Why Sex and the City’s jewellery designer wants a piece of London

Britain's retail market is suffering as the credit crunch continues to dent consumer confidence. But Roberto Stern, the director of global jewellery empire H Stern, is hoping to buck the trend.

So much so that Mr Stern, whose late father Hans founded the eponymous brand 63 years ago, believes now is a good time to strengthen its UK presence. He recently launched the brand's first flagship store in Harrods as well as eight other H Stern outlets in the UK.

Brazil-based Mr Stern, 45, tells JC Business: "We have eyed London and the UK market closely for the past five to seven years as it emerged and secured its place as an international and cosmopolitan fashion and luxury capital.

"As a global brand, of course we would love to have an even bigger presence in the UK, with additional points of sale in markets outside London, as well as another flagship." He cites Sloane Square and New Bond Street as personal preferences.

Is now not a risky time to be setting up shop given the current economic climate? "We haven't seen much impact of the current talk of recession in sales. And some markets like Brazil, Mexico, Dubai and Russia are booming." He adds: "In the US, tourists all over the world are taking advantage of the weaker dollar to go shopping."

Yet he acknowledges there is a serious threat of a slowdown. "We are all waiting to see if it will materialise." In the meantime, Mr Stern says H Stern is being smart about how it works with gold. "Not because people are not buying but because there is a great demand for oversized jewellery, and gold is very expensive today, so we have to be innovative with our shapes and textures to create large surfaces without too much weight."

There are currently 165 H Stern stores, with more than 170 additional points of sale across 32 countries, including Israel. He cites Brazil's Iguatemi Shopping Centre in Sao Paulo as the busiest outlet, with New York's Fifth Avenue and Paris also attracting large volumes of visitors. He says the new Harrods store has the potential to reach similar high numbers.

Mr Stern admits H Stern products are aimed at more affluent customers. "But you don't need to be a millionaire to wear H Stern," he says. Collection prices start at between £500 and £600, with the average item costing around £1,500 ($3,000). Actresses Catherine Zeta-Jones, Eva Longoria, Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyoncé are H Stern aficionados, and the company was asked to loan and custom-design the "love keychain" for the recent Sex and the City movie. "It was a delight to go to the movies and see it on the big screen."

Mr Stern joined the family business in the early 1990s as creative director, taking over the reins as director when his father died last October. His brother, Ronaldo Stern, is the chief executive officer and a board member, along with their two older brothers, Rafael and Ricardo. The group employs more than 3,000 people.

Has business been affected by the ethical issue of conflict diamonds? "Not much." H Stern ensures that any suppliers they work with are compliant with the Kimberley Process - an international scheme to ensure trade in diamonds do not fund violence. "Most people now see how much the diamond industry has done to regulate this issue and protect the consumer. The worst of this terrible situation happened many years ago and has been reduced to a very small portion of the world's output."

Mr Stern, who is divorced, lives in Rio de Janeiro, where the company is headquartered. He has a 10-year-old daughter.

    Last updated: 7:50pm, August 26 2008

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    Fri, 08/29/2008 - 16:09

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    Roberto Stern does has a short memory. He obviously think we Londoners don't! Stern's actually previously had a store in Bond Street in the 1960's, but it failed beacuse it was (even then) so over-priced and out of step with the emerging new "Swinging 60's" styles of such designers like Andrew Grima (in Jermyn Street).