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One to one: Roberto Coin

Roberto Coin began his working life as a hotelier, but aged 33 he threw caution to the wind and gambled on a career in jewellery, his true passion. He tells James Knowles why it’s the best move he ever made.

The Italian culture is synonymous with luxury and is famed the world over for its good food and fine wines, and for being at the forefront of international fashion. Befitting the country’s proud artistic tradition, its jewellery industry is revered across the globe and is known for producing the most beautiful, intricately crafted artisan pieces.

So it came as no surprise that when US management and consulting firm United Brands LLC, which specialises in creative management and concept marketing, published its list of the best-selling jewellery brands in the US in May, an Italian was leading the pack. Jeweller Roberto Coin came out on top in the Jewellery Brands - Fashion Design category, fending off strong competition from US brand David Yurman and fellow Italian jeweller Marco Bicego.

In the beginning
The brand started on its road to international success when founder Roberto Coin established the eponymous company in 1977. He decided the time was right to switch careers and fulfil his childhood ambition of becoming a jewellery designer, after several years as a successful hotelier in Guernsey in the Channel Islands and in countries across Europe. “When I was a young boy growing up in Venice, I was surrounded by people who worked in the fashion industry and I always dreamed of becoming a jewellery designer. So at 33 years of age, I decided to take a chance on life and returned to Italy to start my business.”

The Roberto Coin company was then born in the Italian city of Vicenza, which is famous for its fine jewellery, initially manufacturing on behalf of some of the world’s most prestigious jewellers, before Coin decided to relaunch as a brand in 1996. Since then, Coin’s passion and entrepreneurial spirit has rocketed the brand to the top of the jewellery sector and it now boasts more than 1,000 points of sale globally, as well as 12 international standalone stores, its Vicenza headquarters and a New York office.

Coin himself is also a co-founder of the Kimberley Process and a director at the World Diamond Council, and regularly delivers speeches on ethical business practices. Most recently, at the UN Pavilion in Shanghai, he spoke about the jewellery industry and corporate social responsibility.

Signature style
The brand’s success has been down to Coin’s innovation and passion for dressing women. “I always wanted to dress women, and jewellery is an extension of this. Women should be able to dress and act with spirit no matter what their age. It is my duty to know about the colours and fashions of the season so I can create the designs to complement this,” he says.
It was the same passion and innovative use of materials that helped Roberto Coin stand out from the pack. Fashion house Yves Saint Laurent did it with the women’s smoking jacket, while shoe designer Christian Louboutin’s famous red sole has had female shoppers salivating the world over. In the jewellery world, Coin won his army of fans, including celebrities such as Madonna, Charlize Theron, Britney Spears, Sarah Jessica Parker, Uma Thurman and Sharon Stone, by becoming known for his love of gold and imaginative use of gemstones.

The brand mainly produces 18ct gold jewellery, with a small selection of platinum on offer. It was one of the first to reintroduce the use of the three coloured golds in its jewellery in 1978, and is also known for creating a silk-like finish to its gold jewellery in the 1996 Appassionata collection - a production method that took two years to develop and one that it has since patented.

Coin’s jewellery is also instantly recognisable for its use of gemstones, and rubies in particular have become one of the brand’s signatures. The gemstones have long been associated with magical powers, long life, happiness and health. In ancient times women believed they promoted fertility, while Burmese warriors inserted them into their skin to protect themselves from injury during battle. In 1996, inspired by this heritage, Coin began signing the jewels in his Appassionata collection by insetting a small, hidden ruby that allowed for direct contact with the wearer’s skin. This has since been extended to all of the brand’s collections and has become one of the features instantly associated with Roberto Coin’s jewellery.

Roberto Coin works hard to produce 400 to 600 new pieces a year and offers a range of price points, starting at £220. Accessability, says Coin, is key to the brand’s philosophy. “We make beautiful jewellery but we offer a range of prices, because I don’t believe that style has to be expensive. I love people and I wanted to produce jewellery for everybody, not just kings and queens,” he says. “We offer something for everyone and have dressed people from politicians, such as Hillary Clinton, to musicians, such as Alicia Keys. I don’t want my brand to be associated with a particular category of person, just people with good taste.”

Roberto Coin’s own good taste was in full evidence at this year’s BaselWorld trade show, where the brand triumphed in the Trends category of the Platinum Design Awards, organised by Platinum Guild International, and won praise for its collections. Its show-stopping selection of jewels on display at the watch and jewellery fair included its Haute Couture collection, which is bursting with colour and features a range of precious gemstones set into gold rings. Also on display was its aquatic-themed Octopus collection that includes bracelets where the creature’s tentacles, encrusted with colourless and brown diamonds and black sapphires, wrap themselves around the wearer’s wrist, while the Scorpion collection combines peach gold with colourless and black diamonds. And the brand remained bang-on trend with its Cocktail Rings collection of red gold pieces set with doublet lemon quartz, smoked quartz, or amethyst and mother of pearl.

Pushing boundaries
Looking forward, Coin says he is confident about the future. Sales at the brand rose 30% in 2010 and he expects a 20% rise this year, plus it recently opened two flagship stores, one in Prague and another in Moscow. “We’re developing gradually internationally, and I expect that brand recognition will grow as a result. I’m currently thinking about entering the Indian market and I’d love to open a boutique in London,” he says.

Coin’s passion for dressing women, drive to offer jewels that won’t break the bank and his daring to be different propelled the company forward in the 15 years since its launch as a brand. But, like every successful businessman, Coin constantly has his eye on the future, and keeping his customers engaged and excited by his jewellery is integral to his work.

“Customers are expecting more and want to see new pieces. Important clients are now looking for special designs, new creativity, and the highest quality. This will be the challenge for the next few years.”

CV
2011
The Italian brand triumphs in the Trends category of the Platinum Design Awards at Swiss trade show BaselWorld
2007 Supermodel Christy Turlington becomes the face of the brand
2000 Roberto Coin becomes the seventh most well-known brand in the US
1996 The manufacturer relaunches as a jewellery brand. Coin begins signing his jewels with the inclusion of a small, hidden ruby, starting with the Appassionata collection
1978 Roberto Coin becomes one of the first to reintroduce the use of three golds into its collections, combining red, white and yellow
1977 Roberto Coin establishes the eponymous company in Vicenza, Italy

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Thomas Sabo

Fast Facts on
Wedding rings

  • 860 AD:The year Christians started using rings in marriage ceremonies.
  • 4th:The finger the ring is placed on.
  • 2,200BC:The year of the oldest recorded exchange of wedding rings in ancient Egypt.
  • 1854:The year in which the manufacture of 15ct, 12ct and 9ct became legal.

Photo from William Cheshire