PARIS Buccellati, the Italian fine jewelry house favored by monarchs and movie stars, is feeling the pinch from the U.S. economic downturn but demand for high-end items remains strong.
"We have seen a drop in sales for less expensive jewelry in the United States but our long-standing well-heeled customers do not seem to be affected by the crisis at all," Maria Cristina Buccellati, head of communication, told Reuters in an interview.
"The crisis has been going on for more than eight months but we are only now starting to feel the difference and mainly in the United States," she said.
The Milan jeweler, one the last family-owned in Europe, is the latest luxury goods company to warn of tough trading in the United States, echoing similar comments from Italy's Bulgari BULG.MI and Switzerland's Richemont (CFR.VX).
But the luxury goods sector, which had remained largely unaffected by the global consumer spending crisis until this spring, continues to enjoy stellar growth in countries such as Russia, China and India.
Buccellati said sales of rings and necklaces priced between 10,000 euros ($15,880) and 30,000 euros had slowed in the United States but jewelry items priced above 100,000 euros continued to fly off their velvet displays at the usual pace.
Buccellati's remarks come after Richemont said this spring it expected weaker sales in the United States and low-end products to be more affected than high-end items.
Buccellati, whose cascades of gems can fetch more than $1 million, will show a retrospective of its work in the 16th-Century Assumption Belfry in Moscow's Kremlin from September 25 to January 10.
The jeweler's long-standing customers include actresses Brooke Shields and Rita Wilson as well as monarchs across Europe and the Middle East. Top buyers, Maria Cristina said, usually come from the United States, France, Russia and Japan.
Buccellati is one of the only high-end jewelers who does not routinely lend necklaces and broaches to actresses strutting the red carpets at the Cannes film festival or Oscar ceremony in Hollywood.
"Sometimes, I think, you have to be a snob," said Gianmaria Buccellati, Maria Cristina's father, who heads the business and took over from his father Mario who founded it in 1919.
"In Cannes for example, there are many kinds of stars and starlets, I don't want to be mixed with all of them," he told Reuters in their plush Place Vendome shop.
Sometimes necklaces come back damaged by careless stars, Maria Cristina added.
Gianmaria, 81, manages jewelry production with his son Andrea, 50, while his eldest son Gino, 52, runs the company's silver items production in Bologna. Gianmaria's wife Rosie looks after the company's commercial development.
Buccellati is known for its signature lace rings and necklaces, gold and silver engraved bracelets adorned with precious stones and for its neo-classical style table silverware and ornaments.
Items are handmade using centuries-old goldsmith and silversmith techniques. Some can take several years to complete.
Buccellati makes only about 3,000 jewelry pieces a year, "of which about 500 are one of a kind," said Maria Cristina.
However, Gianmaria said he also took special orders from clients such as Princess Lea of Belgium, who had called this week to discuss a possible ring for her daughter.
The jeweler started making watches in 2000 priced between $10,000 to $150,000, but as opposed to many pricey watches, none of them are embossed with its trademark name.
It says it has tried to preserve the same classical style over the decades.
"We hate flashy jewelry," said Gianmaria. "Many jewelers always try to invent something new but us, we never changed our style, and our customers love that."
(Editing by David Holmes)