Jewelry brand aims for growth beyond China’s borders

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Since its inception in 2004, the goal of Chinese jewelry brand Qeelin has been to create – as Dennis Chan, its Hong Kong-based co-founder and creative director said – “something with a rich culture but, at the same time, time, very contemporary.

Effort can work. There are 38 Qeelin stores in mainland China, but the brand has also been operating a boutique on Place Vendôme in Paris, a Mecca for fine jewelry, since 2019. It is sold in department stores and boutiques such as David Jones in Australia and New Zealand. for Holt Renfrew in Canada, where it has become one of the best-selling jewelry brands, according to Carolyn Wright, vice president of purchasing.

And over the next two years, the house intends to open branded boutiques in England, Australia and the United States, according to Jean-François Palus, managing director of Kering Group, the French luxury group which acquired the brand majority in 2012.

He said that around 90% of Qeelin’s sales in 2020 were in greater China, but that “we are completely convinced that this brand attracts all kinds of customers.”

The brand is not as well known as Kering labels like Gucci or Balenciaga, but, according to Palus, its sales have increased tenfold since its partnership with the French company (Kering does not disclose sales figures for most of its brands individual, including Qeelin).

“We started with a toddler and now we have a teenager,” Mr. Palus said, “and we think this teenager is going in the right direction.”

Most of Qeelin’s coins – which range from coins under 6,000 renminbi, or $ 926, to an elaborate 2.2 million renminbi diamond necklace – blend centuries-old Chinese symbols with cosmopolitan, informal, or just plain designs. fun. (The brand name has a similar approach: Qeelin is a variant of Qilin, a mythological creature resembling a unicorn in China.)

In the Wulu collection, for example, a traditional Chinese lucky charm is refined into an elegant shape that resembles the contours of a guitar or, perhaps, the contour of a woman’s back. The variations make this silhouette curvy like a rose gold pendant with a red agate (21,000 renminbi) and with diamonds and rubies dangling on a pair of earrings (13,500 renminbi).

The Yu Yi collection features a Chinese symbol believed to offer protection; Bo Bo’s coins resemble pandas which, as a result of China’s ‘panda diplomacy’ in the 1970s, have become a symbol of peace.

Qeelin designs frequently include diamonds, often mixed with semi-precious stones like onyx and mother-of-pearl rather than the 24k gold popular for traditional Chinese jewelry.

In China, Qeelin especially puts forward its less expensive creations to seduce what Christophe Artaux, the CEO of the brand, describes as “modern Chinese woman: very urban, independent and very aware of herself”.

This client tends to buy jewelry in a different way than her parents or grandparents, who generally buy gold for its value rather than as a fashion. “A lot of young consumers now buy jewelry more incidentally,” said Kemo Zhou, Shanghai-based retail analyst for Euromonitor International.

Basically, she added, “they care more about what it looks like.”

Outside of China, the significance of Qeelin’s creations seems to add to their appeal. “There is a really living story behind the brand and each of Dennis’ collections,” said Ms. Wright of Holt Renfrew. “It is not just the jewel purchased, there is the spirit of the product that accompanies it.

Mr. Chan echoed the idea. “If you tell them a very heavy Chinese story – blah, blah, blah and all that – they’ll never listen,” he said. “But then, through certain conceptions, they will understand Chinese culture in a fun way, in a different way.”

There are many successful Chinese jewelry brands, including the two Hong Kong companies Chow Tai Fook, one of the world’s biggest jewelry brands, and Chow Sang Sang, but industry experts say the combination of talisman and Qeelin’s trend is distinctive.

“You don’t see any Chinese brands that take such a cultural history and can turn it into something so modern,” said Tiffany Mon, vice president of Carat & Co., a high-end jewelry and watch boutique. in Flushing, Queens, a predominantly Asian American neighborhood.

The store illustrates why Qeelin is not better known in the United States: Carat & Co., which caters to Chinese customers, is the brand’s only outlet on the East Coast. But most of the other luxury brands Carat offers – like Bulgari, Chopard, and Montblanc – are also available in Midtown Manhattan, a much larger retail world that’s just around 12 miles away.

There seems to be strategic logic, at least for now, for Qeelin to focus on communities like Flushing. “There is an obvious group that you can try first, to market first,” said Derek Scissors, chief economist of the China Beige Book, which touts itself as an independent source of economic information on the country. “You won’t wander in the dark.”

“If you sell luxury goods, this group tends to be wealthy,” he said. “They left China with money, or their kids are there and tend to do well, so you can start with this group. “

But Qeelin is considering its new openings in general luxury shopping areas, said Palus de Kering.

Controversy in the United States and Europe over China’s forced labor practices in Xinjiang cotton, its crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and general trade issues could hamper public acceptance, however.

“It is possible that anti-Chinese sentiment is spreading in the consumer sector,” said Scissors, although he added that concerns such as the possibility of embedding spyware in computers have not affected the sales of Chinese brands like Lenovo in the United States. .

“Yet, this is something Chinese companies must view as a risk,” he said.

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