Rapaport Magazine

Going Global

An international perspective, combined with creative drive, has catapulted Robert Tateossian from investment banker into a recognized retailer with a fine jewelry brand.

By Nancy Pier Sindt

Tateossian 18-karat gold cufflinks with rough diamonds.
If anyone questions Robert Tateossian’s international scope, here’s the history. He was born in Kuwait to Armenian parents, studied at French schools in Rome and the Wharton School of Finance in Philadelphia and lives and works in London. “I am highly inspired by a number of things, be it art, music or the places that I travel,” he says. His ultimate goal is to develop his retail distribution network by opening stores in key cities around the world. To that end, he is off to a good start.

After establishing his jewelry design business in 1990, Tateossian opened his first stand-alone retail boutique in London in 2001 and his flagship retail store three years later on the highly trafficked Kings Road in London’s Chelsea neighborhood. That was followed, in rapid succession, by stores in Singapore, Moscow, two more London branches and finally, in 2011, a store in Yerevan, Armenia. The latter outlet, a tribute to his father, who was born in that country, also was established to serve a strong following in Armenia. Some cufflinks in his line are even branded Yerevan and take their design from the ceiling of an Armenian church. “It’s fulfilling to be able to go back to your roots and offer a London twist to the city of Yerevan,” he says. Currently selling in more than 60 countries, Tateossian jewelry also can be found in prestige department stores such as Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, Harrod’s in London, Tokyo’s Isetan and New York’s Saks Fifth Avenue.

His international background aside, the bigger question when it comes to Tateossian’s global branding efforts is, “What inspired this man’s move from the enclaves of finance to the world of jewelry?” The explanation, he says, is twofold. “I had always had ambitions to be in the field of fashion and it had been a desire of mine to create beautiful jewelry and be my own boss,” he says. At the same time, “it was actually something that happened entirely by accident. I knew that I wanted to leave Merrill Lynch and move into the fashion world and so I started importing fabrics and designing waistcoats. It was a successful venture, but the waistcoats were taking up so much room in my tiny office that I needed something smaller. So, I began to think about cufflinks. All the guys from Merrill Lynch had worn them, but they were never very exciting — all knots and circles. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Tateossian first became known for his diverse and witty cufflink designs — such as watch cufflinks — and then expanded his offerings into watches, money clips, rings and pendants. Today, he says, he works closely with a talented design team and creative director Ariel Thompson “to develop key looks relating directly to new trends, yet continuously pushing the boundaries of design. We identify the best suppliers for our needs and we have manufacturing points all over the world.”

After creating his men’s collection, Tateossian’s next challenge was women’s jewelry, which he introduced in 1995, and here he brings a unique perspective. Women’s jewelry is treated as a couture collection — with new items added seasonally — in materials that range from silver, gold and diamonds to industrial components like fiber-optic glass and crystallized Swarovski Elements. He characterizes his designs as “a luxury product line that is contemporary, fashion-forward and timeless, constantly reflecting and reinterpreting trends in fashion.”

Tateossian says he tends to use diamonds in a nontraditional manner, including raw diamonds as pendants or black diamonds for bracelets. The range of styles includes a Rare Stones collection, one-of-a-kind pieces in 18-karat gold and bold pieces such as 50-carat black diamond cufflinks. He also uses small, faceted black diamonds in bracelets. The range of $1,300 to $2,600 retail is the best-selling price point for his women’s jewelry.

Globally, Tateossian is known primarily as a men’s brand, which is why the vast majority — nearly 95 percent — of wholesale sales are for men’s items. He says he has learned that to successfully wholesale women’s jewelry, a full-time dedicated staff is needed; simply selling a collection to have it sit in a case is not his idea of success. However, at the retail level, almost 60 percent and, in certain instances, up to 70 percent of total sales are of women’s jewelry.

Having an international audience at both wholesale and retail levels, Tateossian is in a good position to observe the differences in these diverse markets. “With taste and style, the differences are definitely more prevalent in ladies’ jewelry than men’s,” he says. “Where our Japanese customers look for a delicate piece of jewelry, our customers at the London stores are much more attracted to bigger, bolder pieces. Our Middle Eastern customers desire the glamourous, almost costume jewelry look, preferring gold over silver.”

With men, the retailer notes, the differences aren’t as great, although leather bracelets are very popular only in the Italian market. In cufflinks, “American men prefer cufflinks to be bigger and bold compared to their European counterparts. Englishmen have no problem with double-ended cufflinks — something men in other countries would not purchase. A lot of clients in Moscow ask for our most expensive pieces of jewelry;  for them, it needs to have the ‘bling’ factor.”

Tateossian’s marked the twentieth anniversary of its establishment in November 2010.  To commemorate the occasion, the company chose six graduates from Central Saint Martins, London’s renowned art school, each of whom designed a capsule jewelry collection, reflecting their interpretation of signature Tateossian designs. The students’ work was judged by a panel that included Tateosian and other design and media professionals. The two winning designers were honored at a star-studded
celebration at Christie’s London and their designs are being produced by Tateossian and sold in his stores.

No stranger to awards himself, Tateossian has been recognized for design excellence, winning the much-coveted British Export Award for Accessories three times. As for the future, the designer/retailer says he is looking to build his business on all fronts. Currently, the majority of Tateossian’s business is wholesale, with around 15 percent retail. Ecommerce is only 4 percent; however, this is the area that has been growing the fastest and one to which he is allocating additional resources. Looking to the future, a redesigned website is slated to go live in the coming months.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - March 2012. To subscribe click here.

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