Fred unveils its 100-carat-plus Soleil d’Or diamond, reveals plans for major retrospective
Paris jeweler Fred welcomed back a key family member of its heritage on Wednesday, the dramatic brilliantly yellow Soleil d’Or diamond, whose 100-plus carats make it one of the rarest stones on the planet.
Fred unveiled the Soleil d’Or inside the Crillon Hotel in Paris, where it also announced that the house will stage its first ever retrospective inside Paris’ Palais de Tokyo next fall.
Expect this hyper rare stone to take pride of place at the retrospective of Fred, a jeweler with a rather unique DNA, which has been busy on multiple fronts of late. Earlier this month, the house opened its new flagship in the Dubai Mall, during the recent world expo in the Gulf state. While the brand, whose main flagship is on Rue de la Paix, the main artery into Paris's Place Vendome and the world’s most important jewelry retail square, has also been busy upgrading its e-commerce site.
Founded in 1936 by Argentine-born jeweler Fred Samuel, Fred will forever be associated with the Cote d’Azur, where the founder loved to sail and dine in Nice’s most famous hotel, Le Negresco.
Henry Samuel, Fred’s eldest son, first discovered the Soleil d’Or back in 1977; though the client for whom he acquired the stone never could decide what format in which it should be set. The house recently bought back the Soleil d’Or from a collector in America, and Thursday was its first public display, since a legendary soirée back in Maxim’s when the house flew in Margaux Hemingway for a preview before the great and the good of Paris. Fred didn’t reveal the sticker price of the stone, but back in 1977, its first buyer paid over one million dollars.
Since 1995, Fred has been part of luxury conglomerate LVMH, though its managers and designers have skillfully maintained a distinctive look and aesthetic to the marque – a sunny blend of Parisian polish, Mediterranean joie de vivre and youthful exuberance.
Like most LVMH brands it doesn’t reveal sales figures, though industry sources estimate turnover in excess of €100 million. With some 58 stores, due to reach 65 next year; and around 250 retail doors in multi-marque jewelry boutiques, albeit nearly 100 of them in France, one suspects an even higher figure.
So, at a Soleil d’Or lunch in the Place de la Concorde hotel, FashionNetwork.com caught up with CEO Charles Leung and Vice President and Artistic Director Valérie Samuel, granddaughter of the founder, to discover their vistas on Fred and its future.
Hong Kong-born and raised, Leung came to Paris for an MBA degree in luxury brand management at ESSEC. Returning to Hong Kong, he started his career in jewelry at Cartier, and stayed for ten years. After that, he spent 12 years at Chaumet, before arriving at Fred four years ago, meaning over a quarter century in the jewelry business. His mother tongue is Cantonese, and he also speaks Mandarin, English and French.
Fashion Network: How did you track down the Soleil d’Or?
Charles Leung: We had a copy of a certificate from when it was first sold to the client. It was yellowish and not presentable for an exhibition. So, we were asking the Gemological Institute of America if they could re-issue something clean for exhibition purposes, and they said, ‘you know what? We think we know who has this stone.’ And, we were like, ‘you’re kidding, right?’ And quickly we understood that the collector wanted to sell it and now we are very happy that it's back in our maison!
FNW: Where was the collector living?
CL: I don’t know, everywhere, like all rich people.
FNW: But you can’t say who it was?
CL: I don't even know. We had a middleman to deal with it and we don't know because after we sold it to the first customer it was resold again a few years later.
FNW: What are your plans for Soleil d’Or?
CL: It will become a part of our heritage and stay forever. Also remember our founder Fred Samuel and his son Henri really developed the jewelry market. And Henri did this quite amazing thing, a revelation evening with Margaux Hemingway. Like a live TV show around the corner at Maxim’s. Opposite our original store on Rue Royale. And Margaux was playing a trick, and she suddenly says, 'oops, where is it? I swallowed it!’ And everyone went crazy! It attracted a lot of people as it’s one of the most extraordinary diamonds in history.
FNW: What’s so special about the Soleil d’Or?
Valérie Samuel: Well, it’s an emerald cut, which is amazing, as it’s extremely rare for a stone of this size; 101.67 carats. This allows you to enhance its exceptional color and have far greater intensity and fully appreciate the quality of this stone. We have also inscribed the name of the stone underneath. It’s quite simply one of the most beautiful diamonds in the world. Unforgettable.
