Saturday, November 26, 2022

Reviving Ghost Jewelry Brands With Lab-Grown Diamonds and Recycled Gold

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A who’s who roster of jewelry and watch industry heavy-hitters are reviving a 19th century high jewelry brand—with a sustainable twist.

Once one of the most beloved jewelry brands in the world, the Oscar Massin name has lied dormant for nearly a century since the prominent French jeweler died. But now, Frédéric de Narp, former CEO of Swatch Group’s Harry Winston, and Coralie de Fontenay, a longtime executive at Richemont’s Cartier, say they’re bringing Massin back to life—the brand, that is.

De Narp and De Fontenay set out to revamp legacy jewelry brands last year with the launch of Luximpact, an ethical, sustainable investment fund. The goal is to revive brands, but only sustainably. They’re doing it with lab-grown diamonds and recycled metals while adhering to French luxury jewelry traditions.

“We want to give life to these precious brands, while redefining the codes of the industry,” De Narp told The Business of Fashion (BoF).

Massin’s designs caught worldwide attention in 2019 and 2021 when Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour wore an antique Massin diamond necklace to both events.

Oscar Massin

Luximpact has partnered with lab-grown diamond purveyor, Lattitude Diamonds for its first Massin collection. With help from a New York jewelry workshop, the collection will be available online beginning mid-February. Physical events in New York and Los Angeles are planned for later in the spring.

The first collection will average about $4,500 per piece, and a haute joaillerie range is expected by the summer.

De Narp and De Fontenay are hopeful that sustainably-minded consumers will embrace the brand. Most jewelry purchases are unbranded—even in the resale market. Earlier this month The RealReal announced that its biggest sale item in 2021 was an unbranded engagement ring that fetched $350,000.

The founders say that consumers are also looking for unique stories, which can be antique, lab-grown, or in the case of Massin—both.

Image courtesy Oscar Massin

The Massin revival comes after Luximpact revived another lost jewelry brand, the Art Nouveau era Vever. The debut collection, a partnership with 7th generation Vever heirs, sold out. The brand recently launched an e-commerce platform and will open a physical location in the Paris department store Printemps.

Unable to find heirs to the Massin label, De Narp and De Fontenay partnered with designer Sandrine de Laage, also from Harry Winston and Cartier, for the first collection.

In Massin’s heyday—the original brand launched in 1863—the designer was renowned for his unique approach to diamond settings. He would often use flexible surfaces to create designs that could resemble lace and ribbons. The movement added to the jewelry’s sparkle—and boosted his reputation for quality and craftsmanship.

“Important pieces include the Fife Tiara housed in Britain’s Kensington Palace, and a crown designed for French Empress Eugénie to display the country’s 140 carat Regent diamond,” BoF notes. “At the 1867 World’s Fair, Massin cheekily displayed his signature lace and ribbon designs for sale by the metre, as if in a sewing shop.”

De Laage paid tribute to the late jeweler by highlighting settings as much as stone.

“In her collection, beaded settings grip the stones from the outside, like a frog’s foot,” explains BoF. “In other pieces, she evokes Massin’s interest in imitating cloth, with recycled gold bracelets moulded to resemble circled ropes or spools of wrapped thread.”

Lab-grown diamonds

Late last year, a survey conducted by diamond brand De Beers found that sustainability was a top priority for most diamond shoppers, and they were willing to pay a premium price for the ethical options.

Lab-grown diamonds have seen an increased presence, positioned as a sustainable and ethical alternative to mined diamonds, with brands Brilliant Earth, the Leonardo DiCaprio-backed Vrai, and Pandora embracing the trend.

But for luxury legacy brands, it’s largely been the opposite with Cartier, Tiffany & Co., and Van Cleef & Arpels all vowing to never use them. Their focus instead is on improved traceability. All are already using recycled gold and other materials, as well as upcycled stones. They’re working to continue to improve diamond sourcing standards and traceability.

Image courtesy VRAI

Last year, Cartier and Kering partnered on an industry-first initiative aimed at bringing more sustainability and traceability to the watch and jewelry industries.

But for younger generations with more modest budgets, revived brands like Massin and Vever can offer the best of all worlds—legacy, sustainability, and affordability.

“[Vever and Massin] have an absolutely unique angle,” De Narp said. “We’re confident there’s a new clientele for rediscovering brands from the past who are acting at the highest level in terms of responsibility.”

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