Julie Large is the new Queen of Hot Diamonds

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Large talks about bringing the jewellery brand back to basics.

It’s been a turbulent time at Hot Diamonds but creatIve dIrector Julie large is steppIng up to brIng the brand back on poInt. She tells Rachael Taylor how she’s planning to take the jewellery company back to basIcs.

Hot Diamonds has been having a bit of an identity crisis of late. When the brand first launched nearly a decade ago its ethos was clear – highly polished silver jewellery with a token diamond in a beautiful wooden box; perfect gift jewellery.

Hot Diamonds was the original jewellery brand; a concept ahead of its time. Over the past few years branded jewellery has risen up to dominate the industry, but in 2001 a jewellery brand was a relatively new concept outside of luxury.

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As the idea caught on and brands such as Pandora, Thomas Sabo and Links of London rose to phenomenal heights, the original jewellery brand somewhat lagged behind. Recognising something was wrong, founder Sanford Simpson drafted in managing director Jonathan Crocker.

Having worked at stylish mega brands in the past, such as Bang & Olufson, Crocker wanted to move Hot Diamonds in a more fashion-forward direction. He courted consumer fashion press, expanded the collections, focused on a higher-end range called Hot Diamonds Black and struck up a partnership with the Baftas.

The super-confident Crocker’s strategy was ambitious and given time, it might have yielded results. However, after an18-month tenure, the numbers weren’t reflecting the investment it had taken to drive Hot Diamonds in this new direction. As a result, Croker left the business.

Rather than looking outside the company to seek out a new managing director, Simpson, who had stepped back from the business during Crocker’s rein, decided to cast a narrower net.

He turned to existing creative director Julie Large, who had been at the business for eight years. As well as design all the ranges for Hot Diamonds, Simpson now wanted her to run the business.

At first, Large was dubious about the prospect of heading up a huge international brand. In fact, she ran off to one of the brand’s best retailers for a pep talk.

“I spoke to Steff Suter from Steffans about it,” remembers Large. “I was worried but he told me to take myself back to 15 years ago and think about how I would feel just coming out of uni to be creative director of a jewellery brand.”

Excited, it seems, is how she would have felt back then and that is exactly how she feels now.

In an interview with Professional Jeweller shortly before his departure, Crocker had said that Hot Diamonds’ biggest problem was that “it is no longer cool”. Crocker’s main strategy for the company was to make it trendy.

“Jonathan worked hard to raise the profile of the brand and that has had a direct effect,” says Large. She is keen to keep some aspects of Crocker’s campaign alive, such as the sponsorship of the Baftas and utilising the power of celebrity through gifting, but making Hot Diamonds “cool” is not her prerogative. Instead, she wants to take the brand back to basics.

“What Jonathan was trying to do was make us cool and aspirational, but you can’t force cool on people,” says Large. “What we need to do is focus on what we are. I want to make our jewellery have an emotional connection rather than being super cool. There is nothing wrong with being mass market.”

Large also believes that the brand’s offer needs to be tightened up to create a stronger focus. Hot Diamonds currently has 450 designs in its offer, which Large thinks is “far too many”. She is hoping to reduce it down to just 100 pieces.

“We’re going to drop down to two collections a year, which will be driven by bestselling shapes,” says Large. “The plan has always been to create an iconic piece of jewellery and you’re never going to get that with 450 pieces.”

While Large will be cutting the wheat from the chaff, she doesn’t intend to stand still. “My passion is to tweak existing collections by adding colour or texture, consolidating what we have, not reinventing the wheel,” she says.

Even during this interview, Large experiments with the jewellery now under her direction, scuffing highly polished pieces with a scouring sponge to create a matte effect as she speaks. She is clearly unafraid to experiment but she says she is planning to execute such experiments in a controlled way by working with retailers to test products. “It is the most intelligent way of moving forward,” states Large.

Hot Diamonds has begun such experiments, starting with Northampton’s Steffans. The brand created an exclusive Sparkler friendship bracelet for the store priced at £45 that went on sale in November.

The theory behind the retail collaborations is that Hot Diamonds will use stores as a pilot and if the product proves successful then it will be rolled out on full distribution after an agreed exclusivity period. Steffans sold out of half its stock of the Sparkler bracelets within two days making it possible that this particular model could join Hot Diamonds main line after Christmas, although nothing has been confirmed by the brand.

Hot Diamonds will also continue to forge into the men’s jewellery market under Large’s direction, but as with the main line it will be a smaller collection than previously planned, perhaps even just a single hero piece.

“I went to see some retailers I trust and they all honed in on this one particular piece,” says Large. “It goes back to consolidation. We don’t need a collection, we need one bracelet.”

The installation of Large at the head of Hot Diamonds will be a relief to some retailers who had expressed concern at the direction the brand was going in. Similarly, there will be others who might feel disappointed by the halt of the brand’s march into the more trendy arena of fashion-led jewellery.

For most though, Hot Diamonds is a cash cow and by stripping back and focusing on bestsellers while still keeping a hand in the trend-led sector, it should satisfy the mass market that has made it the big brand it is today. As Large says: “It’s the same strategy, just a different person leading it, and I know why people buy jewellery.”

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