A New Stern Look

April 1998


A New Stern Look

Image makeover aims at women who buy their own jewelry

Last November, as other Fifth Avenue retailers rushed to finish their holiday windows, H. Stern Jewellers put the final touches on a whole new store. The day after Thanksgiving, the company opened its doors on a nine-month, $2-million renovation of its Olympic Tower location on New York City's 51st Street.

The remodeling was a major step in the worldwide image makeover that executives at the 53-year-old Rio de Janeiro-based company initiated five years ago. Gone, say company executives, is the old notion of H. Stern as the purveyor of special-occasion jewelry highlighting colored gems from the company's homeland.

In its place: H. Stern as an international design house, where women will shop for their own jewelry just as they shop for other accessories from companies such as Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani. Stones are no longer paramount – the new message is the jewelry's high style.

The 6,000-sq.-ft. store serves as H. Stern's worldwide flagship and architectural template. The company's 180 or so other units throughout the world – including freestanding stores and smaller shops located in hotels – are being revamped using elements from the Fifth Avenue redesign.

Bringing a uniform look to the far-flung stores is a major goal for H. Stern. Decades of rudderless international expansion meant that store design varied greatly from market to market, says Andrea Menezes, director of marketing for the company's North American operations.

The company makeover began with its products. Roberto Stern, head of H. Stern and son of founder Hans Stern, revamped the jewelry line, putting far greater emphasis on design and less on dazzling center stones. In 1996, it launched a bevy of new collections with that principle in mind.

As H. Stern retooled its jewelry production, it also started to redefine its corporate image. Roberto Stern enlisted a team of store designers and advertising experts – many of them well-known on the international scene – to help. One is Jorg Hysek, recognized in the watch world for his sleek designs for TAG Heuer and Seiko, among many others. He designed the overall layout of the store, meant to lure customers to the right as they enter and pull them through in a counter-clockwise direction past the showcases and display towers. Denise Barretto, head creative architect, executed his ideas with neutral-colored materials such as rosy pearwood for showcases and walls, maple for the floor and terra-cotta-colored paint for the walls at the back. She wanted to project a sense of relaxed but sophisticated style that did not overshadow the jewelry. The steel used for a support pillar and sections of the ceiling has a matte finish. "Nothing in the store shines," Menezes says. (Except, of course, the jewelry.)

Customers are meant to meander through the store as though they were in an art gallery. A row of elliptically shaped museum cases contributes to the gallery atmosphere.

On the second floor – which houses offices, a conference area and exhibit space – a mezzanine offers a bird's-eye view of the selling floor and enhances the sense of spaciousness.

There, in a corner in the back, customers can stop at the bar for such chi-chi treats as elderflower water infused with pear puree or gingered macadamia nuts. Continuing their circuit, they hang a left and, if all goes well, take a seat with one of the Halston-clad salespeople at the selling table in the corner to the left of the entrance.

Barretto aimed for a feeling of lightness and airiness by incorporating 30-ft.-high windows that face Fifth Avenue along the store's 52-foot frontage. The store is designed to be female-friendly, Menezes says. Women can shop unharassed by their young children, thanks to a toy collection that includes a sheriff's badge, coloring books and – perhaps to spur future purchases – fake jewels.

Two weeks before the store opened, H. Stern began an image campaign in The New York Times. It consisted of three eight-page color inserts, with text and photos by the well-known portrait and fashion photographer Albert Watson, running every other week in the paper's Sunday edition. It wasn't your standard store-opening fare. Instead of luscious product shots or banner headlines announcing the reopening, the inserts presented a series of pictures from a fictional scrapbook supposedly compiled by an archeologist (perhaps a time traveler or extraterrestrial, or maybe a visitor from the ancient lost city of Atlantis, Watson speculates in the copy).

The photos show people from various make-believe civilizations. One wears a bat on her head, another bananas over her groin. They all have one thing in common, though – their H. Stern jewelry. Some wear it through their noses, some on their toes or ankles. The shots are accompanied by museum-plate-like descriptions. "This fashion of setting diamonds ... is probably from the end of the 20th Century," reads one caption.

The campaign was a bit offbeat, but offbeat was just what the company needed. Says Menezes, "We couldn't just run an ad that said, 'We've changed.'"

Left and above: A campaign announcing H. Stern's new image features photographs of people from make-believe civilizations.


 Interior of the renovated H. Stern in New York City.

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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