A Jewelry Brand Targets Growth Beyond China’s Borders

Since its inception in 2004, the aim of the Chinese jewellery model Qeelin has been to create — as Dennis Chan, its Hong Kong-based co-founder and artistic director, put it — “something with a rich culture but, at the same time, very contemporary.”

The effort could also be working. There are 38 Qeelin shops in mainland China, however the model additionally has operated a boutique on Place Vendôme in Paris, a hub of excessive jewellery, since 2019. It is offered at malls and boutiques corresponding to David Jones in Australia and New Zealand to Holt Renfrew in Canada, the place it has turn into a prime promoting jewellery model, in line with Carolyn Wright, a vice chairman of shopping for.

And through the subsequent couple of years, the home intends to open brand-name boutiques in England, Australia and the United States, in line with Jean-François Palus, the group managing director at Kering, the French luxurious group that acquired majority possession of the model in 2012.

The Qeelin retailer in Place Vendôme.Credit…Julie Glassberg for The New York Times

He mentioned that about 90 p.c of Qeelin’s 2020 gross sales had been in better China, however that “we are quite convinced that this brand is appealing to all sorts of customers.”

The model is just not as nicely referred to as Kering labels like Gucci or Balenciaga, however, Mr. Palus mentioned, its gross sales have multiplied tenfold because it partnered with the French company (Kering doesn’t disclose the gross sales figures for many of its particular person manufacturers, together with Qeelin).

“We started with a toddler and now we have a teenager,” Mr. Palus mentioned, “and we think that this teenager is going the right way.”

Most of Qeelin’s items — which vary from items priced at lower than 6,000 renminbi, or $926, to an elaborate 2.2-million renminbi diamond necklace — mix centuries-old Chinese symbols with designs which can be cosmopolitan, casual or simply enjoyable. (The model’s title has an identical method: Qeelin is a twist on Qilin, a mythological, unicorn-like creature in China.)

In the Wulu assortment, for instance, a conventional Chinese good luck attraction is finessed right into a glossy form that resembles the contours of a guitar or, maybe, the define of a girl’s again. Variations render that curvy silhouette as a rose gold pendant with purple agate (21,000 renminbi) and with diamonds and rubies dangling on a pair of earrings (13,500 renminbi).

A ring from the Wulu assortment is featured on the Qeelin boutique in Paris.Credit…Julie Glassberg for The New York Times

The Yu Yi assortment includes a Chinese image that’s believed to supply safety; Bo Bo’s items appear to be pandas, which, within the aftermath of China’s “panda diplomacy” of the 1970s, have turn into an emblem of peace.

Qeelin designs steadily embrace diamonds, steadily blended with semiprecious stones like onyx and mother-of-pearl fairly than the 24-karat gold well-liked for conventional Chinese jewellery.

In China, Qeelin primarily options its less expensive creations to enchantment to what Christophe Artaux, the model’s chief govt, described as “the modern Chinese lady: very urban, independent and very self-aware.”

That buyer tends to buy jewellery another way than her mother and father or grandparents, who usually purchased gold for its worth fairly than as a vogue assertion. “A lot of young consumers now buy jewelry in more of an accessory way,” mentioned Kemo Zhou, a Shanghai-based retail analyst for Euromonitor International.

Essentially, she added, “they care more about what it looks like.”

Outside of China, the meanings behind Qeelin’s designs appear so as to add to their attract. “There’s a story that’s really alive behind the brand and each of Dennis’s collections,” mentioned Ms. Wright of Holt Renfrew. “There’s more than just the jewelry piece that’s being purchased — there’s the spirit of the product that comes with it.”

Mr. Chan echoed the thought. “If you’re telling them a very heavy Chinese story — blah, blah, blah and all that — they will never listen,” he mentioned. “But then, through some designs, they will understand Chinese culture in a fun way, in a different way.”

A necklace from the Yu Yi assortment.Credit…Julie Glassberg for The New York Times

There are many profitable Chinese jewellery manufacturers — together with the 2 Hong Kong companies Chow Tai Fook, one of many world’s largest jewellery labels, and Chow Sang Sang — however business consultants say that Qeelin’s mixture of talisman and development is distinctive.

“You don’t see any Chinese brands that take such a cultural history and can turn it into something so modern,” mentioned Tiffany Mon, a vice chairman at Carat & Co., an upscale jewellery and watch boutique in Flushing, Queens, a predominantly Asian American neighborhood.

The retailer exemplifies why Qeelin is just not extra broadly recognized within the United States: Carat & Co., which caters to a Chinese clientele, is the model’s solely level of sale on the East Coast. But a lot of the different luxurious labels that Carat carries — like Bulgari, Chopard and Montblanc — additionally can be found in Midtown Manhattan, a a lot bigger retail world that’s solely about 12 miles away.

There does look like a strategic logic, a minimum of for now, for Qeelin to deal with communities like Flushing. “There’s an obvious group for you to try with first, to market to first,” mentioned Derek Scissors, the chief economist on the China Beige Book, which markets itself as an impartial financial data supply on the nation. “You’re not wandering around in the dark.”

Displays on the higher ground of the Qeelin boutique on the Place Vendôme.Credit…Julie Glassberg for The New York Times

“If you’re selling luxury goods, this group tends to be wealthy,” he mentioned. “They’ve left China with money, or their children are there and have tended to do well, so you can start with that group.”

But Qeelin is planning its new openings basically luxurious purchasing areas, mentioned Mr. Palus of Kering.

Controversy within the United States and Europe over China’s forced-labor practices in Xinjiang cotton, its crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy motion and common commerce points might hinder public acceptance, nonetheless.

“The potential is there for anti-Chinese sentiment to spread in the consumer sector,” Mr. Scissors mentioned, though he added that issues like the opportunity of adware’s being embedded in computer systems has not affected gross sales of Chinese manufacturers like Lenovo within the United States.

“Yet it’s something that Chinese firms have to think about as a risk,” he mentioned.