Van Cleef Clover is the new Cartier Love bangle

Jewellery is no longer the preserve of the 1%. Just look at TikTok 

VAN Cleef & Arpels’ lucky clover bracelet is the new Cartier Love bangle. 

Young women and men are taking to TikTok to show off the jewellery, which contains five clover motifs resembling flowers fashioned in stone, gold and diamonds — and costs around US$5,000 (RM23,890) each. 

But this isn’t an overnight TikTok sensation. The popularity of Van Cleef has been 25 years in the making, with the brand nurtured by its owner Cie Financiere Richemont SA. 

Its explosion underlines that jewellery is no longer the preserve of the 1%. A broader range of buyers in China and the west is discovering items such as the Alhambra bracelet in the same way it went after Louis Vuitton handbags a decade ago. This could make so-called “hard luxury” — broadly watches and jewellery — more resilient than in past downturns. It also explains why Bernard Arnault, founder of LVMH, would dearly love to get his hands on Van Cleef and Cartier. 

Richemont acquired Van Cleef for €310 million (RM1.6 billion) in a three-stage deal from 1999 to 2003. At the time of its initial purchase of 60%, the house, founded in Paris in 1906, was losing as much as it was generating in sales. It’s come a long way since, thanks to the long-term approach taken by Richemont chairman and controlling shareholder Johann Rupert. 

The company doesn’t like to talk about Van Cleef, but it told investors in 2022 that it was the second-largest contributor to Richemont’s jewellery division by sales after Cartier, delivering annual free cashflow of about €1 billion. Overall, Richemont’s jewellery business expanded sales by 21% and generated an operating margin of 34.9% in the year to March 2023. 

To succeed in jewellery, it’s essential to have strong individual ranges, with high-quality design and craftsmanship, that can be updated from time to time. These must have particular characteristics associated with a brand. In the case of Van Cleef, it is colourful, playful styles, the best known of which is the four-leaf clover, debuting in 1968 as Alhambra. 

When Richemont acquired the jeweller, there was just one Alhambra range. There are now six collections under the banner, including Lucky, with its heart and butterfly motifs, and Byzantine, with its solid and open gold clovers. It has also added other ranges alongside Alhambra, including Perlee, with its tiny gold beads, and Frivole, with its heart-shaped flower petals. 

These investments have made Van Cleef instantly recognisable. A wrist layered with its bracelets immediately confers status on the wearer. In China, young women believe the five emblems in red are powerful symbols of good luck, according to insights company LookLook. 

But there’s another reason why Van Cleef unboxing videos are cropping up on TikTok with increasing regularity. 

Over the past 30 years, the luxury handbag market has gradually moved from elite to mainstream consumers, exploding 10-15 years ago after brands including LVMH’s Louis Vuitton and Celine created a plethora of It Purses. Today, the same is happening with hard luxury. As consumers graduate from sneakers and leather goods, watches have enjoyed an unprecedented boom, while jewellery is reaching a younger, more diverse audience. 

It began with the Cartier Love bangle, which rose to prominence on the wrists of the Kardashian sisters in the 2010s. Then LVMH acquired famous US jeweller Tiffany & Co in 2021 and chose Beyonce and Jay Z to front the brand. Last year it unveiled a multi-million dollar makeover of its Fifth Avenue store. In the mass market, Pandora AS is introducing diamonds to its charm buyers through its adoption of lab-grown stones. 

Piral Dadhania, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, describes this phenomenon as the “democratisation of jewellery.” 

The transition is also being driven by the hefty price tags imposed on leather goods over the past three years. With many bags today costing between US$3,000 and US$5,000 (much more in some cases), jewellery looks more appealing. Pieces have long held their value, and strong resale prices for Van Cleef are another draw for US high spenders, according to LookLook, further reinforcing desirability. 

It also helps that branded jewellery is still a relatively small part of the market, estimated by Bain & Co to be worth about €29 billion in 2023, out of the total fine jewellery market of €165 billion to €168 billion. This means there is plenty for the luxury giants to go for. And as jewellery price increases have lagged leather goods, there is room to expand margins further. 

For Richemont, the danger is that Van Cleef ’s clovers become ubiquitous — although at US$5,000 a pop, and with the company increasing production capacity to meet demand, the risk looks manageable. 

Even if the Van Cleef furore fades, it has other brands ready to pick up the bling baton. Despite some of the Love bangle mania melting away, Cartier is having a moment, with its watches outperforming on the secondary market, according to research platform WatchCharts. 

Meanwhile, Piaget is back in vogue. So far, the interest has been primarily focused on watches, with the reissue of the gold Polo 79. But it has a rich jewellery heritage that Richemont should exploit. 

And in 2019, the company acquired Italian part family-owned jeweller Buccellati for €230 million. Like Van Cleef, it was loss-making. But unusually, the business already had a number of established ranges, such as Tulle, with its intricate lace patterns. And unlike Richemont’s other brands, it offers pieces in silver, such as some leaf and flower designs costing US$1,000 or less. 

It’s not hard to see Richemont working its magic on these two houses. If it can establish Buccellati — which is already taking off — as a more affordable alternative to Alhambra, this should add yet more sparkle. — Bloomberg

  • This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition