FEATURE: Joanne Milner shares her vision for Garrard

Joanne Milner Photograph

Professional Jeweller  visited the House of Garrard to discuss the British brand’s rich history, Royal heritage and plans for the future with chief executive Joanne Milner and creative director Sara Prentice…

With an impressive history dating back to 1735 and a renowned royal heritage, it is no wonder Garrard always has one eye firmly on the past in order to best shape the future.

There is something undeniably quite special about sitting down in a room where Queen Mary was fitted for her tiara to discuss a luxury brand that has strong ties to the Royal Family, an archive showcased in the Tower of London and an ability to remain relevant and contemporary after 280 years in business.

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To lead Garrard through the next phase of its commendable history, Joanne Milner was appointed as chief executive at the beginning of the year. Joining from luxury brand Debrett’s, Milner has bought with her a wealth of experience in leading and transforming businesses.

It seems in her role at Garrard though, Milner won’t be doing too much changing, rather instead drawing on what the brand does exceptionally well and preparing it for another 280 years of longevity.

“I think for me the best experience from the Garrard perspective is just the love for the brand,” Milner explains. “Obviously within the team that I work with, but also here and globally. So we’ve just come back from a week at the Vegas Couture show and ever body who passed us was just loving the product, loving the brand and loving the stories. It is really special to be able to work with a brand like Garrard.”

While it is still very early days, Milner says in terms of pushing Garrard forward she wants to make sure the brand’s heritage remains a core part of the business, whilst still ensuring that the product and the brand as a whole is relevant in today’s market.

“That is where Sara does an amazing job with the design,” Milner comments. Creative director and Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2015 Trendsetter Sara Prentice has been with Garrard since 2012. Before that, Prentice worked for the likes of Cartier, Fabergé and Graff Diamonds, giving her a firm understanding of the world of luxury jewellery.

“We are a team of women designing for women so we understand how jewellery is worn and how you can wear it and feel comfortable wearing it,” shares Prentice.

Garrard’s latest jewellery collection offering ‘Twenty Four’ is a diffusion from the Albemarle range which launched two years ago. Albemarle was inspired by a tiara from Garrard’s archive where the bottom of the head piece featured  a band of diamond shapes.

“We’ve drawn on those shapes for the inspiration of the Twenty Four collection,” explains Prentice. “Twenty Four has been named after 24 Albemarle Street [home to the company’s flagship] and also the fact that it can be worn 24 hours a day. The idea behind the range is that it is everyday wearable.”

The range remarkably transforms something which was designed in 1893, into fashion-forward pieces of jewellery women would not hesitate to wear today. Pieces have been designed in three colour ways, yellow, white and rose gold, and include stackable rings, different length necklaces and earrings alongside on-trend ear jackets. The Twenty Four collection has been receiving positive feedback.

“We are taking a heritage base and making it very modern for today’s client,” Prentice adds. “We felt we needed to draw in new consumers/ new clients, so they can start their journey with Garrard and it is also a great gifting product where you can build on it.”

Home from Home

Alongside heritage-based products made modern for 21st century consumers, another way Milner is keeping heritage at the helm is by re-establishing Garrard as an emporium. When the company was first established royal families would come to Garrard for most things for their household, not just jewellery, and they would enjoy the brand experience.

Milner wants to make sure the brand’s clients continue to experience the House of Garrard in its entirety today. “We have a really strong international love for the brand and we have been very, very good at being present in those markets and what we want to make sure of is that when those clients come to the UK, we embrace them and work with them more closely here so that they can get the true House of Garrard experience,” Milner explains.

She continues: “For any British brand it is important that your flagship really represents who you are, so that’s one of our main focuses and that’s already in play. We’ve got visitors coming over from China next week, we are also a sponsor of the Royal Ascots, and are the supplier of the gold cup there, so we are hosting our international clients here and then at Ascot and then again at the Polo with a group of our Malaysian VIP clients. It is more about promoting Garrard in its home.”

The aura of luxury is so important in today’s marketplace. It’s not about selling high jewellery pieces, it’s about creating an experience which clients can immerse themselves in. Whether hosting customers at the Garrard flagship, or treating them to a day out at an event,  making clients feel like a member of a club where they can indulge and invite friends to join in is something Garrard does well and continues to develop.

British Craftsmanship

Another area the company has been developing is its support for younger craftsmanship. Most recently Garrard has partnered with the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust to invite British craftsmen to curate a window at Garrard’s flagship store. The first month of the initiative introduces Jack Row.

“One of the things we are doing here to help keep true to that history is to make sure we offer opportunities to help support young and upcoming designers, not necessarily in jewellery, across the board,” Milner says. “In the windows downstairs we’ve got Jack Row with his pens and his cufflinks and they are beautiful. People like that don’t have a place to display and have people come and see their product. There is a lot of support out there in developing people in their craft, but not necessarily in their business, so that’s part of what we want to be able to do within Garrard.”

Milner implemented the British craftsmanship window this year. Every month a new curator will have the chance to display pieces in a prime spot on Albemarle street.

On top of this, Garrard offers a three-year apprenticeship programme and shorter internship opportunities.

Business at Garrard

In terms of business, Milner says the company has seen a lot more promise. Last year was a difficult year for the industry and business has not been as easy as it used to be for most. However, Garrard has remained confident in its identity and the products the design house brings to the table.

“The brilliant thing for us is that actually because of the quality of our stones and the quality of our brand and the craftsmanship and the designs, our pieces of jewellery are an investment that is as secure as any investment out there right now,” explains Milners. “If somebody is going to invest in something, then actually, giving all of the risks surrounding everything else out there, jewellery is pretty safe. Especially if you buy a piece of jewellery that’s got all the qualities from Garrard and that’s something that we see. So actually, our higher value pieces have sustained all the economic uncertainty because they are true investment pieces.”

With this in mind, head dresses and tiaras have been some of Garrard’s best sellers. “We are not selling them by  the thousands, but there is a big interest in them for weddings,” Prentice comments. “The fact that you can turn it from a tiara into a necklace, or a pair of earrings, wearing them more than one way is something we do quite well here and I think that has interested the clients so it is not just a one hit wonder.”

The team at Garrard are focused on keeping relationships strong and remaining a loyal brand.

In terms of pushing Garrard forward, Milner wants to make sure the brand is really out there and people understand what Garrard is about today.

Milner comments: “We are one of those terribly British best kept secrets, which is great, unless you keep it a little bit too secret. So that’s exciting, to be able to open up Garrard a little bit more to the world.” Part of this will include a new website which is being created to give Garrard a more meaningful online presence than it has had before.

Milner concludes: “When you are the chief executive of a brand that’s got the length of history that Garrard has got it is very important that you prepare the brand for the next 180 years, because you’re a custodian of that brand. It’s not your brand, it is the country’s brand. For me, it’s making sure that everything we do strengthens the Garrard brand even further and gives it that longevity and retains its British quirkiness.”

This first appeared in the July issue of Professional Jeweller. Read more here.

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