GN Focus | India

Rocking the world of fine things

As luxury brands look eastwards, India - a valuable customer, a vital influence and a friend - is a vital plank of their strategy

  • By Shalini Seth | Specialist Writer
  • Published: 00:10 August 15, 2012
  • GN Focus

  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • The Bagha Ring.

The wink of the tiger’s eye in a Boucheron ring in 2012, the carved intermixing of ruby-emerald-sapphire in Cartier’s Tutti-Frutti in 1936, the 114-carat splendour of the Neela Ranee sapphire at Van Cleef & Arpels, the bejewelled horse dancing on Hermès’ La Danse du Cheval Marwari scarf in 2008... these are just some of the ways in which luxury brands reference their beloved India.

As an emerging market, with sales of luxury goods set to grow 21 per cent year-on-year from 2012 to 2017 in India, according to Euromonitor, India is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world and is in the spotlight as policies permitting foreign direct investment gather momentum.

Manjunath Reddy, Research Analyst – India, Euromonitor International, says that India’s rising middle class consumer base provides tremendous opportunity for global luxury brands. Statistics say that during 2007 to 2011 the number of high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) in India rose 32 per cent — an impressive figure against the backdrop of the global financial crisis. India has 125,500 HNWIs, according to the World Wealth Report released in June by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management. By 2015, the figure is expected to grow by 85 per cent to reach close to 465,000 individuals, with the HNWIs’ wealth growing by 97 to $2,134 billion (about Dh7,838 billion) in 2015.

Reddy says with more than ten luxury malls, such as DLF Emporia in Delhi and UB City in Bengaluru, India’s top-tier market is diverse. “Luxury goods represent a dynamic sector within automobiles, beauty and personal care products, antiques, as well as apparel. The market spans product categories,” he says.

“Any positive progress in FDI would favour the development and growth of the luxury market in India and encourage us for a possible introduction in this market,” Alban Belloir, Managing Director of Van Cleef & Arpels – MEA and India, tells GN Focus.

The DNA of luxury

There are emerging markets and then there are emerging markets. It would seem that India is no mere consumer, lapping up goods, learning about standards and trying to develop a taste for finer things. It has long been an inspiration, its aesthetic shaping the very DNA of the world’s best-known luxury brands.

“If we want to look at India’s influence, we have to step back and look at how different European jewellery was before its encounter with India. European jewellery until the 1920s was fairly simple by comparison. Diamonds were typically set in platinum. Jewellery with stones was limited to one colour — diamonds with rubies, or with emeralds,” Dr Amin Jaffer, International Director of Asian Art, Christie’s, says in an interview with GN Focus.

“In contrast, European jewellery of the 1930s and 1940s is adventurous — mixing colours, using different cuts of stones — which is likely the Indian influence at work,” he adds. He ought to know — Jaffer’s book on the subject, Made for Maharajas, A Design Diary of Princely India, is full of tales of jewellery commissioned by Maharajas who carted trunk-loads of gems to design houses such as Cartier, Chaumet, Boucheron and Van Cleef & Arpels.

“There were all kinds of things made for princes — motor cars, luggage, and tea services. Depending on the object, these were western in technology but Indian in feeling. For instance, you would see cars with purdah or vehicles made especially for shikar, or hunting. Christofle made many metal objects. Watches by Jaeger-LeCoultre with Indian motifs on them were common. All the major luxury houses of today had a presence in India,” he says. A spectacular addition to this list is a pair of wedges created by Ferragamo for Maharani Indira Devi of Cooch Behar in 1938, pictured overleaf.

Other regulars at European haute joaillerie salons in the early twentieth century were the maharajas from Baroda, Kashmir, Jaipur and Kapurthala, and notably, the Maharani of Baroda. Van Cleef & Arpels gives us the example of Maharani Sita Devi’s spectacular Lotus or Baroda necklace, ordered in 1950. It consists of 13 pear-shaped Colombian emeralds weighing a total of 154.70 carats that are suspended from a lotus flower set with pavé diamonds. The gems were supplied by Sita Devi, who was known as the Indian Wallis Simpson, and were reportedly part of Baroda’s 
Crown Jewels.

The aesthetic influence continues even today, as Boucheron’s Bagha ring, opposite, shows. Inspired by India’s national animal, the Royal Bengal tiger, it was launched this summer and is expected to sell well both in India and in cities with a strong Indian diaspora. Adds Belloir: “The Indian theme appears in recent High Jewellery collections, such as Bals de Légende in 2011 and Palais de la Chance in 2012. A Makara ring from Bals de Légende (pictured below) in white and yellow gold, set with diamonds, turquoises, mauve and pink sapphires, peridots and a 30.76-carat cushion-cut yellow sapphire, is inspired by a mythological Hindu figure.”

Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) banks on its past and references it in the present. In 2010, the luxury brand, whose Indian ambassador is Tikka Shatrujit Singh of Kapurthala, (his ancestors were major Louis Vuitton clients), decided to celebrate Diwali in all its stores worldwide, from Buenos Aires to Beijing, Paris to Prague and Delhi to Dubai.

The shopper’s footprint

India has always spoken jewellery like a language. From North to South, East to West, the consumer understands cut, carat and craft, unabashedly enquires about making charges and customises each product to include auspicious stones and weed out inauspicious ones. Traditionally carrying holy water from the river Ganga in customised Louis Vuitton trunks, Indians have long been happy clients of high-end goods.

