This month marks the first time in almost four years that the Ritz Hotel in Paris, located on Place Vendôme, is taking bookings. Before it closed in 2012 for refurbishment, guests at a party hosted by Louis Vuitton dined on the hotel’s covered swimming pool during an evening where guests included supermodel Natalia Vodianova, Princess Charlene of Monaco and Parisian high society.
It was the Ritz Hotel that originally attracted the world’s luxury jewellers and watchmakers to the Place Vendôme, thanks to the fact that when Swiss business genius César Ritz opened the hotel in 1898, it became the world’s first to offer en suite bathrooms, telephones and electricity in every room. Perhaps unsurprising then that the Place Vendôme was destined to lure the ultra-high-net-worth individuals of its day.
The theatre of Parisian life
“For over three centuries, the Place Vendôme has been a theatre of Parisian life, which has played host to the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, Hemingway, Proust, Chopin and Chanel,” says Béatrice de Plinval, president of the Comité Vendôme, and curator and museum archivist at Chaumet.
Nowadays, the Comité Vendôme counts 24 jewellers and 18 watchmakers among its residents. They include Boucheron, whose founder Frédéric Boucheron moved there in 1893, Cartier, Chanel, Breguet, Hublot, Rolex, Vacheron Constantin, Louis Vuitton, Chaumet and Van Cleef & Arpels, whose jewellery and watchmaking school L’École Van Cleef & Arpels opened in 2012.
The school has since welcomed more than 2,200 students from 30 countries for courses in French and English, covering topics including recognising gemstones, art nouveau and talisman jewels. When it travelled with Van Cleef & Arpels experts to Tokyo, more than 600 enthusiasts attended classes.
World-class jewellers regularly talk wistfully of the 1920s as a time of burgeoning creativity and handsome excess. In 1928 the Indian Maharajah of Patiala walked into the Boucheron store on Place Vendôme, bringing with him 7,571 diamonds and 1,432 emeralds, and placed an order for what remains, according to Boucheron, the Place Vendôme’s largest and most important commission, comprising more than 140 pieces of jewellery.
Other Boucheron clients have ranged from the Grand Duke Alexander of Russia, to the Tsar Alexander III, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, whose Boucheron tiara created in 1929 became one of her favourites, Queen Rania of Jordan and Hollywood celebrities Nicole Kidman and Penelope Cruz.
The Ritz Hotel was home to Coco Chanel for decades, including the duration of the Second World War when she lived there. When Chanel redesigned its Place Vendôme boutique in 2007, it launched a jewellery collection named 18 Place Vendôme.
Chaumet’s current location at 12 Place Vendôme was once home to composer Chopin. Above the store, Chaumet’s Ephemeral Museum now showcases a rotating exhibition of archive and contemporary pieces which changes every six months.
Next summer, Louis Vuitton will open the doors to a shopping destination ten times the size of its current Place Vendôme store. It will offer leather goods, ready-to-wear clothing, watches and fine jewellery, with the pinnacle taking the form of an entire top floor dedicated to its jewellery-making workshop.
“Paris and the Place Vendôme have maintained their position as the world’s number-one location for jewellery design because Paris has kept its jewellery design schools. Most jewellers here train their own staff, so you can always find people with the traditional skills required to create high-class jewellery,” says Louis Vuitton’s vice president of watches and jewellery Hamdi Chatti.
Francis Mertens, who has created jewellery for various jewellers on Place Vendôme over the last two decades, says there is no place like it on Earth. “Architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart created a magical place to both work and live. Nowhere else in the world so fully embraces the way luxury is created and developed as the Place Vendôme,” he says.
United Developers in Qatar, the world’s fastest growing luxury market, are in the throes of creating their very own project called Place Vendôme
The Place Vendôme might be a square where dreams are made, but the French luxury goods industry is not without its challenges. Figures released in May by Geneva-headquartered Richemont, owners of Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Vacheron Constantin, revealed group sales plunged 18 per cent in April. Struggling with the strong Swiss franc, Richemont is cutting almost 100 jobs in its watchmaking operations and shares have fallen by 5.6 per cent.
“Following the Paris terror attacks in November, luxury goods companies reported a tourism slowdown into Paris, which has extended to the first quarter of 2016. New bookings into Europe are also soft, perhaps exacerbated by the weak Chinese yuan,” says senior luxury analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence Deborah Aitken. “In the absence of further hostilities and assuming no major change in the euro, tourist visits in the second half of the year should improve. Tourist flows typically take six to nine months after an event to return to a region.”
When asked what they are doing to innovate and embrace technology and appeal to new consumers, most luxury brands remain tightlipped. But it’s worth noting that a Cartier Diamonds video has garnered more than 15 million views on YouTube since it went live in November. Meanwhile, an internal Richemont conference next week in Geneva is entitled Connectivity 360/365.
And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Qatar is about to pay the Place Vendôme the ultimate compliment. Drawing inspiration from Place Vendôme in Paris, United Developers in Qatar, the world’s fastest growing luxury market, are in the throes of creating their very own project called Place Vendôme, slated to open in late-2017. It will comprise two five-star hotels, serviced apartments, a mall with up to 400 stores and a central entertainment amphitheatre. Developers claim it will bring “a unique experience of fine fashion, luxury, lifestyle and architecture to the Middle East”.