From Miami to Riyadh: Inside the new geography of jewellery

Luxury jewellery brands are looking beyond the usual cities as they seek to tap the most popular locations where wealthy consumers are choosing to live or holiday.

Article: Courtesy Vogue – by Milena Lazazzera – All Rights Reserved

Which part of America is experiencing the fastest growth in luxury consumers? It’s hard to look further than Miami Beach and other rich neighbourhoods of Florida, reflected in surging house prices. For the jewellery industry, opportunities abound.

The sector is also sensing new opportunities in the Middle East. Dubai still reigns supreme and has been boosted by wealthy Russians fleeing Putin’s regime and Western sanctions. Qatar, which recently hosted the football World Cup, and Saudi Arabia are also emerging as strong contenders, with high oil and gas prices driving momentum.

Two different parts of the world reflect similar changes in consumer habits and spending that is repositioning the focus of the high-end jewellery industry. The Covid pandemic has produced seismic shifts across the established patterns of where people live, travel and shop. It’s only now that it’s possible to make sense of many of these shifts. A new geography of jewellery, indeed of all luxury, is emerging.

Luxury houses are responding by reallocating resources to follow their customers. Top-tier cities still matter, but tier 2 and other locations are also more in play. As the significance of some centres subsides, places such as Miami Beach and Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh are shining brighter on the map of luxury, reflecting a new strategic plan for the brands wanting to reach high-value consumers.

More money in Miami

“The map of the US is evolving,” says Sarah Willersdorf, global head of luxury of luxury at Boston Consulting Group. “The recent pandemic certainly accelerated this change, but it is also driven by other forces including tax, regulations and consumer desire to live a different lifestyle.”

She notes that New York and San Francisco have seen “relatively significant movement to Florida and Texas” — shifting the emphasis in luxury demand in the US, which accounts overall for a third of global luxury consumption. According to Bloomberg analysis, the Miami region saw its number of million-dollar ZIP codes more than double from the end of 2019 through 2022.

Miami’s prominence was brought in sharp relief late in 2022 with Miami Design Week (staged from 30 November to 4 December) and the overlapping Art Basel Miami Beach, which both attracted an exceptional turnout of wealthy individuals. Dolce & Gabbana took over the city with a stand showcasing collections of high jewellery and fine watches, and staged catwalk shows for its haute couture at the Surf Club and at The Four Seasons. As official sponsor of Art Basel, watchmaker Audemars Piguet entertained its well-heeled clients, while Hublot staged a Hublot Loves Art in Miami event.

“Over the past 10 years, South Florida and Miami especially have grown exponentially as a luxury destination,” says Valérie Messika, chief executive of jewellery brand Messika. The brand opened a boutique at Aventura Mall in 2019 only three years after its launch in the US market. While Miami has a strong local customer base, it’s also important for clients from Latin America, she adds.

The dominance of New York is not under threat. This is about luxury brands thinking more widely. “The US was always more than just the East and West Coasts, but European brands are now ensuring they direct their efforts to all major cities, not just New York and Los Angeles,” comments BCG’s Willersdorf.

Riyadh’s ambitions

Consumer wealth is also growing in the Middle East. The collective wealth of high-net-worth individuals in the region grew from $2.4 trillion in 2016 to $3.4 trillion in 2021. In 2022 its luxury market was valued at €15 billion out of a total global market worth €353 billion, according to the most recent Bain-Altagamma luxury goods study.

Saudi sheikh Mohammed bin Salman al Saud, colloquially known as MBS, has big ambitions for his country, which has almost 36 million people. Through a development programme, Vision 2030, reforms have been introduced to make Saudi Arabia more accommodating both to business and to tourists.

That’s been welcomed by jewellers. “We were one of the first jewellers to have entered the market in the early 2000s and have been delighted to see the kingdom move from strength to strength,” says Boucheron CEO Hélène Poulit-Duquesne. Boucheron added a third boutique in Riyadh last summer at the Kingdom Centre, organising a lavish four-day event co-hosted by Saudi actor Mila Al Zahrani to introduce its high jewellery to prospective clients.

“Saudi clients remain Messika’s number one clientele in the Middle East,” says Valérie Messika, which opens a third standalone boutique in Riyadh this year some 13 years since it first launched in Saudi.

In the spring of 2022, Cartier held an exhibition of over 200 pieces at the Salwa Palace district of Diriyah, while from January to April this year Van Cleef & Arpels is showcasing more than 250 jewellery pieces, watches and precious objects from its rich archive at The National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. In late February, London-based Garrard unveiled trophies created for horse racing’s inaugural Saudi Cup.

Riyadh has also attracted emerging jewellers from the region. Lebanese designer Nada Ghazal has opened physical and online points of sale for her Saudi clients, who had stopped visiting Lebanon because of its ongoing political and economic problems.

Building momentum: Singapore

Singapore warrants an important mention in any analysis of the changing geography of jewellery. Federica Levato, senior partner and EMEA leader for fashion and luxury at Bain, points out that while it’s not a new luxury hub, it has benefitted from a renewed appetite for luxury in neighbouring countries.

Singapore, with 5.64 million inhabitants, ranks among the highest in the world in terms of GDP per capita. “There is a lot of money that has moved to Singapore and the domestic market is robust,” comments Amrita Banta, managing director at Agility Research and Strategy in Singapore. “It was one of the first Asian destinations to open after the pandemic and is enjoying tourists’ revenue from Korea, Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and even China.” Jewellery spending in Singapore is forecast to surge by 24 per cent this year, Banta says, citing Agility’s Trend Lens and Wealth Lens study based on interviews with 300 local millionaires at the end of 2022.

Admiration for Singapore is shared by all jewellery brands. “It is the epicentre of all the wealth in Southeast Asia,” says Asian jeweller Anna Hu, who has a large client base in the city-state and is preparing to host many of them at Tefaf Art Fair in Maastricht in March. “Singapore is a strategic market and touchpoint in Southeast Asia,” echoes Poulit-Duquesne at Boucheron, which is currently sprucing up its retail presence there.

The city’s long experience in serving a luxury clientele is reflected in the multiple elegant venues and experienced workforce that can cater for luxury consumers. “It is a hub for luxury events, with clients flying in from neighbouring countries,” says Olga Iserlis, who has organised presentations for Dolce & Gabbana High Jewellery, Audemars Piguet and Ferrari.

Next to watch in Southeast Asia? Bain’s Levato is keeping an eye on Thailand, Korea and India. The new geography of jewellery is still being mapped out.

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