An Interview Tiffany CEO Alessandro Bogliolo – Even if you can’t afford to buy a diamond ring at Tiffany & Co.’s Michigan Avenue flagship, you can watch one being made. It’s part of a temporary exhibit showing customers how a diamond goes from a rock to a finished piece of jewelry.
Tiffany CEO Alessandro Bogliolo was in town last week to launch the exhibit, which will remain at the Chicago store for six months. He talked about what the 182-year-old luxury jewelry retailer is doing to attract a new generation of shoppers, why he thinks millennials aren’t abandoning diamonds and why you won’t see lab-grown diamonds in Tiffany’s trademark blue boxes.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. Why did you want to create the exhibit at the store?
A. People associate Tiffany with the most beautiful diamonds. But what people do not know is how Tiffany has made, in the last 20 years, a huge investment in terms of traceability and sustainability in diamonds. The diamond industry, historically, was very opaque. Now 80 to 90% of our solitaire diamonds — so 0.18 carats or more — we source directly from the mines.
Then there’s the quality. The fact that it’s our employees that cut the stone allows us to give them standards that are stricter.
Q. Last year, Tiffany began telling consumers buying at least 0.18-carat diamonds the country where their diamond came from. Did you see consumers’ focus on sustainability and transparency in the industry affecting sales?
A. The stores were saying, ‘Our clients are not really asking for this.’ And my answer was ‘I know, and that is the point.” The diamond industry has been built over centuries on principles that were not that of transparency, and has taught consumers to think a diamond is all about the four C’s (cut, color, clarity and carat weight).
You go to your favorite supermarket, and you go to the fish counter. You are told where the fish you buy comes from. Wouldn’t you like to know where your diamond comes from?
Q. We hear millennials don’t buy diamonds the way other generations do. Is that something you see?
A. It’s true millennials don’t buy diamonds the way other generations did. It’s not true, in our experience, that they don’t buy diamonds. With baby boomers, the culture was you’re a boy, you love a girl, you’ve never been to a jewelry store in your life, and you have this rite of passage where you have to buy a diamond ring in order to tell your girlfriend that you love her.
And that is the step required to get married and have a honeymoon trip, kids, a house and a dog.
The way a millennial lives, he meets the person he loves, they go on a trip overseas, they love each other, they come back and have a home together. They have a dog, maybe later they have a kid. At that point they buy a diamond ring.
A diamond ring remains as a symbol of love, but it can be from man to man, it can be after three kids, it can be without a wedding, and this is the beauty of the modern world.
Q. What are you doing to appeal to that new generation?
A. Our challenge, our duty is to keep what we do, with our beautiful jewels, part of the cultural conversation of today. The video “Believe in Dreams” (an ad campaign launched last year), is a sort of mini remake of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” where there is Elle Fanning instead of Audrey Hepburn and there is “Moon River,” but “Moon River” has been remixed by A$AP Ferg.
You take the DNA of the brand and you project it in the world of today.
So first is to speak the language of today and to be part of the cultural conversation. Second is to keep on innovating.
Q. Has the traditional engagement or wedding ring’s contribution to the company’s business changed?
A. If we look at the last 10 years, the percentage has been basically the same: 25, 26, 27% of our business is in love and engagement. The portion of the business that has grown faster than average is our jewelry collections. It’s not that people don’t express love with a diamond … what is really step-changing is women that are buying for themselves.
Q. Would Tiffany ever consider selling lab-grown diamonds?
A. No. It’s something that by definition has no rarity. To celebrate one of your special moments you want something very, very, very special.
Q. Tiffany received an $14.5 billion acquisition offer from luxury conglomerate LVMH, which owns brands like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Bulgari and Sephora, last month. Any interest?
A. As a public company we have the fiduciary duty vis-a-vis our shareholder of considering any offer. This is the process in which the board is involved now.