Inside Louis Vuitton’s High Jewellery Ambitions

SAINT-TROPEZ – Louis Vuitton is set to launch its biggest-ever high jewellery collection Thursday: a collection of 220 pieces dubbed “Awakened Hands, Awakened Minds,” which celebrates the elaborate craftsmanship and inventive spirit of 19th century France.

The collection channels the ambitions of parent company LVMH as its brands seek ways to showcase innovation and make a bigger-than-ever marketing splash in the lead up to the Paris Olympics, where the luxury conglomerate is an official partner. It also sums up the ambitions of the Louis Vuitton brand’s high jewellery category, which has grown significantly in recent years.

Notably spearheading this effort is Francesca Amfitheatrof, the house’s artistic director for watches and jewellery since 2018. Since her arrival, Vuitton has ramped up investments in its high jewellery collections (which launched in 2008), using the line as both a laboratory for image and innovation, as well as a way to engage high-net-worth clients.

The “Victoire” necklace in Louis Vuitton’s latest high jewellery collection features diamonds cut to resemble the brand’s signature curved stars. (Nathaniel Goldberg)

High jewellery collections are just one part of the puzzle as Louis Vuitton expands its jewellery division more broadly. Since appointing Amfitheatrof and establishing its Place Vendôme flagship, which opened in 2017, as the epicentre of Louis Vuitton jewellery (with its high jewellery ateliers located in the building), the brand has added major collections like LV Volt to its fine jewellery offer, while also animating existing lines like Blossom and Silver LockIt with updated campaigns and designs.

Celebrity ambassadors have included Michelle Williams, Chloë Grace Moretz, Alicia Vikander and Kid Cudi as faces for its fine jewellery lines, and Cate Blanchett and Ana de Armas for high jewellery. The company also made a splash by acquiring the second-biggest diamond ever discovered — the 1,758 carat Sewelo stone — and displaying it in its store.

Nearly all Louis Vuitton stores now carry fine jewellery, while just a dozen of its most prestigious flagships from Dubai to Shanghai display pieces from the price-on-request high jewellery range (for which the most accessible pieces are priced above $100,000).

LVMH does not report sales for individual units, but Erwan Rambourg, global head of consumer and retail research at HSBC, estimates that jewellery now contributes a “low-to-mid single digits” proportion of Louis Vuitton’’s total sales, or around €1 billion ($1.09 billion dollars). That figure puts the company’s jewellery business roughly on par with that of Hermès, another luxury fashion house that’s been building up its presence in the category, adds Rambourg.

Louis Vuitton’s jewellery ambitions haven’t gone unnoticed by pure-players, like Richemont’s Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels brands. “They’ve built up the category very quickly,” says Rambourg. “What I’m gathering from their competitors is that they’re relevant.”

Establishing Codes

“I’m here to create a style for Louis Vuitton high jewellery that is very recognisable,” Amfitheatrof says — noting that consistency is key.

This was the brief starting from her first collection for the house in 2019, Riders of the Knight, whose pieces invoking heroic medieval women and armour-like jewels were designed to evoke female empowerment. The pieces were peppered with house codes like V shapes, chevrons and nods to the trunk — design elements that Amfitheatrof has expanded on over the years, and which reflect Louis Vuitton’s growing confidence in the category.

Earlier this year the house launched a men’s fine jewellery collection, Gaston Louis Vuitton, named after the third-generation family member and a notable collector who helmed the company during the Art Deco era. Featuring large pendants and single earrings with LV logos and trunk-style motifs, the pieces could also work as unisex designs. Amfitheatrof said that the collection has been “extremely well received.”

“Vuitton has such a strong sense of what the Maison stands for,” says Amfitheatrof. “Once you know who you are at the core, you can be experimental. If you don’t know who you are, and you experiment, you’re taking a risk because nobody knows what you’re doing.”

Key to the house’s high jewellery identity are its LV Monogram diamonds: stones that have been bespoke cut in the form of Vuitton monogram motifs, including the flower and star. “They’re the perfect signature for the high jewellery,” says Amfitheatrof. “There is nothing better for me to use as our logo.”

LV Monogram diamonds in Louis Vuitton's high jewellery collection by Francesca Amfitheatrof
LV Monogram diamonds in Louis Vuitton’s high jewellery collection by Francesca Amfitheatrof (Thomas Legrand)

“Awakened Hands, Awakened Minds” further highlights the LV diamonds, says Amfitheatrof, with stones including a three-carat fancy yellow diamond that has been cut in the form of Vuitton’s distinctive curved star and set in a statement-making, architectural necklace surrounded by eight additional star-cut white diamonds.

“It’s craftsmanship and engineering. If we didn’t have the technology we have today, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” Amfitheatrof says, adding that only one to two percent of a rough diamond is used to create the LV stones.

