Inside the Exclusive World of Private Fine Jewelry Shopping

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And useful advice on how to get in.

British fine jeweler Stephen Webster has always loved entertaining his clients. He calls it “experiential shopping.”

“Almost 20 years ago, the chief merchant at Neiman Marcus at the time commented we were the only fine jewelry brand who attracted both guys as well as girls to our in-store events,” Webster said.

Two years ago, he threw an exclusive dinner dubbed “A Drive through the World of Stephen Webster” in partnership with BMW and Quintessentially, one of the world’s leading luxury lifestyle groups. Guests were chauffeured to his Beverly Hills store in brand new BMW 7 cars where, with a cocktail in hand, they had the opportunity to chat with Webster about everything from his travels to the inspiration and craftsmanship behind each piece from his latest collection which, of course, was also displayed.

“It’s no secret that over-the-counter retailing has and will continue to be challenging, however, clients will never tire of being part of the creative process. High-net-worth individuals love nothing more than having something unique to them,” Webster added.

This is just one example of how luxury brands are moving into creating memorable events that really immerse their top customers into the brand’s unique narrative and the lifestyle they aspire to reflect. Now when affluent consumers expect to be entertained and inspired more than ever, high-end jewelry brands are upping their game by connecting with their customers on a more personal level—by throwing one-off bespoke shopping experiences, often in partnership with other luxury lifestyle brands.

On another occasion, Houston’s the Dunlavy restaurant became the scene for a De Beers event where diamonds worth more than $3.5 million, were on display for select guests to try on before they enjoyed a special Hennessy tasting, sampling single eaux de vie, not available to purchase anywhere in the world, including a pour of Paradis Imperial, which retails for approximately $3,000 a bottle.

“From a private tour of a jeweler’s studio and a chance to see the master craftsmen at work, to time spent with the designer themselves to really understand their story and inspiration—our members are looking for something original, handcrafted and rare,” said Annastasia Seebohm, Group CEO of Quintessentially, which helped plan all of these exclusive events. The company caters to a members-only community of affluent individuals and global brands which puts it in an intermediary position between both groups. Seebohm explains that when it comes to investing in fine jewelry —whether it’s a bespoke, occasion piece or something extra special to be worn every day, the company’s members are looking for a truly unique experience.

And brands take notice.

“Jewelry brands understand the importance of creating more personal experiences for their customers, offering exclusive dinners in-store, invitation-only VIP events, first looks at new collections and exciting partnerships with other cultural influencers—all ways to create talkability and inspiration around their brand, and a deeper connection with their most valued clientele,” she says.

Last year, Hublot, the Swiss luxury watchmaker, hosted an invite-only cocktail reception and dinner at Nobu Los Angeles attended by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Shepard Fairey, the activist and illustrator behind President Obama’s now-iconic Hope poster. At the event, Hublot displayed exclusive pieces that were available to try on and purchase.

Another example of how brands are creating elevated access and experiences is the house of Garrard, whose diamond tiaras are worn by members of the British Royal Family to special events. The heritage house has a membership program for its top brand ambassadors and high spending customers that gives access to preferential discounts, exclusive items, and invite-only events.

And while there are only so many people that can take advantage of these one-off special events, luxury jewelry brands also understand that their top customers need something special and more regular that’s available to them year-round. They all create exquisite collections they display in stores around the world, but those are also available for purchase to anyone who enters through the doors. This is where bespoke services become relevant—it is a great way to offer their clientele not just an exclusive chance to work with the brands’ in-house design teams but also it provides inside access to their workshops, and ultimately, the client becomes the owner of a one-of-a-kind piece that no one else will ever own.

And if that sounds like something you want to take advantage of, here are a few of the most exclusive private jewelry shopping experiences around the world:


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Cartier

Cartier has a long history of creating pieces for celebrities and other dignitaries. If you are the creative type, you can come up with your own design or work with one of the house’s jewelers to update and customize an existing piece from Cartier’s collections. For the ultimate brand experience, head to the company’s gorgeous newly renovated flagship store at Place Vendôme in Paris, located in an 18th-century building designated as a historic monument.

Bvlgari Hotel in Shanghai

If you happen to be staying in the newest Bvlgari Hotels property in China and feel the need to go on a shopping spree for something shiny, you don’t even have to leave your room. One of the services that the property offers to its guests is a personal shopping experience that includes a private showing of Bulgari jewelry in your suite upon your request.

Garrard

The house that created the most famous engagement bling in the world—the sapphire engagement ring that graces the hand of Kate Middleton offers its top customers the opportunity to become a part of the house’s 284-year history by collaborating with one of their designers on a unique piece of jewelry. The London-based team, led by Creative Director Sara Prentice and Head of Design Claire Scott, will work with you to turn your ideas into a sparkling reality. Garrard is also famous for creating trophies such as the America’s Cup.

Stephen Webster

Cutlery sets, a custom Harley Davidson motorbike, and a diamond-set dog collar are just some of the commissioned items the in-house design team at Stephen Webster’s London Mayfair workshop has worked on. You can also have a hands-on jewelry making experience thanks to the designer’s bespoke service that allows you to work with his award-winning jewelry team on creating an original piece of jewelry (or anything, really)—from sketches to choosing the gems for the final piece.

Hublot

The Swiss watchmaker is taking its bespoke service up a notch and moving it into the digital age. If there’s not a single Hublot boutique in sight where you are currently located, don’t worry, simply go online and contact one of the company’s New York City sales advisors in real-time via the company’s website.

But this is not your ordinary chat-based experience that so many retailers are offering. You will actually be Facetime-ing with a real Hublot sales advisor and will be able to see 3D renderings of Hublot watches, product demonstrations, and videos that explain the craftsmanship behind the company’s products.


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Tiffany&Co

Like Cartier, Tiffany&Co is not new to offering their top customers one-of-a-kind pieces. French jeweler Jean Schlumberger spent 30 years with the company, during which he created many custom pieces including a gorgeous diamond, amethyst, and ruby, platinum clip for Diana Vreeland in 1941. Nowadays, Tiffany&Co has a designated team that supports custom design requests for top customers in all Tiffany&Co locations around the world.

Net-a-Porter.com

The luxury online retailer just announced that it’s launching an invitation-only jewelry and watch shopping platform for its top customers (that Net-a-Porter calls Extremely Important People or EIP), called EIP Prive. Similarly to the services offered by top jewelry brands, personal shoppers will help customers arrange private appointments anywhere in the world and take advantage of services such as customization, bespoke requests and sourcing rare pieces.

Boehmer et Bassenge, Piaget, Boghossian, Bayco, Nadia Morgenthaler and Giampiero Bodino will be among the first brands that Net-a-Porter’s EIP will be invited to shop via a unique link.