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Auction house Phillips commissioning its own US$200,000 jewels
[NEW YORK] On Thursday the auction house Phillips is officially unveiling an online jewellery retail platform called Flawless.
The site, which has already had its "soft launch", includes the regular mix of luxury names - Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Mauboussin, and others. But it will also offer a bold departure in both business strategy and style: a commissioned line of jewellery from Shaun Leane, the designer best known for his collaborations with Alexander McQueen.
"I've followed Shaun as a neutral observer," says Paul Redmayne, head of private jewellery sales at Phillips. "I was always wondering why this guy isn't globally renowned. He's got such a talent, he's such a lovely guy, he's got celebrity endorsements, and his (brand) has such a strong DNA."
The jump from admiration to a concrete commission occurred, Mr Redmayne says, as Phillips discussed some sort of collaboration for its forthcoming jewellery platform. We said "look, it doesn't make sense for the pieces we have in our selling exhibition to be available on your website", Mr Redmayne explains, and a formal commission was born.
The line, which includes an initial batch of 12 pieces of jewellery ranging from about US$10,000 to US$200,000, represents a dramatic departure from the traditional auction model. For Phillips to commission its own line of jewellery would be as if Christie's paid an artist to paint a picture, and then sold it. Mr Redmayne acknowledges the unorthodox nature of the arrangement and says the initiative is the first step in his efforts to turn Phillips's jewellery department into a standalone retail operation.
"If you take the example of our private sales department for watches, they have an online store and a bricks-and-mortar store, and we're looking to do the same with Flawless," he says. "Are we hoping to take it brick-and-mortar with a few twists? Yes, we are."
The initiative comes at a time when other auction houses are also expanding their retail operations. Most notably, Sotheby's announced last week that it was opening its own luxury store in London; among other things, the Financial Times reported, it would sell works by artists and jewellers.
"When you have the knowledge of an auction house and the commercial branding of luxury high jewellery, and you can occupy that space," Mr Redmayne says, "that's where the magic happens."
Leane's collection for Phillips includes some works from his archive and others he's made especially for the auction house. "We're launching 12 pieces first, but there will be a total of 21 of them," he says. "They range from beautiful sabre-shaped, 18-carat gold 'drop' earrings to a beautiful 'shield' art deco ring, which (includes) a large 10-carat sapphire." (The earrings cost US$45,300; the ring costs US$199,800.)
With that ring in particular, Leane continues, "I wanted to celebrate important stones and attract a male as well as female audience."
The collaboration between Phillips and Leane, which they call a "selling exhibition", was supposed to kick off in London in March, "with a big party at our headquarters on Berkeley Square", Mr Redmayne says. "Then we were going to take it to New York City in September, for Fashion Week."
For obvious pandemic-related reasons, "we had to reroute", he says.
Still, Phillips is going ahead with a physical exhibition.
The collection will go on view at Phillips's office in Southampton on Long Island from Oct 15 to 25. "Speaking to colleagues in New York," Mr Redmayne says, "they say people have started coming back into the city, but they say (on) weekends everyone still heads out there."
Leane says: "I see this as an ongoing relationship. For me, Phillips is the perfect marriage. They celebrate the contemporary of the 20th and 21st century, and that's how I hope people see my work, too."