SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
Charles Garnier Paris merges old-world craftsmanship and design and with modern-day ideas and technology.
By Janine Druery
It was more than a century ago that Charles Garnier enchanted buyers with his masterful gold jewellery designs. In 1901 he founded his namesake company – Charles Garnier Paris – creating pieces that were celebrated for their craftsmanship, quality and elegance.
Fast forward to 2013, and the same allegiance to design and quality Garnier was known for is still in full force – albeit in the bustling city of Los Angeles, California.
“We are still very product-driven,” says Guy Benhamou, the Parisian-born owner of Charles Garnier. The former CEO of OroAmerica, bought Charles Garnier in 2002 and moved everything to Los Angeles, where he could best focus on creating a “brand for the North American market.”
In addition to a change in location and market-focus, there have been other significant transformations. One of the most significant is that Charles Garnier now focuses on high-quality silver jewellery instead of gold.
“We used to be 18-karat gold, but because of the price of gold we switched to silver,” says Benhamou, who has been in the business for 35 years. “The decision was made to be at a price point of under $500 – that’s what we choose to be.”
Charles Garnier’s collections range from elegant, eternal classics to modern geometrics. And the company creates all manner of pieces, from classic bangles to romantic rings to bold pendants and is very strong in the earring arena – everything from small water drops to large hoops.
“We see ourselves as kind of an everyday brand,” says Benhamou. “Our customers like to buy our jewellery because they can wear it every day, not like one-of-a-kind pieces that they would save for Christmas or Mother’s Day.”
In addition, the company has a proprietary finish called Constellation. “Constellation is a finish that we developed a couple of years ago,” says Benhamou. “It gives the effects of tiny diamonds [ping pong diamond cut] in the product, so it’s very flattering.”
This, along with three colours – white, gold and pink – gives Charles Garnier’s products a very standalone look. “Our merchandise doesn’t look like anybody else’s merchandise,” says Benhamou.
OLD WORLD MEETS NEW WORLD
The products are conceived of (many by Benhamou himself) and designed in Los Angeles, where the company employs approximately 20 people. Then they are manufactured in the company’s own state-of the art, IS0-9002 plant in Peru, which employees 100 people.
Charles Garnier himself was known for working to improve contemporary jewellery basics with the latest technical innovation. And that forward-thinking mindset continues. The company embraces technology and is known for implementing the electroforming technique, which allows them to create voluminous pieces that are very lightweight and comfortable to wear – particularly earrings.
But besides the modern technical achievements, Charles Garnier designers maintain the French tradition of artisan jewellery: each piece is finished by hand. Their whole process is very “old world meets new,” and it’s a process that differentiates Charles Garnier, says Benhamou.
Once the products are designed and manufactured they are shipped worldwide to more than 60 countries. The company has a distributor in Paris, another in Australia, and distributes directly to jewellers across North America. In Canada, the products can be found at fine jewellers such as Calgary Jewellery, Knar Jewellery and Nash Jewellers in Ontario, and Cartwright Jewellers Ltd. in B.C.
“We are vertically integrated,” says Benhamou. “We make our own designs. We manufacture ourselves. We have our own finish.” And the company has a “Quick Ship” program, which allows a segment of its collection to be delivered within three working days to the retailer.
“It’s the whole thing [that sets us apart] – the design, the quality, the delivering, and the saleability of the merchandise,” Benhamou says.
An illustrious past. And a successful present. So what’s on tap for Charles Garnier in the future? For starters, the company will debut a new collection at the upcoming JCK show in Las Vegas. Benhamou says the company will introduce about 150 new styles, each available in three colours. “It’s one major collection and then 10 sub-collections,” he says. “It will be a big introduction of products. We have been working on it for the last six months.”
In addition, Benhamou has growth and expansion on the agenda. And while Charles Garnier has been sold in Canada for over 20 years, Benhamou wants to extend the company’s reach here and continue to strongly focus on the buying tastes of Canadian consumers.
“In Canada, customers lean more strongly on the pure silver (white) coloured jewellery, however in the last year they have been moving toward the gold colouring, because they are not buying as much real gold,” says Benhamou. He says these days, the company’s customers in Canada are pretty similar to their counterparts in the U.S. and Europe – they are all buying the same things. Says Benhamou: “Canada used to be more conservative, but not anymore.” CJ