Amfitheatrof says clients are “totally seduced” by the LV diamonds. The stones offer differentiation and instantly-recognisable clout — a quality that could become rarer for jewellery in a world where the naked eye can’t tell the difference between natural diamonds and increasingly popular lab-grown stones.

Last month the house expanded LV Diamonds to its fine jewellery range, setting the stones in minimalist, unisex-style solitaire rings, earrings and pendants. The pieces are sold with a special certificate for each stone that ensures traceability to the mine using blockchain technology.

Travel, Innovation

Beyond experimenting with the LV Monogram, other pillars of Louis Vuitton’s emerging high jewellery identity include travel, which is core to the brand message across categories.

That theme is incorporated throughout the latest high jewellery collection with cord-like fringing that recalls the ropes that hoisted trunks into steamer ships, or an articulated necklace held together by rivets that take their cue from the hardware on Vuitton’s trunks.

Other pillars of the brand’s approach include ultra-fine materials and advanced savoir-faire, says Amfitheatrof, as well as a focus on “true original creativity.”

A ring from Louis Vuitton's "Awakened Hands, Awakened Minds" collection.
A ring from Louis Vuitton’s “Awakened Hands, Awakened Minds” collection. (Thomas Legrand)

The “true original creativity” is where Amfitheatrof notably shines, Rambourg says, as her collections interpret Louis Vuitton’s DNA without having an extensive archive to draw on. By contrast, storied jewellery houses like Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Tiffany & Co — where Amfitheatrof in fact previously worked, creating three high jewellery collections for the New York house — can drive creativity by reinterpreting historic designs.

“Vuitton needs to create from scratch — it needs to build credibility in this new category for them,” says Rambourg. “Amfitheatrof is doing incredibly well at Vuitton because she is incredibly creative and gifted to take the DNA of a brand and say, ‘This is what it could mean for jewellery,’ without having a century of archives to work with.”

Empowered Clients

Clients are responding, including women who increasingly purchase luxury jewellery for themselves, rather than reserving the category for gifts. Or as Amfitheatrof describes them, “a lot of successful women who work very hard.”

A self-proclaimed “very independent, born traveller,” Amfitheatrof personifies the idea of jewellery as empowerment. “Jewellery has this hidden secret power — whether it’s the stones or vibration of the stones,” she says. “There is so much symbolic meaning and passion that goes into creating our jewels. When you explain that to clients and it speaks to them — they’re really moved.”

As a fashion house, the Louis Vuitton client is also more likely to be plugged into novelties coming from the creative universe of the brand than at jewellery pure players, where tradition drives the narrative. “The clients are unique in the way that they’re open to what Nicolas [Ghesquière], Pharrell [Williams] and Jacques [Cavallier-Belletrud] are doing,” says Amfitheatrof, citing the brand’s creative leaders for womenswear, menswear, and high perfume. “We are all adding to this very unusual richness — and it’s a little bit daring,” she says.

Cate Blanchett (pictured) and Ana de Arnas are ambassadors of Louis Vuitton's high jewellery range.
2024 EE BAFTA Film Awards – Red Carpet Arrivals Cate Blanchett (pictured in an elaborate body jewel by Amfitheatrof and gown by Nicolas Ghesquiere) and Ana de Arnas are both ambassadors of Louis Vuitton’s high jewellery range. (Mike Marsland/WireImage)

VIP clients hosted for a collection reveal in St. Tropez this week (including cocktail parties and a star-studded gala dinner) will have a first go at reserving the first 100 pieces from “Awakened Hands, Awakened Minds.” The collection will then travel to China and other locations in Asia, followed by the US.

The remaining 120 pieces in the collection are being kept under wraps until later this year or early 2025, the brand says. (We could see the next chapter of the collection next January, when high jewellery brands reveal their collections alongside Paris haute couture week).

In terms of next steps, Amfitheatrof says her high jewellery collections will continue to incorporate new techniques and materials. In fine jewellery, she hopes to build upon existing collections and increase their visibility while maintaining the element of surprise. “I don’t want it to become a uniform like with other houses, where it’s a little bit too available or too much a given,” she says. “I think it’s nice if people discover the jewellery at Vuitton — I think it’s still very much unknown.” She also hinted at ambitions to expand the fine jewellery range to include objets (the term jewellers often use to designate adjacent hard luxuries like lighters, vide-poches, combs and pens).

Whatever their form, the designs are sure to be distinctly Louis Vuitton, whether that’s more LV diamonds or trunk-making nods.

“Some will say, ‘It’s creative, it’s logo heavy’,” adds Rambourg about Amfitheatrof’s designs, which have a stronger fashion edge than most rivals who aim their high jewellery collections at more conservative collectors and jewellery insiders. “But that’s also the role of Vuitton — to be everything for everyone,” says Rambourg. “The reality of Vuitton is that it’s the biggest luxury brand on the planet.”

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