FNW: What’s your definition of Fred’s DNA?
CL: Well, the Soleil d’Or was named by Henri Samuel, because the brand is very sunny, hopeful, youthful, and about jewelry you can even wear during the day. So, sun is very much in our DNA, and I think this operation, the company's acquisition of the stone would make Fred very happy. Some brands are good at acquiring stones, some are good at designs, some are good in marketing, Fred is a little bit of everything. Back in 1977, the Margaux Hemingway project was a little crazy, but it's like the first time you show jewelry on TikTok. It’s quite scandalous in a way, but it also a new, fresh, very young approach and that’s the spirit of the brand.
FNW: What have you been up to in e-commerce?
CL: E-commerce is just another part of our lifestyle. We have made sure on our website everything is smooth, easy and friendly to give more convenience to the customer. Most of our customers prefer to come into the shop and enjoy the service and advice. Though here in France, nearly 10% of our sales are in e-commerce. We have only two e-commerce websites, in France and in China, where around 10% of retail sales are e-commerce. For the whole company e-commerce is around 4% to 5% of turnover - quite good for a jewelry brand.
FN: Why did you open a new store in Dubai during the international exhibition?
CL: Dubai was always in our strategy. We know clients there are experts in jewelry and love jewelry. The maison is used to working a lot with clients in the Middle East and this store is a big help.
FNW: Aesthetically how does this new store concept differ?
CL: We wanted to tell people that Fred is a brand from the Place Vendome in Paris but at the same time very accessible, very friendly, and with a very youthful spirit. It has this magic Riviera touch that is not the same as other jewelers. So, we put in a lot of small details coming from the Riviera and Mediterranean. And a lot of things to do with our founder Fred Samuel to tell more about his story. When you enter the store right away, we also have a space dedicated to men's jewelry. More and more men are buying jewelry for themselves as well, because jewelry sounds a little feminine but it’s not. It’s a true way for a man to express his personality. Look at me, I'm wearing our Force 10 bracelets.
FNW: Who do you consider your competitors?
CL: I have admiration for all the great brands in jewelry. They have all done fantastic things. I, myself, came from two other brands - Cartier and Chaumet, both Parisian brands. I just think that we can learn from each other. But each has to stay true to the DNA of each maison and stress our differences; and then let our customers decide. Don’t forget, when Fred opened in 1936 it was the new kid on the block, and it had neighbors like Chaumet, which already existed 150 years, and Cartier, for over a century.
FNW: Are you concerned about the current regime in China’s crackdown on conspicuous consumption?
CL: I just think there’s a huge potential in the Chinese market and there will be more and more middle class. And a lot more smaller cities will develop more so there will be a huge room from everyone to go in and tap into that market. Commercially it's a very interesting market as the Chinese customers have very good eyes. They love western luxury; they want to be happy as well and I think luxury is filling that need.
FNW: Where do you see growth coming for Fred?
CL: Everywhere! Online and in stores. We are still growing so there are a lot of places in which we have not reached our full potential yet. We can’t be compared to most of our competitors, we have a rather small network - for the moment.
FNW: Who are your brand ambassadors?
CL: Emma Roberts. You remember that scene in Pretty Woman, when Julia Roberts looks fabulous in a red gown and goes to touch a necklace and Richard Gere snaps the box shut. Well, that was a Fred necklace. That was 30 years ago she was 23. And all these years we have customers asking, ‘could you make this same for my wife, or daughter?’ So, we said, ok it’s time we do it again. But this time we launched a Pretty Woman collection of haute jewelry piece and also at more accessible pieces - a full collection. And, to recall the heritage of this classic romantic comedy Pretty Woman we got the consent from Emma Roberts and Julia, her godmother. Emma even came to Paris last month for a great dinner. The French love her because of the way she’s very spontaneous, like we were having lobster and she says, ‘how do you get this thing out?’ So, she’s a cool girl and in a charming way.
We also have a China Pretty Woman ambassador, the extremely talented actress Guan Xiaotong, a local star to relate our values to the customer. She is very talented and very young as well and she has been our customer for three years as well. She’s a bit like the young Julia when she was 23, in a way. A girl who is strong yet approachable and not pretentious and we love that.
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