Every company, brand and organization has a leader. A fearless leader if you will. So it’s no wonder that Birks, one of the world’s most renowned diamond and jewellery names, chose to place Jean-Christophe Bédos at its helm more than four years ago. Smart, passionate and fearless, Bédos has taken the brand on a journey toward what we know today as a top-notch Canadian jeweller.
by Irina Lytchak
photography by Christian Fleury
This is a very big year for Birks. The prestigious jeweller is celebrating its 135th anniversary (sharing the milestone with our very own magazine) as well as the 120th anniversary of Birks opening its fashion store at Square Phillips in Montreal. To mark these occasions, the company unveiled a new corporate identity, released The Diamond Book in 2013, and has been prepping with a series of rebranding tactics and initiatives leading up to 2014.
“135 is a strong number,” says M. Bédos. “Therefore, I gave everyone in the organization working on the brand a deadline. The changes for the brand were to be ready either before or by 2014 and it was really a reinvention of the brand. If not reinventing, it was about refocusing the brand for what it stands for.”
REVAMPING THE “DIAMOND”
Since its establishment in 1879, Birks has always featured the diamond shape as an integral part of its overall image and its logo. In order to reconnect with the past and pay homage to the true value behind the jeweller’s roots, the new Birks marketing campaigns have been incorporating the diamond design elements and in turn, solidifying the connection between the strength of the diamond shape and the strength of the brand. This ideology is also found in The Diamond Book, in which the brand puts its own unique spin on the standard 4Cs with a list of 8Cs that stand for Canadian, Commitment, Carat, Colour, Clarity, Cut, Character, and Celebration.
“We thought of the diamond shape as being a symbol of our diamond specialty,” says M. Bédos. “This is how we describe to our customers the strength of Birks in the diamond business and how we differentiate ourselves from other jewellers. And this is how the guarantee of origin to the mine is given on the diamonds.”
As part of its new corporate identity and to stand out from the many other Canadian jewellers that sell Canadian diamonds, Birks now also provides customers with the guarantee of traceability – a development that was introduced back in 2013.
“We realized that we don’t want to, in terms of identity, be perceived as a jeweller who gets influenced from Europe or from the U.S.,” says M. Bedos. “A true Canadian jeweller should be all about Canada. So this was made to invest heavily on having 100 per cent of our diamonds be Canadian.”
Today, the center stone on engagement rings produced by Birks has a laser-engraved, individual number that allows the owner to trace its origin with the help of the company’s website. Each diamond also comes with a seal guaranteeing that it is Canadian-made as well as a certificate detailing the stone, its uniqueness and where exactly it was mined.
“What really makes Birks different against any international jeweller in the world, is the fact that we offer traceability and guarantee of origin of our diamonds,” says M. Bédos. “This gives the reassurance to consumers that our diamonds are pure – pure because Canada is a country where mining is more ethical than any other diamond producing country in the world.”
Last year also served as a focal point for Birks to refocus its entire brand toward a single source of inspiration – that source being Canadian nature. Over the past 18 months, the jeweller has released a series of collections in harmony with this idea, including the Birks Snowflake, Birks Splash, and Birks Roseé du Matin collections.
“Canada is a country that represents a unique sense of space because there’s no frontier,” he explains. “Most countries have boundaries but Canada doesn’t have a northern boundary so it gives you a feeling that there’s no limit and a very strong inspiration for pioneering things. And Birks should represent that.”
He explains that as far as Canadian nature goes, the team behind Birks centered on three specific elements to draw inspiration from, which include wood for the vastness of the Canadian forest, water in all of its existing forms, and the sky, whether it’s a rich blue or a deep black illuminated by the Northern lights.
A PASSION FROM WITHIN
All of Birks’ recent changes and developments have been carried out under the direction of M. Bédos, who is too humble to admit this fact. Instead, he credits the company’s success to the team behind the name.
“The people I work with are very generous,” he says. “Everyone generates ideas and looks for inspiration. All of these projects started from working together. And that’s what I really like about my job – working with the other people in the company.”
Before joining the company, M. Bédos spent seven years with Boucheron in Paris, which he joined after working for quite some time with Cartier at Richemont. It’s fair to say that he brought a lot of expertise with him upon joining Birks but it’s really his passion that comes through the most in his work.
“Isn’t it wonderful to do a job that coincides with your passion? I don’t feel like I’m going to work,” he says. “It’s interesting because you have to realize that the image of Canada outside of it is way better and more beautiful than what Canadian people think. Canada is a very inspiring country. We decided with my family to immigrate to Canada and become Canadian. So, yes I feel very proud.”
DEFINING THE FUTURE
During our interview with M. Bédos, it was also revealed that Birks is set on unveiling a new Corporate Social Responsibility platform later this month. Closely tying together its 135th milestone and the celebration of Canadian heritage and nature, Birks will be announcing its support for the preservation of the honeybees since their extinction threatens the entire global population. In an effort to preserve the future, Birks has unveiled a new jewellery collection inspired by bees and honeycombs as well as a partnership with the University of Guelph. Sales of the Birks’ silver honeycomb-shaped pendant will go toward raising funds for the Honey Bee Research Centre at the University of Guelph in Ontario. The jeweller will also be promoting urban beekeeping with the support of Montreal-based company Alveole.
It is an honour for Canadian Jeweller Magazine to share our 135th anniversary with Birks this year. Not only is this century-old brand an integral part of our history and Canadian culture, but we also applaud Birks’ dedication to diamond traceability as well as its efforts to preserving the environment and thinking of our future as a global society. These are all qualities that bring Birks outside of the realm of the standard role of what it means to be a jeweller. CJ
AT A GLANCE
LOCATIONS: 31 in Canada; six flagship stores in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver
KNOWN FOR: Canadian diamonds, jewellery, timepieces, silverware and gifts
BRANDS: Bvlgari, Baume & Mercier, Montblanc, Gucci, Frederique Constant, Zenith, Breitling, Cartier, Tag Heuer, Bedat, Corum, Roberto Coin, Van Cleef & Arpels (Toronto and Vancouver only), etc.
COOL FACTOR: Before the 1930’s, the Birks boxes were a grey colour but ever since William Birks introduced the Blue Box, it has become a statement symbol of the House of Birks.