When two people decide to marry, the future of the union is as predictable as a game of blackjack. All hopes for permanence are often placed in a small but visible symbol, the ring, which is seldom found in a bubble gum machine. Swiss Style recently met Walter Häusermann, executive chairman of Furrer-Jacot, wedding bands.
Marriage is good business. From gowns to food, from entertainers to lists, everything has to be organised and paid for. When the festivities are over, however, what remains, besides an exhausted and presumably happy couple, is the ring, a traditional symbol of unity, solidarity, eternity, a symbol that also serves as a reminder of love. Marriages might be made in heaven, but the rings are made by jewellers, and while the product might look simple, getting it just right requires enormous skill. In the mid 1800s, in 1858 to be precise, Jean-Jacques Arbenz gambled on the durability of wedding bands and founded a specialist company in Schaffhausen at the northern tip of Switzerland.
In 1943, the company was purchased by Fritz Furrer who, as fate would have it, married Lucienne Jacot in the same year, an act so appropriate a cynic might consider it an extreme marketing measure. It also signalled a period expansion that took off once the war ended and the world had gotten back to its senses.
Back on the aisle
Today, Furrer-Jacot is one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of wedding bands and custom jewellery. But its history in the business took some unexpected turns. In the 1970s, with the Middle East booming from the steep rise in oil prices, ritzy jewellery became all the rage. The company was then bought up by one of its customers. In the 1990s, it began seriously expanding, opening offices in the USA and Japan, but losing perhaps a touch of its family feel. Finally, in 1999, it was bought out by management, which has since returned to the wedding band tradition and consistent, steady growth.
In 2010, in a bid to further boost its international orientation, Furrer- Jacot increased its capital stock and a new majority owner and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Walter Häusermann, took over, a man with extensive experience in the luxury segment, albeit in the watch business – Calvin Klein watches and Swatch Group, among others. “Compared to watches, jewellery is a difficult trade, the margins are lower while competition and capital investments in stock are extremely high,” Häusermann explains. “Furthermore, the current price of gold has put many European producers out of business as products became too expensive for some consumer segments.” The trend for the next 15 years, he feels, is branded jewellery, a course set two decades earlier by the watch industry. Consumers trusted their local goldsmiths. But today potential buyers are swamped with information, much of it contradictory or even untrustworthy. “Consumers need an assurance that the product they are buying is of the highest quality and brands can offer them this guarantee.”
From good stock
Trust in quality is one of Furrer-Jacot’s strongest points. The company has seniority in the market, and that has been earned by producing quality rather than elbowing out the competition. It begins with the actual manufacturing of the rings, which are forged rather than cast giving them greater density and heft. Even the country of origin is an advantage, since “Swiss made” is a mark of distinction in the luxury segment (see this issue’s introductory article). “Furrer-Jacot is 100% Swiss made and this is an important aspect of our image,” Häusermann points out. “The closer things get to our skin, the more we care about origins. This is the case with food, with clothes and also with rings.” Even with the “Swissness” laws allowing some leeway for outsourcing, Furrer-Jacot insists on having a complete in-house team of specialists to work on each piece, from designers and model-makers, to goldsmiths, stone setters, lathe operators, polishers and engravers. “So our rings are truly 100% Swiss made,” Häusermann says with some pride. The only aspect of manufacturing that is not dealt with in-house traditionally – diamond cutting – now has a Swiss solution, too. “We have formed a partnership with Switzerland’s recently founded and only diamond cutter. So today we are in a position to even offer the ring diamonds, as ‘Swiss made’ centre stones or in river settings.”
Apart from quality, a key consideration when buying wedding bands is design. Year after year, the staff at Schaffhausen turn out new collections in gold, white gold and other precious metals, some with diamonds, some without. The designs range from the straightforward band flashing occasionally with a few tastefully placed brilliants, to more complex pieces like Les Magiques, combining perhaps two metals, or concatenating various elements to form a more “industrial-looking” ring. The Filigranes, thin, curvy, yet rich in texture are for her, the broad, assertive pieces from the Masculins series are for him, but might well suit a woman with strong hands and a desire to delve into the world of the Y chromosome.
Like good cognac, like exclusive watches, there is always a leitmotiv in the Furrer- Jacot output, which is guaranteed by the company’s internal stability. “Our designer has been with us for 24 years and the chef d’atelier for 33 years, and I trust them both completely,” Häusermann explains. Designer-in-chief, Lucas Ruppli, has received numerous awards for his work. He is one of the winners of the renowned Diamonds International Awards. The company also received an award for its platinum wedding bands at this year’s award ceremony of the Platinum Guild International in Germany. The focus on the hoary tradition of craftsmanship and attention to detail even allowed the company to establish a solid bridgehead in the Japanese market, one of the world’s toughest especially when it comes down to the look of a product. People with experience selling in Asia recount the endless amount of time an Asian, especially a Japanese, buyer will take to gaze at a product, examining each tiny space for a blemish.
Article by Sophia Stavros