FEATURE: Business on Bond Street

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22:  Shoppers walk along New Bond Street in Mayfair which is the most expensive avenue in Europe for retail rents on September 22, 2010 in London, England. Findings from retail estate agents claim that over the past year rents on New Bond Street have risen to 536 GBP per square foot, exceeding that of the Champs-?lys?es in Paris. In comparison, New York's Fifth Avenue, which is the world's most expensive shopping street, has rents of approximately 1180 GBP per square foot.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

As the Professional Jeweller team focuses on luxury for this month’s special issue, editor Stacey Hailes explores one of the most prestigious shopping streets in London…

Since its foundations in 1700, London Mayfair’s Bond Street has been a playground for society’s most wealthy and influential people, and today, over 300 years on, its reputation remains the same.

Located in the West End, Bond Street connects Piccadilly in the south and Oxford Street in the north. The extensive road consists of two sections — Old Bond Street, which covers the southern section, and New Bond Street, which is the name given to the longer northern section. Despite being split into two many simply refer to the whole road  as ‘Bond Street’.

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Since the 18th century Bond Street has been a popular shopping area, attracting people from all over the world. Now, Bond Street is home to some of the most well known and luxurious jewellery companies, including Cartier, Tiffany & Co, De Beers and Graff, auction houses Sotheby’s and Bonhams and Fenwick department store, alongside up and coming high jewellery brands. It is one of the most expensive and sought after strips of real estate in Europe and has more royal warrant holders than anywhere else in London.

There is no denying the positive connotations and popular reputation Bond Street holds, but how is business really doing?

Talking to a variety of jewellers on the street, there seemed to be a general consensus that the last six months should have been a struggle, with many using the word “surprised” when talking about positive sales. It seems, despite a drop in footfall, business has been steady for jewellers on Bond Street.

Second-generation David Morris managing director, Jeremy Morris, says business has been surprisingly resilient, with many of the jewellery retailer’s big, one-off pieces being sold over the last six to 12 months.

“We sold our padparadscha sapphires, paraiba tourmalines and Burmese ruby pieces soon after creating them,” comments Morris, who credits these sales to consumers looking for unique items.

Jewellery Theatre director, Alexandra Ushamirskaya, echoes this. “I think there are two important factors at play in luxury retail today,” explains Ushamirskaya. “The first being the lack of time that consumers have to ‘browse’ and the second is their desire to find things that are completely unique.”

With this in mind, Ushamirskaya says consumers may not even reach the boutique, but rather start interacting with Jewellery Theatre online. Therefore, it is very important to answer online enquiries instantly, providing the same level of service a consumer would expect in store.

In addition, from Ushamirskaya’s point of view, offering bespoke designs is also the key to winning new business. “It is no longer enough to only offer what you have in store. Our workshop provides sketches within 24 hours and promises to deliver almost anything within three months of placing an order.”

“I’ve noticed more bespoke sales,” adds Frost of London director Dino D’Auria. “People come in with an idea, they like to use their imagination, mainly for gifts, and we offer them a consultation, rather than them asking if we have something and we say no and send them down the road. If we haven’t got what a customer is looking for, we say we can make X or Y or Z and then sit down and spend the time with them, whether they buy or not.”

Dino D’Auria also tells Professional Jeweller that the last year has been pretty tough for business. “To be honest, the general footfall is much slower, it’s probably decreased by 50%,” he explains. “There are a lot of things that affect London as a hub business-wise, because of the currency the Euro was weak to the pound last year, so a lot of people chose to go to Paris. Sales are harder to come by, but I think it is more quality than quantity.”

Despite a drop in footfall, sales have still been good, just not as easy, with many retailers mentioning they have to do what can to keep up with the current luxury market. Looking ahead though, D’Auria is optimistic for the future.

One thing that should aid Bond Street sales is the new Crossrail set to be introduced in 2017 and fully finished by 2019. Established in 2001, Crossrail Limited is a company that has been set up to build the new railway that will become known as the Elizabeth line when it opens.

