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Article in Retail Jeweller August 2015

Retail jeweller

A Royal Connection

A royal connection
Ruth Faulkner meets the descendent of a world-famous diamond dynasty, Jan Maarten Asscher, who is behind a new brand making its debut at IJL

The Asscher family have been passionate artisans and experts of the diamond industry since 1854. In 1903, the family cut and polished the 995ct Excelsior diamond – at the time, the largest rough diamond yet discovered.

This was surpassed in 1908, when Joseph Asscher – great-uncle of Jan Maarten Asscher, who is set to carry on the legacy – and his brothers cleaved, cut and polished the Cullinan diamond, the largest rough diamond ever found.

Weighing 3,106ct, the Cullinan was cut and polished into nine diamonds ranging in size from 4ct to 530ct. The largest of these, known as the Great Star of Africa or Cullinan 1, adorns the Sceptre with the Cross of the British Royal Crown Jewels. The second largest of these diamonds, at 317ct, is known as the Second Star of Africa and has been placed in the Imperial State Crown of Great Britain.

Being a descendent of the Asscher family, Jan Maarten explains that he had always wanted to use the family’s heritage to create a range of jewellery based on its illustrious history.

“It is great if things have a story and a history to them, and this is particularly true when it comes to retail, because then you can sell the story,” he says, explaining the idea behind the forthcoming Jan Maarten Asscher jewellery brand.

Jan Maarten’s great-grandfather Jacob was present at the Asscher diamond polishing works in Amsterdam on the occasion of a visit by Queen Elizabeth II, when a presentation was made about the making of the Cullinan diamond. It was this event that brought back many memories for Jacob, who set about documenting the process used.

Jan Maarten found these documents some years ago, and the story proved to be the starting point for creating his eponymous brand.

The range, which, as you would expect, is centred on diamond jewellery, will make its official debut at the forthcoming International Jewellery London show. As Asscher explains, it has been a long time coming.

“My background is in diamonds and I had an idea to do something based on the family name a while ago, but I wanted to make sure I worked with the right people to help me to deliver this – and there was a lot to sort out,” he says.

“The whole story actually started about seven years ago, when someone asked why I wasn’t using the family name, and I started to look into it. It took much longer than I expected, because there has been a two-year battle with trademarks and the law courts to enable me to use the Asscher name for the project.”

Hatton Garden-based diamondjewellery supplier Lawrence Blunt has been appointed as the official manufacturer and distributor for the Jan Maarten Asscher brand. As Lawrence Blunt’s head of sales Simon Phillips explains, the partnership combines the right levels of diamond, manufacturing and sales expertise to bring a new jewellery brand to market.

“This is a range of commercial jewellery with a great story, which is offering the retailer something really different,” says Phillips. “It is also British, and because of the Asscher name, it has connections to the Royal Family. It is a unique story and, from that, we have put a range together.” Phillips goes on to explain that sales for the Jan Maarten Asscher brand will be overseen by Lawrence Blunt sales director and industry stalwart Barrie Dobson.

“Initially, we will be approaching multiple jewellery retailers, but we also think the range will appeal to some of the mid- to high-end independents as well,” he says.

The fact that the brand has secured a stand on the boulevard at IJL for its debut is perhaps testament to the level of interest the team is anticipating for the launch of Jan Maarten Asscher. Drawing on both Jan Maarten’s and Lawrence Blunt’s experience in diamond manufacturing, all Jan Maarten Asscher diamonds will be independently certified by the International Gemological Institute and all are Triple X stones, meaning the depth, table and facets of the stone are proportionally “excellent”.

Additionally, all stones are a minimum of G colour and SI2 clarity, although there will be the option of having a slightly higher grade of stone upon request.

While the range is predominantly bridal-focused in terms of engagement rings, the collection will also feature about 15 to 20 bigger pieces. For every solitaire ring in the range, there is a matching set of jewellery to go with it.

Everything in the collection takes inspiration from the links to the Cullinan diamond and the Asscher family, with small details that pay homage to the crown jewels incorporated into the pieces. And each collection in the range has a name that links to the Asscher family and its royal connections, such as Jubilee, Excelsior and Cullinan.

“We also plan to introduce a coloured [stone] range within the collection, but that will happen in stages,” explains Jan Maarten.

Retail prices for Jan Maarten Asscher start from £1,500 for a 0.25pt stone, for people to be able to afford to buy into the brand, with RRPs rising to £12,000 for statement pieces.

The team behind the enterprise have worked hard to develop a distinct brand identity, with branded packaging, brochures, catalogues and point ofsale material available for stores.

The brochures, which retailers will be able to give out to customers, feature historic photographs of the Asscher family and chart the history of the Cullinan diamond, all of which should aid retailers in telling the storybehind the brand.

Phillips explains that all of the branding and associated POS will be available to view at IJL and he hopes that this should encourage retailers to buy into the concept.

“We would expect retailers to buy a minimum of around 30 pieces, as there needs to be a decent range to make it look good in store and to enable retailers to be able to tell the story,” he says.

“We have also created displays that can incorporate some of the historical images, as that will help to tell the story.”

According to Jan Maarten, Phillips and Dobson, who have already shown the brand to a few select retailers, early feedback on the range has been positive, which leaves the team feeling hopeful ahead of IJL.

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