Former Tiffany exec to revamp elite Italian brand

MILAN (Reuters Life!) - After leading Tiffany & Co’s expansion in Europe, Italian jeweler Cesare Settepassi is on a new mission -- turning an elite jewelry brand into a global player.

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The 67-year-old member of one of Italy’s oldest goldsmith families told Reuters last week he saw scope to relaunch niche brand Faraone, known as the former jeweler of Italy’s royal Savoy family and opera diva Maria Callas, to meet growing demand from wealthy families in both mature and emerging markets.

“Money has not dried up during the crisis. Big spenders are everywhere, from Milan to New York, from Dubai to China,” Settepassi said at the opening of his showroom in Italy’s fashion capital. “Money never stops, it changes hands,” he said.

The Florence-born family, experts in pearls and precious gems for four centuries, took over Faraone in 1960 and developed it together with Tiffany until 2000, when the shop they co-owned was put on sale and the U.S. company moved to a new location.

Settepassi eventually left Tiffany last year, after leading its European operations for two decades, and decided to focus on the family business.

“We are family jewelers and will always be,” he said at the revamped shop on the exclusive Montenapoleone street he once shared with Tiffany.

He said he expected to break even next year, helped by recovery in the luxury industry.

“I see a turnaround in 2011, many steps have already been made,” he said.

Asked about the growing demand for affordable luxury, Settepassi said Farone had ready-to-wear collections for younger clients, an unprecedented move in the sophisticated jeweler’s history.

“These are jewels for those who travel or go to the beach,” he said, while passers-by stared at gold rings with rubies and diamonds in the shop windows.

Entry-level prices range from 500 euros ($698.5) for a gold pendant on a cord necklace to 20,000 euros for a rose gold bracelet with diamonds. One-of-a-kind pieces can cost up to 1 million euros.

However, unlike Tiffany, Settepassi said he would never use silver, despite higher gold prices making jewels more expensive.

“Gold is a refuge in times of crisis,” he said. “It’s a timeless investment.”

Reporting by Antonella Ciancio, Editing by Paul Casciato