As luxury launches go, opening new hotels during a pandemic might seem strange. But Bulgari is marching on with its hotel strategy. Last December, the Italian jewellery house opened its seventh hotel worldwide in Paris and announced more hotels in Rome, Moscow, Tokyo, Miami and Los Angeles — betting that the age-long business synergies between hospitality and luxury are more relevant than ever.

“Hotels are not only for tourists,” says Achim Berg, a senior partner at consultants McKinsey, based in Frankfurt. “They also house the finest restaurants, thus attracting a local clientele.” Berg believes that, while the pandemic has disrupted the hospitality business, it has only amplified customers’ appetite for experiences — so much so that they will be ready to spend more when socialising and travelling are back on the menu.

Partnerships between hotels and luxury houses have come in all shapes and sizes. In 1898, the opening of the Ritz hotel on Place Vendôme in Paris drew jewellery houses to the square to showcase their glittering wares before the world’s wealthiest travellers. Later, hotels in developing countries provided the luxurious environment and wealthy clientele for European jewellery houses’ first overseas trunk shows or stores. Nowadays, vitrines displaying jewellery for an annual rent of about £20,000 are a fixture of luxury hotels and resorts, where retail has always been big business — and one where goods are usually sold at full price.

This sort of showcasing is expected to continue attracting not only wealthy customers but celebrities, too. In 2014, American singer Beyoncé posted a picture on Instagram of a Messika diamond knuckle-ring after noticing the jeweller in a vitrine at Le Royal Monceau hotel in Paris, providing a huge boost to the brand’s profile. A year later, the hotel offered a piece of fine jewellery from Messika’s collection to guests staying in some of its suites, and even arranged for a private presentation of the entire collection for those who had booked the top-level suite.

Many jewellers stock their creations in hotel’s shops, while some open their own managed boutiques on the premises.

For the first time last year, London-based jewellery designer Roxanne First stocked her creations at Amanyara, a luxury resort in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The resort’s owner, Aman Group, paid for the stock up front, rather than following industry convention and requesting pieces on consignment and paying jewellers only after their pieces have been sold.

London-based jewellery designer Roxanne First sells her creations at Amanyara resorts
London-based jewellery designer Roxanne First sells her creations at Amanyara resorts
Glenn Spiro bracelets. The London based designers has a boutique in the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills
Glenn Spiro bracelets. The London based designers has a boutique in the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills

“When they are on holiday, people think about treating themselves and spend money in a more carefree fashion,” says First. “A mother who buys a bracelet for herself doesn’t think twice about picking up another one for her daughter.”

London-based Glenn Spiro has one boutique on a long lease at the Peninsula hotel in Beverly Hills. He uses it for his trunk shows for two weeks a year. “The hotel does all the rest for me — music, interiors, atmosphere, security. They provide me with a room and a safe. I feel like a king,” Spiro says. He receives clients by appointment only and does not even have a window display — secrecy is part of the appeal.

However, the most ambitious hotel venture by a luxury house is by Bulgari, which opened its first own-brand hotel in Milan in 2004. “The rationale was twofold,” says Bulgari chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin. “On the one hand, Bulgari had foreseen the future high potential of experiential luxury and, on the other hand, the hotel offered a strong image statement for the brand, attracting high-profile clients.”

The Vitality Pool in the Bulgari Hotel, Paris
The Vitality Pool in the Bulgari Hotel, Paris © tommypicone
Bulgari’s star logo in the Paris hotel entrance
Bulgari’s star logo in the Paris hotel entrance

Bulgari hotels operate under different business models — directly owned, joint ventures and franchises — and only some have a boutique on their premises.

However, the brand’s jewellery presence is palpable in the subtle details: from the brand’s signature eight-pointed star at lobby entrances (exactly like those in its flagship stores) to the jewellery gouaches adorning corridor walls, the pool mosaics shaped to resemble the Diva jewellery collection, and the many books on Bulgari, as well as wider art and design, on suite bookshelves.

In a similar vein, Armani has expanded into hospitality to translate its style vision into an all-encompassing experience. Although the company’s hotels, in Milan and Dubai, do not house any 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 high-jewellery collection at the Milan hotel, though “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 depicting style as a lifestyle and engaging the consumer in a unique experience.”

The Bamboo Bar at Armani’s Milan hotel
The Bamboo Bar at Armani’s Milan hotel

The staff at Armani’s hotels are trained to assist clients with inquiries about the brand’s various products on display and direct them to nearby Armani boutiques. The company’s hotels concept came to fruition after Armani established a joint venture with Dubai-based property developer Emaar Properties in 2005. “If I see something I don’t like, I try to redo it in my own way,” says Armani, who is keen to express his “very personal idea about hospitality”.

“Jewellery houses have always been in the business of experience because of the way high jewellery is sold and the intimate relationship certain purchases entail,” says McKinsey’s Berg, yet the hospitality business needs to be a brand-enhancing one to be beneficial, he adds.

Indeed, this seems to be the case for Bulgari. “Hotels for us are not only a business division but also a major brand image and experience builder, providing our core high jewellery and jewellery business with passionate new clients,” says Babin.

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