Setting a trend in jewelry as a fashion statementFor decades, fine jewelry in Korea has been ruled by a dichotomy in consumer preferences: If you’re not wearing, say, a real Bulgari, then it must be a copy custom-made by a local jeweler.
As in the local fashion industry, buyers don’t mind paying for overpriced brand name items, while dismissing locally made products. For years in Korea, brand managers and marketing experts have often factored that into their sales strategies by naming and promoting local brands as if they were imported. Consumers have grown more sophisticated and knowledgeable, though. They want something more reasonably priced, yet stylish. And jewelry is now a fashion statement.
Sean Lee, president of Le Plus Joaillier, a new jewelry brand in Korea, aims to hit the target by making the brand “the ‘Boon The Shop’ of fine jewelry in Korea.” Boon The Shop is a swank fashion boutique operated by Shinsegae Department Store that specializes in introducing various sought-after, cutting edge import items. Just as Boon The Shop leads in concept and trend, the Le Plus showroom, in the Novotel in southern Seoul, is seeking to lead the trend in fine jewelry.
It showcases several high-end brands that suggest the latest worldwide trends: Calgaro of Italy, specializing in jewelry as fashion accessory; Marion of France, which deals in exquisite estate pieces; Riz Jewelry of Japan for pearls, and Friedrich Lederwaren of Germany, which is introducing a line of leather jewelry boxes.
Formerly a dentist, Mr. Lee joined his family business of more than three decades, D.Y. International, three years ago and started this project. Like the countless local jewelers that pack Korea’s largest jewelry district in Jongno, central Seoul, D.Y. International got into the business by trading gemstones and manufacturing jewelry in the mid-1960s.
“So many jewelers who started at around the same time as us have been doing the same thing all along. If a design sells, then they keep churning it out like a factory,” he said. “That doesn’t get anyone anywhere.”
Mr. Lee wanted to take the business in a new direction by embracing fashion-conscious customers, whose numbers are constantly increasing. If his parents’ generation was interested in the overall sentiment and value of a piece of jewelry, younger customers take a more intellectual approach.
“Our parents are not so ‘exacting’ about the quality of a piece they buy or own. If it’s supposed to be meaningful and worthy of long-term investment, they buy it and tend to keep it for a long time,” he said. “But young people are informed about the latest trend as well as the quality of what they’re interested in buying, and they prefer to own more than a few pieces that are affordable and wearable on many occasions, rather than own just one expensive piece that stays in the bank vault.”
This goal to lead the trend in fine jewelry is shared by Mario Frassinetti, with whom Mr. Lee has collaborated for years. Mr. Frassinetti represents Calgaro, an Italian brand well-known for linking innovative jewelry with high fashion.
This includes a patented technology for colorful and silky fabrics made from pure silver and gold, as well as some fiber, such as silk or cashmere. A lightweight, semi-transparent scarf that comes in various colors, from bubble gum pink to mandarin orange and turquoise, looks and feels like liquid satin.
The same fiber is woven into multiple strands that can be worn as a bracelet, which is embellished with tiny silver rings. There are some small knitted flowers on a string, which can be worn as a choker or a ring, and the brand’s art director, Vanessa da Costa, explains that the yarn is made from silver.
by Ines Cho