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Inside Louis Vuitton’s High Jewelry Trip to Saint-Tropez

On Wednesday night, some 200 guests including clients, celebrities — such as British actress Phoebe Dynevor and Thai actress Urassaya Sperbund — and editors, convened to Château Saint-Maur vineyard near Saint-Tropez for the Louis Vuitton gala.

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Photo: Pierre Mouton

It commenced with a show in which models wore high jewellery creations by Francesca Amfitheatrof, the house’s artistic director of jewellery and watches, and outfits by creative director Nicolas Ghesquière’s studio, with styling by Ghesquière’s long-time collaborator Marie-Amélie Sauvé (clients interested in the bespoke dresses can purchase them).

“‘Awakened Hands, Awakened Minds’ sounds a little bit cryptic,” Amfitheatrof told guests before dinner prepared by star chef Jean Imbert, referring to the name of her sixth high jewellery collection for the house. “But it’s an amazing journey of 100 years of French history. The 19th century where there was an explosion of incredible talent because the atelier was set free post-Revolution. The guilts were abolished. There was this enormous growth of the French know-how. Everyone turned to France to come and see this incredible awakening of the hands. The second part, Awakened Minds, is what happened in the second part of the century: the growth of inventiveness in science, engineering, architecture. Paris became the city of lights, the first city in Europe to have gas and electric lights. This is the year [2024] that we celebrate France in every way. It’s where Louis Vuitton came to and started his company and it’s the root of everything we do: savoir faire, discovery, inventiveness and looking into the future.”

Francesca Amfitheatrof surrounded by Urassaya Sperbund, Young-ae Lee, Phoebe Dynevor and Jin Chen at the Louis Vuitton event in Saint-Tropez. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton generated €22 billion in sales in 2023, according to HSBC estimates. Jewellery is a small part of its overall business, though still sizable in relative terms and growing fast. Jewellery — and high jewellery in particular — are also key to maintaining exclusivity (while the world’s largest luxury brand, which is also present in categories like perfumes and chocolates, continues to grow) and engaging with its highest-spending clients.

The next day, pieces were displayed in the Domaine de Bagatelle, a villa with a sprawling view of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, between artworks and furniture from Paris’s Galerie Kraemer. That included the Cœur de Paris, a necklace featuring a 56.23 carat diamond with tones of orange. “Imagine you are standing underneath the Tour Eiffel and looking up,” says Amfitheatrof. There’s also a necklace inspired by the railways, crafted in platinum, yellow gold and yellow sapphires with interlacing V-shaped structures. Some 80 pieces were presented in Saint-Tropez. More will be added in due course.

Photo: Thomas Legrand

“Pieces are being made in the atelier as we speak. As soon as they are finished, then they join the rest of the collection,” says Amfitheatrof. “We will do another event in China [slated for July] — which is great — where we can add more pieces.” With 220 pieces in total, this is Louis Vuitton’s largest high jewellery collection to date.

Of the collection paying homage to the country’s past, Amfitheatrof says, “Being the Olympic year, I really wanted to do something that was French.” Louis Vuitton created medals and torch trunks for this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will run from 26 July to 11 August, and tapped a flurry of Olympics ambassadors. (Parent company LVMH is an official sponsor of the games.)

Louis Vuitton is relatively new to the field, having entered fine jewellery in 2001 and high jewellery in 2008. “The challenges are in building credibility — but I think they are good there now — and in inventing a category from scratch (unlike Cartier and Tiffany, Louis Vuitton has no archives to work with in the field of jewellery),” says HSBC global head of consumer and retail research Erwan Rambourg.

“Louis Vuitton has invested to be more relevant in the category. Think of the Place Vendôme store, for example [Louis Vuitton planted a flag on Paris’s famous jewellers’ square by opening a flagship there in 2017]. The opportunity is brand elevation and inroads into an attractive category,” says Luca Solca, managing director of luxury goods at Bernstein.

Turbocharged by its wider brand firepower, Louis Vuitton’s jewellery offering has accelerated in recent years, snapping up exceptional stones, increasing production capacity and not to mention mastery. “We make very quick decisions. If you think between our gemologist, me and the CEO [Pietro Beccari], it’s three phone calls. I don’t know if other companies have that informality and I think that we’re also very strong people. Our gemologist has a strong personality,” Amfitheatrof says.

Louis Vuitton’s Coeur De Paris necklace & Life Vision necklace. Photo: Thomas Legrand

“The Fura rubies that we propose [in the collection], when we were told about these rubies, our gemologist just got on a plane and went there,” she says. Have they been sold yet? “Of course, there’s not much left, I can tell you that.”

Amfitheatrof has a strong combination of skills and a solid track record. The designer was born in Japan, before growing up in New York, Rome and then London. She attributes her obsession “with details and proportions” to Japan, her “love of beauty and life” to Italy, and “her obsession with pushing creativity” to the English art schools. In 2013, she became Tiffany’s design director, launching iconic lines such as the Tiffany T and Hardwear that are still driving sales today. She joined Louis Vuitton in 2018 where she remains behind the success of LV Volt, the house’s unisex line.

“We have an incredible focus on breaking the rules. We buy stones that most people don’t always buy. Jewellery can be very traditional — pigeon blood rubies, certain types of sapphires. We’d love to propose something unusual. Mandarin garnet was a stone that we really put on the map, we put tsavorite on the map,” she adds.

Ramping up production capacity is a competitive advantage amid increasing competition and growing demand. “We’ve purchased an atelier in Paris and we are starting to really strengthen our foundation to have long-term growth,” says Amfitheatrof. “We have to now manage things from a startup to a more solid support. A lot of it has been done through having the experience, but it’s important that we become a little bit more grown up now. It’s exciting.”

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