These are flush times for Gucci, the 96-year-old house that in recent years has become fashion’s all-conquering luxury brand. And amid booming sales, Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director since 2015, has introduced the brand’s first high-end fine jewellery line, a series of extravagant styles that present the designer’s florid evocations of flea market finds as gem-encrusted treasures. Talking of the nostalgic inspiration behind many of his creations, Michele said, “I’ve dressed a number of women in things that were gathering dust in vintage archives–they no longer existed.” That includes jewellery as well,” he added. “It’s beautiful to bring them back to life and give them importance once again.” At the Gucci Hub, a former aeronautical factory here where the brand opened its headquarters last year, the jewellery showroom reflects Michele’s opulent touch: red velvet-covered walls, red velvet room dividers, red velvet-topped tooled wood tables around a densely floral Oriental rug, and bright-toned velvet coffers lined in silk to showcase the designer’s well-established motifs rendered as precious jewels. Tigers, snakes, lions and foxes form necklaces, bracelets and rings, mirroring earlier versions that Michele created for both the costume and the mid-market fine jewellery lines at Gucci. But the new higher-end collection–which has no specific name–is more elaborate, its 25 design styles accented with a range of gemstones. Michele, who calls himself “a passionate student of antique jewellery,” has resurrected animalier styles, like those of the midcentury American jewellery designer David Webb, and for this new collection he has employed some vintage techniques like the intricate hand engraving used to create the animals’ faces, skipping the rhodium plating now common on white gold so it retains a yellowish cast, and the use of old-fashioned raised settings for the tiny diamonds spangled across the fishtail of a ring. “When you see the way I combine things with each other, you perceive everything together as a new language,” he said, referring to his fashion aesthetic that mashes up the animal motifs with Chinese silks and Mexican embroideries, Renaissance gowns, Victoriana, disco drama, high ’80s glam, shades of Elton John and Dapper Dan, and more. From the new collection, Marco Bizzarri, the chief executive of Gucci, wears a woven gold bracelet with black diamonds that is embossed with the phrase “Blind for Love” in capital letters across the top. Michele himself has a gold ring with a fox’s head, a large brown diamond set between its ears. Though the pieces look like styles that, in their antique forms, were made for women, in the Gucci context, anyone can wear them. “Clothes, like jewellery, don’t have very revolutionary roots, meaning that what’s revolutionary is the way you wear a piece of jewellery,” the designer said. So far the collection, with prices that mostly range from ^15,000 to ^70,000 ($17,900 to $83,500), has been offered only to favourite clients through private sales in Japan, China and the United States and private appointments that began in July. Gucci refers to the pieces, which are not high jewellery (typically starting in the $100,000 range and going into the millions), as “medium-high,” or as “unique pieces” when it repeats designs using different gems.
However, the brand says it is considering a move into the bigger stones and larger price tags of true high jewellery for its next collection.Gucci is not the first fashion house to enter the upper echelons of jewellery. Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton have all made it big business, as the high jewellery market has flourished through and beyond the economic downturn of the last decade. And the brand’s fortunes have been growing at a clip that has shocked industry watchers. Kering, its parent group, reported that Gucci’s revenue soared 42 per cent to €1.5 billion in the three months to the end of September. And its biggest boost has been coming from millennials, who, Kering says, account for at least half of its 2017 sales thus far. “The new generation is going to want a more modern jeweller,” said Maurizio Pisanu, the house’s director of jewellery merchandising. Gucci has hired its first staff gemologist to search for stones worldwide and maintains a jewellery workshop with about 30 goldsmiths and stone-setters near Milan. According to the brand, sales of the initial pieces have been brisk (although it won’t provide specifics). So if the collection does expand, Michele’s antique-tinged, everything-is-precious aesthetic might disrupt the higher stratospheres of the jewellery sector in the way that he has already reset Gucci and the fashion desires of a vast public. The collection has arrived at a moment when the codes of high jewellery are in flux– important stones are becoming more difficult to find, and a new generation of customers is more interested in showing off wearable (and possibly recognisably branded) design than owning the special occasion gem-encrusted parures of the past. Pisanu said design-driven jewellery customers “benefit a brand like Gucci, where jewellery isn’t our core business but we have the ability to make high-quality jewelllery like the other brands–and with a different aesthetic that’s much more innovative than what a classic brand would ever dare to make.”