LVMH Jewelry Brand FRED Is Carving a Niche For Itself In the World Of Fine Jewelry

Charles Leung, the CEO of FRED Paris, talks about the brand's history, what it's doing to cater to the taste of young consumers in China for contemporary pieces of jewelry and more

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Under the auspices of LVMH today, there is an incredible portfolio of powerful jewelry brands starting with Bvlgari, Tiffany & Co. and Chaumet. But it all became part of LVMH after FRED, which boasts being the first jewelry brand to be bought by the French luxury group when it acquired the total shares of the brand in 1996. But the best part is that this popular jewelry brand managed to gain massive momentum in China in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak.  

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Charles Leung

The reason why FRED went on to do good business back then is only because of the luxury conglomerate’s commitment to making sure that its designs strike a chord with the next generation of consumers in the emerging markets of Asia.

While it can’t be denied that LVMH never breaks the protocol of bringing to light the sales of its individual brands, in today’s DNA age it’s easy to at least project things with the help of industry sources. Not surprisingly, the brand sailed through the market storm of 2020 triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, by achieving an astonishing figure of €100 million in sales globally.

In an exclusive interview with Entrepreneur APAC, we caught up with Charles Leung, the CEO of FRED Paris to find out about the brand’s history, what it’s doing to cater to the taste of young consumers in China for contemporary pieces of jewelry and more.  

When Leung took over the reins of FRED as it CEO in 2018, he was amused by the fact that Fred Samuel, the founder of the brand, always used to portray himself as a creative modern jeweler on his business card. With its roots and feel for the French Riviera spirit, the house is known as a bold, visionary jewelry brand making iconic and top-quality jewels since 1936.    

As Leung put it this way, “Guided by our founder’s audacity, FRED always aims to push the envelope of contemporary jewelry as a symbol of revolutionary, innovative force. For the most part, the brand is represented by three distinctive collections today, each with its own repertoire of  stories and appeal to either sex such as our iconic collection Force 10 including Chance Infinie and Pretty Woman.”

With the brand’s contemporary and precious outlook, women and men can wear it not only for engagements and weddings but also to celebrate any occasion in life. “Personally, I like our iconic Force 10 collection most as it expresses this warm spirit so well. With its interchangeable flexibility (from its gold, diamond buckles or with different cables), Force 10 truly offers numerous possibilities to personalize your jewels,” he said. 

In 2020, FRED’s attention was totally focused on China. Therefore, the brand put most of its marketing investments into digital and social media platforms in China, accompanied by the launch of its flagship store on Tmall Luxury Pavilion and a WeChat store in April 2020 just when the country was coming out of its darkest time. “This strategy allowed us to reach out to a larger target base, through “friends of the brand” artists who shared the same values as FRED,” he said. “Our lines were also energized by some colorful and easy-to-wear novelties, including a special Force 10 buckle which was sold exclusively online for the benefit of China’s Special Olympics Association.”  

The same year saw FRED launch a new advertising campaign “Live the Joy” to reinforce its distinctiveness among other jewelry houses. “In fact, it created space for customers to celebrate all the little precious moments in life in its simplest, most authentic and most natural way. “In China, that’s how we were able to get many new clients on board,” he admitted.                                                                                    

Today, the brand has expanded into different cities like Hangzhou, Shenyang and Qingdao by opening new stores there. “With our third boutique in Beijing which is a completely new store concept featuring a special zone dedicated to men’s jewels and a Riviera style bridal area, we achieved the goal of telling the stories of FRED to the visitors as part of the brand heritage,” he explained.

While many global luxury brands were impacted by the pandemic in 2020, for FRED, China remained a bright spot and has been so for several years. Besides, the brand has seen a significant growth in sales thanks to its other clients like the French, the Italians and the Koreans. All in all, it made a positive start in 2020 versus 2019, which was quite exceptional in the jewelry sector. 

Overall, China represented approximately 25 per cent of FRED’s global sales in 2020, and so the brand’s expansion was very rapid. Tmall was one of the brand’s top five online stores in China in 2020 and allowed it to recruit and learn so much about its new clients in the country. “Our hard work combined with the right strategy is paying off as we’re encountering a much stronger demand in China as well as in other parts of the world. But I want to repeat it again that we would never compromise what we believe in-top-quality products,” he said.

FRED has always been known for its pioneering designs when it comes to creating contemporary jewelry with a youthful and French-Riviera style. In China, the brand has stayed true to what it stands for, and that is how it’s been able to attract first-time buyers in first-tier cities like Shanghai and Beijing since 2015. For the brand, these two cities are strategically important for their young, well-traveled local customers who often look for top-quality French jewelry that has meaning and values that they share and care about so deeply. 

As a market “latecomer”, the brand has been very impressed by the openness and warmth shown by Chinese customers, and working with a high-profile A-list star like Guan Xiaotong as its Pretty Woman collection ambassador has only helped attract and recruit more fans. Although the convenience of e-shopping has been a successful trend especially in China because of its sophisticated e-commerce platforms and payment systems, Leung believes that e-commerce can never replace brick-and-mortar stores.

“We opened a new flagship store in Dubai last year as the city was always on our radar. We’re aware that clients in this part of the world are well-versed in jewelry. We feel proud that our offline stores are often praised for their inclusive and inviting environment. In fact, just about 10% of our retail sales come from online business. As such, our online turnover is close to 4% or 5%, which, for a jewelry brand, is quite noteworthy. I’m happy that we’re now on TikTok as well. We always love to embrace new tools to reach our future clients,” Leung said.

After digging into the archives of FRED, Leung reckons that the founder of the brand loved to befriend movie stars and artists in his career like Pablo Picasso and Grace Kelly. They definitely helped raise awareness and desirability of the brand the world over.

“And our global ambassador Emma Roberts is simply an intrinsic part of the brand. In today’s time, some of these stars like Yang Mi, Fan Chengcheng, Olivia Wang, Orfila Wu and Elvis Han have become more than clients. They’re now “friends of the brand”. We also love to team up with athletes who find common values like courage, faith, and “go beyond” spirit in their sports. From surfers, boxers, footballers, tennis players to even our former Olympic medalist Li Xiaopeng in gymnastics, they all own and wear Force 10 bracelets. Most importantly, my mission is to foster the growth of FRED as a highly sought-after brand,” he said.