While older brands have long served Indian buyers who know what they are taking about, newer players admit to being pleasantly surprised. “Despite a relatively young market, Indian customers are very well aware and educated when talking about watchmaking. A key concept in Indian culture is the Darshan, or the image of self that one provides to others. The concept of self-image is important in India, and differs from other markets in the region,” says watch company Baume & Mercier’s regional brand manager (ME and India) Romain Dezaux.

As Maharani Sita Devi Sahib showed, jewellery is a necessary sort of investment of passion. While an equity portfolio can lose most of its value overnight, investments of passion, in common with prime property, are more tangible — even if their value does fall, they can still be enjoyed. >

“India has clearly been on our roadmap for the last decade, and has become a clear strategic objective more recently with our integration in the new Richemont subsidiary RIPL opened in New Delhi. The potential of India is enormous and constantly rising, with a growing middle to upper class developing a strong appetite for luxury items,” says Dezaux.

The travelling Indian

As in the past, Indian customers are buying when abroad, too. While many brands today may not have boutiques in the country, the importance of the Indian customer has not diminished.

“Van Cleef & Arpels has established very good and strong relations with Indian clients whom we receive in our boutiques worldwide, notably in Dubai, Paris and London,” says Belloir.

In the UAE, Abraham Koshy, Group General Manager, Rivoli, a retailer with brands such as Vertu, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Chopard and Mont Blanc in its kitty, says its Indian customer base, whether UAE residents or visitors, is in “high double digits. The Indian client has always been very important for our business. They prefer well-known established brands, which have top of the mind recall.”

Records exist of Louis Boucheron’s visits to India. Other brands too have often paid its biggest clients many visits — any major shift in world economy refocuses this attention. “You have to remember that at the end of the 1920s and during 1930s, the world faced an economic depression but the Indian royals continued to patronise these companies. We did not see a parallel depression in India. They became increasingly important as clients,” says Dr Jaffer.

It’s difficult not to draw parallels between the great depression of the 1930s and the state of the world economy now. As the meaning of BRIC in dinner table conversation starts encompassing countries rather than kilns, India is back.

Luxury and other brands are closely watching these developments. “Target consumers these days include sports and film celebrities, people in senior management, businessmen, investors, top politicians, as well as NRIs and the youth of the upper classes,” says Reddy.

This time the roots will show, foreign direct investment permitting. Matthieu Dupont, Brand Manager Middle East & India, A. Lange & Söhne, says, “The brand is very close to its partners, and our expansion plans are very clear for the next years. But a luxury approach to retail space in the major capitals of India would be welcome for us to greet our collectors in A. Lange & Söhne boutiques. As much as our boutique network is growing across the major capitals of the world, a boutique in India is yet 
to come.”

Brand Box

 Then

Christofle, 1800s: A rosewood bed encrusted with silver, with four life-size figures of women waving the fans and fly whisks. The bed came fitted with a music box that plays a 38-minute interlude from Gounod’s Faust, when activated by a button.

Patek Philippe, 1920: Maharaja, a gold, enamel and minute repeating watch – Swiss – featured a painted portrait of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala.

Cartier, 1928: The Patiala Necklace designed by Cartier was a five-stranded bib necklace mounted with 2,930 diamonds, with a central pendent of a 234.65-carat de Beers diamond

Cecil Beaton, 1934: the photographer’s portrait of Rani Sita Devi of Kapurthala showed her in a velvet headdress by the firm of Reboux and a silver fox coat designed by Mainbocher, the American couturier who designed the wedding dress of the Duchess of Windsor.

LVMH, 1930: Louis Vuitton made special tea case for a proper cup of tea on the road for Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda.

Ferragamo, 1938: Salvatore Ferragamo created the Maharani wedge sandal – leather with multi-coloured beads – for Indira Devi, Maharani of Cooch Behar.

Royal Locomotives, 1940s: Ranjitsinhrao of Baroda travelled from palace to school in a miniature train especially made for the purpose.

Bentleys and Rolls Royces: The maharaja of Mysore had a total of 24 in his fleet – some cars were commissioned with special elevated seats so the Maharaja is seated higher than his aides

Royal Worcester, mid1900s: Gaekwad Pratapsinh rao of Baroda ordered a dinner service painted with secular and religious images of deities.

Now

Cartier, 2008: Lalit Modi commissioned Cartier to design the Twenty20 Champions League trophy –41cm high, with a diameter of 31 cm and weighs almost 7 kg.

Hermès, 2008: The brand designed a scarf called La Danse du Cheval Marwari. Other 2008 novelties include scarves called Beloved India, Colour Masala, Kantha, A floppy tote honouring the Jodhpuri horse is called the Marwari.

Hermès, 2011: Hermès, the first luxury brand to have opened a street standalone store in India, goes the whole six yards and puts out a limited edition saree, its print based on the brand’s India scarves.

Jaeger-LeCoultre, 2011: Saif Ali Khan is gifted Glory to the Actor Award, which includes a Reverso Grand Taille with the Pataudi family crest engraved on the reverse of the case, at the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the watch

LMVH: The current brand advisor for the luxury retailer LVMH in Asia is Tikka Shatrujit Singh of Kapurthala, in keeping with the 100-year old relationship of the brand with the royal house.

Van Cleef & Arpels, 2011, 2012: Bals de Légende in 2011 and Palais de la Chance in 2012.

Boucheron, 2012: The Bagha ring commemorates the power of the ferocious Bengal tiger. Bagha, which is the Hindi word for tiger, is made up in pink gold ring and roars with sapphires, diamonds and emeralds.

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