Tiffany & Co. Has Built a Secret Lab to Crush Its Rivals
(Bloomberg) -- At Tiffany & Co.’s new workshop in Manhattan, jewelers sit at wooden desks peering through magnifying glasses as they polish silver rings and twist bits of gold. They’re making prototypes of future products, one-of-a-kind experimental items that may never end up in a glass case.
Their marching orders come straight from Tiffany Chief Executive Officer Alessandro Bogliolo: Rev up the pace of new ideas. Under Bogliolo, the 181-year-old company has been trying to attract a younger clientele with revamped jewelry lines and punchier marketing. Early results are positive. A rebound, which began just before he took over last year, is gaining momentum. Last quarter, Tiffany’s revenue growth was its highest since 2012.
Still, executives repeated the word “newness” a half-dozen times on a recent call with analysts. “We should have newness throughout the year and in the different parts of our assortment,” said Bogliolo. “Newness is not only entirely new designs. Newness is also introducing versions, colors, stones that are new to existing collections.”
Tiffany was, until recently, stuck in a sparkly rut. Megahit styles have been key to its success over the decades, yet the company struggled to come up with new franchises to replace old standbys created by such designers as Elsa Peretti and Paloma Picasso. To this day, those designs remain some of the retailer’s top stars. The T collection, however—released in 2014 under former design director Francesca Amfitheatrof—has managed to catch on, and the jeweler is putting out additions each season. It now sells more than 130 different T necklaces, rings and bracelets.
Reed Krakoff leads design at Tiffany. The former Coach designer, who’s credited with the handbag label’s rise to prominence, came to Tiffany to save it from stodginess after years of weak sales and few new exciting products. Given a broader, more powerful role than his predecessors, Krakoff runs all creative at the jewelry house, including products, stores, e-commerce and advertising.
His first jewelry line, unveiled to the public 15 months after he took on the role, came out in May. Tiffany considers the collection, which features flowers of diamonds and blue tanzanite, the most significant high-end jewelry launch since 2009.
Dana Naberezny, a bubbly, wise-cracking industry veteran, runs the 17,000-square-foot Jewelry Design and Innovation Workshop that opened in April. A hiring spree is under way, she said—management even has a secret space for bringing in designers, engineers and quality-control specialists looking to jump from rivals, bringing them in through a separate entrance of the nondescript Manhattan building. Jewelers, meanwhile, are subjected to a real-time test where they must show sufficient skill with their instruments in front of watchful eyes.
Naberezny, who worked at Tiffany earlier in her career, returned in 2016 after stints at David Yurman and Movado Group Inc. She points to rows of empty benches and desks she plans to fill in the next six months. The company is counting on the workshop to churn out new things quicker than ever, with rapid prototyping and cost analysis processes. “It’s to keep pace with the new product introductions that are coming out,” she said. “We want to get that intelligence in here as soon as possible.”
But who really decides what designs you’ll be plunking down thousands of dollars for on your anniversary? Everyone, it turns out.
Representatives from merchandising, design and the prototyping center meet to discuss new projects. Merchants say what kind of jewelry they need, and designers share their ideas. Once a project begins, a group at the new Tiffany workshop—including a CAD designer, an engineer and a quality-control expert—move to desks near one another. Before, there would be multiple handoffs between people in different departments, with each transfer creating lag. Now everyone is in one room making the product mock-ups in conjunction with teams at headquarters nearby.
Miniature versions of the heavy machinery found at a typical jewelry production plant can be seen throughout the workshop, such as laser engravers and sandblasters. One corner has a brick enclave where jewelers can torch items without scorching their desks. Next to a glass partition sits a series of old-school apparatus—chains, hand cranks and rolling presses—reminiscent of a medieval torture chamber. A separate room houses some of the latest technology: five 3D printers in various sizes for making wax or resin models.
The jewelers only need to make single items here. Work desks are cluttered with all sorts of torches, tweezers, drill bits, handsaws and polishing wheels. Gems and other precious materials are kept in a vault to the side. The whole area is secure, Naberezny said, thanks to cabinets that double as safes at each desk.
Everything that comes out of the center must translate to mass manufacturing, since most of what Tiffany sells isn’t one-of-a-kind. Making one of something is easy, said Naberezny. Making tens of thousands is hard. Tiffany brings suppliers to the workshop and sits them alongside jewelers who can display manufacturing processes right at their desks. All the conference rooms have microscopes hooked up to big screens for meetings with suppliers abroad.
So far, much of the work done at the studio has been for Tiffany’s mass-market and midlevel items, though they sometimes help with the jeweler’s fanciest creations. Uptown, atop Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue flagship store, is where the company’s most glitzy rings, necklaces and bracelets are conjured. They come up with exotic items such as a diamond-stitched collar connected to hundreds of golden fronds and a platinum ring adorned with a massive 26-carat yellow diamond.
But the new studio is where Bogliolo’s plans may live or die. While 50 of the 80 positions at the workshop have been filled thus far (mostly from staff at other Tiffany facilities), competitors with sharp employees should beware: Naberezny’s shiny behemoth is looking to grow.
“If the company wants it in one month, or if they want it in a year, I want to fill that need,” she said. “Whatever the new beautiful idea is.”
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