ers in this boom: lo­cal de­mand, greater vis­i­bil­ity of in­ter­na­tional brands thanks to so­cial me­dia, chang­ing con­sumer habits and of course, the in­crease in tourism from Asia and more specif­i­cally, China. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data from Tourism Aus­tralia, 1.2 mil­lion Chi­nese tourists spent over $9.8 bil­lion in Aus­tralia in the year to June. That is about a quar­ter of all to­tal tourist dol­lars ($40.6bn) spent in this coun­try – an out­size pro­por­tion given China ac­counts for only 14 per cent of our 8.5 mil­lion in­ter­na­tional visi­tors.

“Tourists drive the lux­ury mar­ket sub­stan­tially,” says Kim Do, a se­nior in­dus­try an­a­lyst at mar­ket re­search group IBISWorld. “A lot of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents who live here also have the buy­ing power to pur­chase th­ese lux­ury items as well. A lot of stores have re­alised this, which is why they have ex­panded sub­stan­tially in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne over the last few years. In­ter­na­tional stu­dents also buy in­vest­ment pieces, es­pe­cially rare ones, which will see their re­tail value go up.”

Do says there have been key changes in the do­mes­tic mar­ket as well, with more con­sumers will­ing to in­vest in high-end watches and jew­ellery. In other words, the high end of re­tail is not only oc­cu­pied by those who spend only in th­ese stores. Some­one who buys clothes at Zara might oc­ca­sion­ally buy a bracelet at Bulgari, a be­spoke en­gage­ment ring at Tif­fany & Co. or a neck­lace from Louis Vuit­ton. “Con­sumers are not shop­ping in the mid­dle of the mar­ket as much as much any more,” she tells WISH. “They are buy­ing the ma­jor­ity of their cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories in the fast-fash­ion seg­ment but are com­pli­ment­ing th­ese pieces with lux­ury high-end pieces as well.”

This change has partly been fu­elled by in­creas­ing aware­ness, thanks to on­line shop­ping and so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as In­sta­gram, through which new prod­ucts are seen by mil­lions around the world, re­gard­less of the lo­ca­tion of the re­tailer or the cus­tomer. “The Aus­tralian au­di­ence is highly con­nected in a for­ever-chang­ing and en­gag­ing dig­i­tal en­vi­ron­ment,” says Gon­net-Pon. “[This] fu­els aware­ness and as­pi­ra­tion but also en­ables peo­ple to as­sess and ap­pre­ci­ate the au­then­tic­ity of the state­ments from brands.” This has not gone un­no­ticed by Aus­tralian watch re­tailer Kennedy, which has ex­panded its stores from two multi-brand bou­tiques in just Mel­bourne and Syd­ney to 11 bou­tiques in­clud­ing stand­alone Rolex stores. “The last five years has seen tremen­dous growth in the hard lux­ury sec­tor, with the sec­tor ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dou­bledigit growth year-on-year,” man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Martin Rainer says. “There is in­creased aware­ness and de­sire of lux­ury brands by Aus­tralians that are driven by in­creased re­tail pres­ence but also by the grow­ing dig­i­tal foot­print of lux­ury watch brands.”

Ital­ian high-end jew­eller Bulgari, which opened its first bou­tique here in 1998 and is about to open its sixth, also says its in­creased de­mand is led by do­mes­tic con­sumers. “Pre­vi­ously Aus­tralian cus­tomers look­ing for high-end or one-of-a-kind pieces were in­clined to make th­ese pur­chases while trav­el­ling, as of­ten brands weren’t bring­ing th­ese spe­cial pieces to the [Aus­tralian] mar­ket,” says Bulgari Aus­tralia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Brad Har­vey. “As the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of the mar­ket has de­vel­oped, or rather been recog­nised by the brands, more unique pieces are ar­riv­ing into the coun­try and the de­sire to make th­ese pur­chases do­mes­ti­cally is ev­i­dent.”

Do also be­lieves the boom has been fu­elled by lux­ury fash­ion houses such as Louis Vuit­ton, Dior and Chanel ex­pand­ing from cloth­ing into the watch and jew­ellery field. “There is a ris­ing num­ber of lux­ury stores aim­ing to be­come a one-stop shop for peo­ple,” she ex­plains. “It is to grab the con­sumer so a per­son can go into their store and find ev­ery­thing from jew­ellery to cloth­ing to hand­bags.”

Hamdi Chatti, the vice-pres­i­dent of jew­ellery and watches for Louis Vuit­ton, says his com­pany has upped the ante in this area. “Our [re­tail] of­fer has de­vel­oped well dur­ing the re­cent years with strong ac­cel­er­a­tion on the very high-end prod­ucts,” he tells WISH. “Our de­mand is com­ing from cus­tomers around the world.” The French house – which started in 1854 as a mal­letier or lug­gage maker – also re­cently opened its first store to

“They are buy­ing cloth­ing in the fast-fash­ion seg­ment but are com­pli­ment­ing this with lux­ury high-end pieces.”

Op­po­site page: an artist’s im­pres­sion of Bulgari’s soon-to-be-ren­o­vated Syd­ney store (main) and the Kennedy Rolex store in Perth; this page: Van Cleef & Ar­pels in Syd­ney (main) and Kennedy IWC in Perth

Her­mès Chaine d’An­cre punk neck­lace in white gold and di­a­monds; be­low left, Tif­fany T square bracelets in pink and yel­low gold with pavé di­a­monds; right, Rolex Lady Date­just 28

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