The line will travel between Reading and Shenfield, passing through stations such as Maidenhead, Heathrow, Farringdon and Romford.

It has been said that the Elizabeth Bond Street station will help improve accessibility and increase capacity at one of the busiest shopping districts in the UK, to accommodate over 225,000 people using the Jubilee, Central and Elizabeth lines daily. The Bond Street station is set to open in December 2018, with a train every two and a half minutes running in each direction terminating at Paddington in the west and Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east.

Despite the new rail line driving up extra costs for buildings in the surrounding areas – causing some stores to close – new stores have still been opening on Bond Street, and many brands have refurbished their London flagships found on the prestigious road this year.

Most recently Parisian luxury brand Dior opened its largest flagship in the United Kingdom at 160-162 New Bond Street. The four-storey boutique took four years to finish, and is the only location in London to house all of Dior’s products under one roof.

Dior celebrated its love affair by launching limited edition high jewellery pieces adorned in red, white and blue in the form on rubies, diamonds and sapphires. It is hoped the luxury superstore will attract tourists and locals alike to the Mayfair road. Elsewhere along the street, Moussaieff upgraded its boutique with a refit delivered by The Jewellery Display Company, Chanel expanded its shop from one floor to a three-storey luxury emporium and Italian jewellery house Bulgari recently reopened its New Bond Street flagship following a lavish redesign. Harry Winston is currently closed for refurbishment too, with the luxury jewellery brand’s salon due to open later this year.

In terms of what has been selling on Bond Street, besides bespoke jewellery pieces, retailers have noticed consumers opting for more daring creations.

Jewellery Theatre has seen a trend towards asymmetry and mismatched earrings, as well as oversized earrings, while David Morris has had a fantastic response to colourful cocktail rings and will be developing these more this year.

VanLeles Diamonds founder Vania Leles, who opened her Bond Street boutique last year, comments: “People are being much more daring with high jewellery than they were before. This shift was spearheaded by women but now I have men asking for earrings that climb up the ear and double finger rings.”

Price point-wise there seems to be no particular range driving consumer sales in Bond Street at the moment. The jewellers in Mayfair offer a wide spectrum of prices, some start at £1,000 and offer pieces up to £3,000,000, while others stock pieces between £5,000-£50,000.

Discussing Jewellery Theatre’s sales, Ushamirskaya says: “In one day we might sell 10 pieces from totally different price ranges. I believe that having this amount of choice is part of what keeps our customers satisfied.”

Jeremy Morris adds: “Retailers are having to work harder to keep their clients and make changes to accommodate the financial climate — for example we’ve introduced new, more affordable collections of jewellery.”

For Frost of London, going the extra mile in the current climate means going above and beyond to build relationships.

Part of that is taking a more personal and informal approach, while the other half is making sure there is always a director in store.

“We pride ourselves on service, so we try and give customers as much help as possible. The five percent are very affluent and it’s all about trust. So I give them my mobile number and let them contact me via Whats App and whatever. I do most of my business through Whats App at the moment. The quick reaction time can really help push sales.”

In a row of jewellers creating some of the most exquisite jewellery in the world, those spending their money on high end pieces will certainly be looking for an exceptional shopping experience to match. Whether that is being available online, social media and Whats App 24/7, or offering an intimate setting like a VIP room, which can be found in many of the jewellery retail spaces on Bond Street, each and every business needs to make sure each consumer purchase is one to remember.

“You can make the best jewellery in the world but if the customer experience isn’t of the same level it is fantastically disappointing,” comments Leles. “People buy fine jewellery at milestone moments in their life so it is our job to give them the most uplifting, positive experience possible. If that means flying to another country with a piece for someone on Christmas Eve, that’s what we’ll do.”

This feature first appeared in the July issue of Professional Jeweller. Click here to read more.

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