In Breakfast at Tiffany's, Audrey Hepburn says that, "You can always tell what kind of a person a man really is by the earrings he gives you". This is something that is very clear to Chantecler, the all-Italian luxury jewellery brand that for seventy years has been producing fine jewellery for a selected clientele, recently also abroad, gaining a significant market share thanks to its presence at the latest Basel Fair.
The company was founded in 1947, in the aftermath of the Second World War, when two friends decided to go into business together on the island of Capri. One was called Pietro Capuano, a dandy heir to a noble family of Neapolitan jewellers, generally known by the name of "Chantecler" due to his habit of partying till dawn. The other was Salvatore Aprea, a young man from Capri who decided to set aside his Law studies to devote his life to art and fine jewellery. "Our company's history is rather unusual", says Salvatore's son, Gabriele Aprea, who has been at the helm of the company since 1994, together with his sisters Maria Elena and Costanza. "Chantecler is an atypical fine jewellery brand as it does not originate from iconic locations such as Rome, Milan, Paris or New York."
What prompted your founders to establish the company?
"They soon realized that Capri had a high potential, primarily because of the "dolce vita" lifestyle that was taking hold on the island. The main reasoning was that, to reach the elite, you had to stand out and offer an alternative, unconventional high-end product. And that is exactly what they were. Therefore, while a string of pearls was normally white, they produced it in natural colours, such as champagne or grey; and while pearls were generally perfectly spherical, they started setting them in their original, drop-like shape. And so, in time they attracted the stars of their day, from Ingrid Bergman to Jackie O, definitely confirming Chantecler's role as a fine jewellery brand."
So, Capri was the origin of everything; what is your relationship with this land?
"Fundamental! Every day, Capri's energy, colours and scents create something unique and extraordinary; something that we have turned, with unwavering passion, into jewellery. Chantecler would not be what it is today, if it were not for the island. In addition to being the fulcrum of our equilibrium, it has been and still is the centre of a world that sets trends and marks the times. Our land has always been a meeting place for the most influential people, from Roman emperors to intellectuals, great politicians and cover-girl divas. These influences have given the island an international allure that makes it special, making us feel very privileged to have grown up here. However, our jewellery experience has led us out of that world: from Capri to Milan. Emigration is the natural path drawn out for an islander, and we have adapted to our fate. This is something that we are born and grow up with, giving us an extraordinary strength and capacity for adaptation."
How do you handle the competition?
"Well, to some extent we have none. This is not me being pretentious," he explains, "but responding to a real need. If our products were similar to those of our "colleagues" we would not sell, because our product and price range would be covered by the major brands. We would be swallowed up. Therefore, we focus on products that are exclusive, aimed at the few - but not too few. Who is it that said, 'Stand out or die out'?"
Your journey has gone from small, family-run concern to exporter worldwide...
"Yes, it's true. We first started expanding in Italy alone, as a medium-sized luxury goods company with stores in Cortina and Milan and more than 130 points of sale throughout Italy. However, as ours is a niche market, the recession hit us - and many others like us - very hard. While, on the one hand, we tried to contain costs, on the other, we felt the immediate need to internationalize and promote our products abroad. With SACE's support, we found the strength to invest in high-potential markets. We devised a line of franchised single-brand luxury boutiques in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Astana. We are now looking to the Eastern European markets, and are also among the brands represented at the Basel Fair. SACE's decisive support gave us the chance to figure out the right way forward. At present, Italy accounts for 80% of our sales, but we are aiming to reach a 50-50 ratio. Our production, however, is still 100% Italian, and is split between Naples and Valenza Po, a prestigious goldsmith district where Bulgari has its headquarters and where we produce both our fine jewellery and our ready-to-wear collections. For us, running a quality all-Italian business is an added value, as the prestige of our workers and traditions is unparalleled."