As luxury launches go, it may seem strange to open new hotels during a pandemic. But Bulgari continues with its hotel strategy. Last December, the Italian jewelry house opened its seventh hotel worldwide in Paris and announced more hotels in Rome, Moscow, Tokyo, Miami and Los Angeles – betting that the centuries-old business synergies between hospitality and luxury are more relevant than ever.
“Hotels aren’t just for tourists,” says Achim Berg, senior partner at Frankfurt-based consultant McKinsey. “They also house the best restaurants, attracting a local clientele.” Berg believes that while the pandemic has disrupted the hospitality industry, it has only increased customers’ appetites for experiences — so much so that they’ll be willing to spend more when conviviality and travel are back on the menu.
Partnerships between hotels and luxury homes come in all shapes and sizes. In 1898, the opening of the Ritz hotel on Place Vendôme in Paris attracted jewelers to the square to display their glittering wares to the world’s wealthiest travelers. Later, hotels in developing countries provided the luxurious environment and rich clientele for the first foreign suitcase shows or shops of European jewelers. Today, jewelery display cases for an annual rent of around £20,000 are a fixture in luxury hotels and resorts, where retail has always been big business – and where goods are usually sold at full price.
These types of presentations are expected to continue to attract not only wealthy clients but also celebrities. In 2014, American singer Beyoncé posted a photo on Instagram of a Messika diamond knuckle ring after spotting the jeweler in a display case at the Le Royal Monceau hotel in Paris, boosting the brand’s profile. A year later, the hotel offered a piece of jewelry from the Messika collection to guests staying in a number of suites, and even arranged a private presentation of the entire collection for those who had booked the top-level suite.
Many jewelers stock their creations in the hotel’s shops, while some open their own managed boutiques on site.
Last year, London-based jewelry designer Roxanne First stocked her creations for the first time at Amanyara, a luxury resort in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The resort’s owner, Aman Group, paid for the stock in advance, rather than following industry convention and requesting pieces on consignment and paying jewelers only after their pieces are sold.
“When they’re on vacation, people think about treating themselves and spending their money more carefree,” First says. “A mother who buys a bracelet for herself does not think twice about getting another one for her daughter.”
London-based Glenn Spiro has one boutique on leasehold in the Peninsula hotel in Beverly Hills. He uses it for two weeks a year for his suitcase shows. “The hotel does the rest for me: music, interior, atmosphere, safety. They offer me a room and a safe. I feel like a king’, says Spiro. He only receives customers by appointment and does not even have a shop window – secrecy is part of the profession.
However, the most ambitious hotel venture of a luxury house is that of Bulgari, which opened its first own hotel in Milan in 2004. “The rationale was twofold,” said Bulgari chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin. “On the one hand, Bulgari had envisioned the future high potential of experiential luxury and, on the other hand, the hotel provided a strong image for the brand and attracted high profile customers.”
Bulgari hotels operate on different business models – directly owned, joint ventures and franchises – and only a few have a boutique on their premises.
However, the presence of the brand’s jewelry is palpable in the subtle details: from the brand’s signature eight-pointed star at the lobby entrances (exactly like those found in the flagship stores) to the gouaches of jewelry that adorn the hallway walls, the mosaics of the pool in the form of the Diva jewelry collection, and the many books on Bulgari, as well as broader art and design, on suite bookshelves.
In the same vein, Armani has grown into hospitality to translate his style vision into an all-encompassing experience. While the company’s hotels, in Milan and Dubai, don’t house Armani boutiques, founder Giorgio Armani says they are “a 360-degree expression of my world, from clothes to fragrances.” At the end of 2020, Armani presented his first collection of high jewelry at the hotel in Milan, although “it was a one-off event,” he says. “In hotels, I’m more interested in offering a unique service. The world of hospitality is perfect for imagining style as a lifestyle and engaging consumers in a unique experience.”
Staff at Armani’s hotels are trained to assist customers with questions about the various brand products on display and refer them to nearby Armani boutiques. The company’s hotel concept came to fruition after Armani formed a joint venture with Dubai-based real estate developer Emaar Properties in 2005. “If I see something I don’t like, I try to redo it in my own way,” says Armani, eager to express his “very personal idea about hospitality.”
“Jewelers have always gained experience because of the way high-quality jewelry is sold and the intimate relationship that certain purchases entail,” says McKinsey’s Berg, but the hospitality industry has to be a brand-enhancing business to be profitable, he adds. .
Indeed, this seems to be the case for Bulgari. “For us, hotels are not only a business unit, but also an important brand image and experience builder, providing our core jewelry and jewelry business with passionate new customers,” says Babin.