“Thanks to its knowledge of the gemstone market, Piaget is now able to stay one step ahead of the biggest Maisons”
Guillaume Chautru is Head of Gemology at Piaget, a great expert in the field and an occasional reptile breeder. Staying in the shadows for a long time, he now reveals how the brand intends to dazzle the sector once again.
By Cristina D’Agostino15 juin 2023
In June 2021, when Benjamin Comar took over the reins of Maison Piaget, the brand was struggling to find its equilibrium. Both a jeweller and a watchmaker, the Maison needed to find the best way to be recognised and achieve commercial success in both domains. Over the past two years, the deep recentring work on the Piaget identity has begun to yield results. Piaget jewellery seems to be rediscovering what has always been its defining essence: the originality of its gold work, a daring choice of gemstone sizes, and an unprecedented colour combination.
Following this steep precipice and unearthing the priceless nuggets that will make the collections successful along the way, Guillaume Chautru, Head of Gemology at Piaget since 2016, is the perfect man for the job. The expert in gemology is a remarkable stone hunter, shaped by his career at Cartier as a specialist in gem quality certification: an exceptional figure. Mr Chautru's reputation as an adventurer precedes him. As a great connoisseur of stones – not to mention reptile breeder – his regular visits to exotic, remote lands have shaped his knowledge of the field like no other. So when the brand's press team offered a solo meeting with the most unusual of gemologists, as well as the chance to follow him down the corridors of GemGenève – a very intimate show for the sale of precious stones in Geneva – the idea was extremely tempting, especially since he has stayed away from the media for a very long time. Let’s go and meet him.
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Guillaume Chautru, we are at GemGenève, a show that began in 2018 thanks to two big names in the world of jewellery, Thomas Faerber and Ronny Totah, and which has become the temple of precious stone dealers in just a few years. What did you come here for today?
GemGenève, like the Hong Kong and United States’ Tucson shows, is important. Everyone knows each other, talks to each other, and shares information about the state of the market, stones, and prices. Even though each brand is a competitor, we like to meet to discuss our overall visions of the sector and at times to point out bad practices, such as withholding goods to artificially inflate prices. We know that the precious stones pre-selected by the suppliers are of high quality. This year, together with Creative Director Stéphanie Sivrière, we are choosing the stones that will make up the 2025-2026 high jewellery collection. I choose stones for the beauty of their colour, quality, and Stéphanie chooses them for what it inspires in her. I negotiate prices and she creates. Yesterday, we were able to get our hands on a nice set of high-value emeralds.
Do you still visit mines when you're out searching for stones?
Very rarely. We hardly ever buy rough stones. That would require years of work, and all of that would mostly be for marketing. However, whenever I have the opportunity, I do make visits – it’s important to stay connected to the market, because now the sector is experiencing a high growth in demand. More and more new high jewellery brands are appearing, like the Fendi or Saint Laurent brands, which have also started jewellery collections, not to mention the very big market players. It’s not always easy to go after them: the means are disproportionate. So it’s our relationships with suppliers that make the difference.
How does Piaget measure up against the heavyweights in high jewellery?
The brand being smaller, the Maison cannot commit to exorbitant amounts. We, therefore, had to set up a very special purchasing process, of which I will not share the details. Currently, Piaget is able to buy the fastest and at the best price. While some Maisons have to wait for an internal purchasing protocol that can take months, Piaget can make purchases directly on the spot. To achieve this, we've organized the flow upstream. Often, merchants prefer to wait for us to come and see them before showing their stones to the brands because we can buy them right away, while others can block their goods for several months. But this requires us to be constantly present and vigilant in all markets to make sure that we get in first.
How do you explain Piaget's struggle to confirm the success expected of it when it comes to jewellery?
Today, when it comes to high jewellery, clients want very creative jewellery with fine stones, or investment jewellery with a timeless style. We work in this direction. Piaget lovers like to find other sizes in precious stones, or other colour combinations when choosing one of our jewels, with joyful tones. Piaget doesn't play small, it goes beyond. To stand out, Piaget's stylistic codes are strong, especially on its cuffs and necklaces. There is a real desire to refocus on the Piaget identity, which is more elaborate. In 2023, demand for the Gala Rainbow watch collection exploded. It's a collection that's easy to identify, requiring a very complex development of its colour set, as well as seven different suppliers. Piaget does not set itself apart with a very large, spectacular stone, but through complete sets of colours which include a necklace, ring, earrings and watch every time. All the colours have to match. Pairing a ten-carat stone with a two-carat stone can take up to a year, as with the intense yellow diamonds in the latest collection.
You are also a specialist in quality certification. What are the latest innovations?
For six years, I’ve been developing an EGID (Electronic Gemstone Identification Database) authentication system. The stone identification database, whose patent is pending at Richemont, is ready to be rolled out for all brands. All the stones are listed so they can be clearly identified, and even re-cut or treated. The system uses blockchain technology. It’s very innovative.
What is this year’s rarest and most coveted stone?
Blue sapphires are very coveted. Only two countries can produce the required quality – Sri Lanka and Madagascar – while demand remains high and focused on "Cornflower" or "Royal Blue" qualities. A very selective sorting takes place; as such, 90% of the extracted material is not used by high jewellery Maisons. Of the remaining 10%, only 10% meet the required clarity criteria. Rubies have the same problem. Burma is no longer a country with which Maisons work, so the vast majority of quality stones comes almost exclusively from Mozambique. This source is of very high quality, because the rubies are very red and clear. But the country only manages to extract one tender's worth every six months. And the last one only produced five rough stones, yielding five five-carat stones. Knowing that the demand of all the high jewellery Maisons combined is equivalent to one hundred, the competition is fierce.
What are your favourite stones?
Indicolite tourmalines from Namibia, which are blue-green in colour and very rare. Subtle colour is Piaget's signature. With emeralds, I’ll choose the one that has some blue in the sparkle. Another of Piaget’s signatures lies in the choice of the cut, which stays as close as possible to the rough stone. The pear cuts on very high-quality emeralds are a unique strength. I also like to rework stone cutting with our network of specialists, which I have built up over the years. Each cutter is dedicated to a specific material. I like to identify the potential in a stone. In 2022, I bought a 16-carat Zambian emerald, which I had recut to 9 carats. Although reduced in size, in the end it was worth four times more than at 16 carats, because its colour and its purity had been so enhanced. That operation took two years to complete. We have an in-depth understanding of the material. It's a knowledge that other Maisons, too big and generalist, often do not have.
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