Charles Leung admits that a younger version of himself would never have believed his appointment as the first Asian chief executive of an LVMH-owned brand. The new boss of Parisian jeweller Chaumet knew that, traditionally, the top luxury positions were filled by French or Italian executives. So, in the early days of his career, the thought of becoming chief executive did not cross his mind.

“I didn’t know it would be possible. I didn’t think [an Asian candidate] would even be considered,” he recalls. “It was like a glass ceiling and I didn’t even see it.”

To an outsider, however, Leung’s appointment feels as though it had been on the cards for a long time.

A native of Hong Kong, Leung graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Paris’s Essec Business School, and worked at Cartier in marketing and retail before joining Chaumet in 2006. He was instrumental in introducing Chaumet to the Chinese market and, in 2007, opened the house’s first boutique in China.

“Opening [in] China was a big milestone in my career,” he says. Today, that market has become Chaumet’s biggest. “That gave a lot of confidence to Chaumet and LVMH. [It] said that, ‘OK, well, this guy did not destroy our brand — and actually made it even better, and promoted it even better.’”

Leung subsequently went from managing the Asia-Pacific region to working on Chaumet’s global operations, as vice-president of distribution and sales, before being appointed chief executive of another LVMH-owned jewellery brand, Fred, in 2018 — a position he still holds as his successor has yet to be announced.

His latest advancement suggests more non-Europeans — especially those from strongly performing markets — may fill top jobs in the future.

Erwan Rambourg, global head of consumer and retail research at HSBC, acknowledges that French and Italian executives have long run the show, with the sector notably lacking both female and minority representation.

He puts that down to an “instinctive, clone-like approach” to trusting people from the same origin or nationality as the brand that is being developed. He adds, however, that, while Leung is an exception, “he shouldn’t be” — and thinks more non-Europeans will follow.

“I suspect there are a lot of quality managers of Asian origin that could be promoted . . . Asia and the US are the two growth engines [in the luxury sector], and it would be logical to see more Asian and more American heads,” Rambourg says.

A man holds up a gold Olympic medal for the Paris 2024 Games, featuring radiant lines emanating from the centre and a hexagonal logo
The brand’s Olympic medals contain iron from the Eiffel Tower © Thomas Deschamps
An artist paints a representation of the Paris 2024 Olympic Gold medal
They will also be minted in the same place where the medals for the 1924 Paris Olympics were manufactured © Thomas Deschamps
Four athletes proudly display their Olympic medals while standing on a structure of the Eiffel Tower
Tony Estanguet, Paris 2024 president, poses with athletes at the Eiffel Tower © Benoit Tessier/Reuters

This summer, LVMH is a partner of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games and all eyes will be on Chaumet — and Leung. The maison is creating the medals, each set with a piece of iron from the Eiffel Tower, and minted in the same place where the medals for the 1924 Paris Olympics were manufactured. Such a design story will resonate in an industry that Rambourg calls “a great growth sector” and which is notably very fragmented.

“You have the four big players that are specialists — Tiffany, Bulgari, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels — and four big players that are generalists — Hermès, Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton,” he says. That opens the door for smaller brands with “an incredible design narrative” to gain market share.

In its financial results for the year ending December 31 2023, LVMH reported that Chaumet “continued to post significant growth”, citing its high jewellery collection Les Jardins de Chaumet, themed around nature, as generating “record sales”.

Leung’s branding approach for Chaumet is about differentiation — “We have to tell a distinctive story,” he says — and one that perpetuates a long-standing insistence on “quality, craftsmanship and the elegance of the design that we’ve always had”, he says.

Icons will be a focus, such as Chaumet’s diamond-themed Joséphine collection, which is named after Chaumet’s most famous client, the empress and wife of Napoleon.

But Leung is quick to add that the maison does not “want to be stuck in the 18th century — we are in the 21st”. Balancing the play on heritage will be Leung’s vision to make the brand more accessible.

“For the longest time, Chaumet has been projecting this image of being very exclusive — high society, royals — and a brand that was reserved for a few people who are very intellectual, educated and classically driven,” he says. “I would like to include more people in the Chaumet club, not only a certain type of people.”

A luxurious designer watch by Chaumet Paris, showcasing a distinctive teardrop-shaped dial adorned with diamonds and a simple white face with silver hands
The Joséphine Aigrette watch . . . 
An elegant diamond necklace with a heart-shaped blue sapphire centerpiece
. . . . and necklace

Another icon he is concentrating on is the honeycomb-style Bee My Love collection, which “saw more rapid growth, particularly among younger customers”, according to LVMH’s most recent annual report.

Leung also hopes to attract more men as Chaumet customers. He hints at Napoleon being an inspiration in the same way as Joséphine has been for women, while the growing trend of wearing jewellery as a form self-expression among younger customers will further drive this trend, he says.

Leung cites by way of example the Chaumet ambassador Cha Eun-woo, a Korean actor and singer, and the potential to design special pieces for him. “The idea is to create jewels that he can wear, like high jewellery, and which enhance his personality and his special masculinity,” says Leung.

As far as regions go, Leung calls the US a “big pocket of growth” for the house, being among its top three markets for online sales. Meanwhile, later this year, Chaumet will open its first boutique in Italy, on Rome’s Via Condotti, to add to its 80-plus boutiques and 150-plus resellers worldwide.

He is optimistic about China, too. Confidence will eventually return for Chinese buyers, he believes. And the younger generation has already moved on from the days when Leung first made his mark at the maison.

“Younger consumers want to know more about what’s behind the brand — and what you’re representing,” he says.

“With that comes more work for us to explain: who we are, what we stand for, and the meaningfulness of each of the collections.” Leung adds that Chaumet needs to be “going deeper to the origin, inspiration, the root, and the reason of the designs”.

How does he think the next generation of Asian luxury executives can be inspired? “Believe in yourself, keep pushing and do well in your job,” he advises. “If I can do it, everybody can.”

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