Episode 220 Part 2: Secrets from a Jewelry Brand Strategist: How Lionel Geneste Gets Jewelry Brands on the Map

Episode 220

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • Why working with jewelry designers is part business, part therapy.
  • Why the jewelry industry is picking up its pace to match the fashion industry, and why this trend might backfire.
  • Why customer feedback on comfort and wearability is essential for jewelry brands.
  • How Lionel defines success for his jewelry clients.
  • What caused so many fashion houses to develop fine jewelry lines in the last few years, and what this trend means for the industry.

About Lionel Geneste

Lionel Geneste is a fashion and luxury industry veteran, having worked for John Hardy, Givenchy, Catherine Malandrino and Randolph Duke in various capacities, from global marketing to communications and merchandising. He is also the founder of the gift-giving service b.Sophisticated.

Born in Tehran to French parents, Geneste grew up as a modern nomad: Cairo, Istanbul, Lagos, Beirut, Paris are just a few places he once called home. And so he acquired an eclectic eye, at an early age, for the refined and urbane—only further encouraged by his clotheshorse mother and her like-minded friends.

Additional Resources



How does an independent jewelry brand get noticed? For some lucky jewelers, the secret is Lionel Geneste. Lionel is a jewelry strategist and advisor who has launched iconic brands, shown new collections at Paris couture week, and gotten small jewelry artists into top stores. He joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about how the jewelry industry compares to the fashion industry; the trends, opportunities and challenges jewelers are facing today; and how he chooses his clients (and why he has to believe in their work). Read the episode transcript here.

Welcome to the Jewelry Journey, exploring the hidden world of art around you. Because every piece of art has a story, and jewelry is no exception.

Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. This is the second part of a two-part episode. If you haven’t heard part one, please head to TheJewelryJourney.com.

Today, I’m talking with Lionel Geneste. He’s an independent strategist in the jewelry industry. He does this after 15 years in fashion, so he knows fashion and jewelry. Welcome back.

Let’s say people haven’t seen the lines of these jewels or the independent jewelers that you represent. Do they say, “Oh, I haven’t seen this. I want it for my store”?

Lionel: Right. They do that. Everybody has access to everything pretty much now, with Instagram or even stores posting on their websites. I tend to have a collection or a certain number of pieces with me, and then I distribute it amongst the stores I work with. I still give the list of everything I have within the U.S. So, if a client has seen something and it’s not within their store, I will send it to them to present to the client. It’s very interesting. Once the client knows the brand, they really go for it. They dig into the Instagram to see other pieces. I think you have to be very fluid and flexible, and you have to be able to move around your jewelry if you want to accommodate your plan.

Sharon: What are the first things you advise people, your new clients, on? Is it to get involved with social media?

Lionel: I know we all hear the stories of people selling off Instagram. I think the brick and mortar is still—at a certain level, we’re talking about jewelry. It’s different below $8,000. It’s very rare when someone buys it from a website. Even a website like Moda Operandi, for example, if there is a piece—

Sharon: Which one?

Lionel: Moda Operandi. It’s a website that was launched on the idea of doing trunk shows on there. For example, they will very often ask for the piece to be sent so they can show it to their clients. It’s rare that they buy it directly off the website. I think for pieces that are $500 to $2,000, maybe $3,000, but above a certain price, the clients want to see it, feel it.

Sharon: And touch it. When you look for new clients, what do you look for? What would you consider new? Would you consider if the way they make it is new?

Lionel: There are there a few things. If I take them, for example, Mike Joseph is very interesting. He has great technique. The jewelry is going to be well made. He made this entire collection of flowers in titanium, but he used the reverse side of titanium to have it as a matte finish, as opposed to a very glossy one. I think with this collection, when he was at couture, he won two prizes. So, I think he is both innovative and has great technique.

Vishal, I like his take on traditional Indian jewelry, which has a lot of gold and stones, but he makes it much more sleek. The thing is not to see the metal. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the portrait cut.

Sharon: No, I’m not.

Lionel: The portrait cut is a slab of diamond. It’s the Maharaja who built the Taj Mahal who actually asked his jeweler to do this type of slab of diamonds to put on top of their portraits so it would bring a shine to the miniature. So, it’s a technique, and Vishal does rings and earrings. I think that’s an interesting new way. I’m always looking for people who bring something new to the table.

Sharon: You mentioned the perspective. How could their perspective be new? When you talk to other art jewelers, sometimes you look at a piece and it looks normal, then they tell you the stories behind it and you understand it better.

Lionel: True. You can always try to understand the story. When you see Vishal make some of these pieces, I think you almost don’t need the explanation. You see that there is something new there. I’m not saying it’s wrong to try to have the story behind it, but I kind of like when—I’ve had numerous jewelers come in. They’re coming to me and showing me things, and the thing I hear the most is, “I couldn’t find this on the market.” And I look at the pieces, and I’m like, “I can bring you in 10 stores when there’s exactly the same thing.” And I think, “No.”

Sharon: So it’s their technique with the materials they use.

Lionel: The technique, the material, the inspiration. With Vishal it’s the reinterpretation of traditional Indian jewelry, but it’s still very modern and light. Sylvie has more inspiration from literature or drawings. She goes to museums to find her inspiration.

Sharon: I was just thinking, do you represent people who are goldsmiths themselves making the jewelry, as opposed to them designing it and they have a goldsmith make it?

Lionel: Mike and Vishal have their own factories, so they are really following from the beginning, from the start. Sylvie has an atelier. She draws.

Sharon: Were you a maker of jewelry?

Lionel: No. Never. I’ve always liked jewelry, but I was never a jewelry maker.

Sharon: Have you learned over the years how something is made?

Lionel: Yes. I’ve learned more about the stones. I’ve learned more about the techniques. It’s important to sell something, as you said earlier, to bring the most information. People are really curious today about how it’s made and the story behind it.

Sharon: No matter who your client is, are they interested in the way it’s made? Do they ask you questions?

Lionel: There are different profiles. People who just respond to the look of it are not curious, and it depends on the jewelry itself. With Vishal, because of this new way and this new cut of diamond, people are asking. It’s always interesting to get the background on it because there is a new historical background. Mike, for example, with his flowers connection, people were really intrigued by the use of titanium and how it was not used traditionally. So, yes, you get questions on that.

Sharon: How often do you see something new that you haven’t seen before? Is it once a year?

Lionel: It’s rare, actually, when you see people who are bringing something really new, a new proposal. Some people are doing stuff in a great way. Not everything has to be groundbreaking, and I get that. I go to couture every year, so I kind of scout, but just for myself. I like to see what’s going on. That’s not where I’m going to have a new client or anything. It’s interesting to me to see what’s new. Sometimes I see someone, and I refer them to all the stores, saying, “You should go and see that brand. It’s really cool. It’s new.”

Sharon: Do you advise a store to go look at the different jewelry?

Lionel: Yeah, I would, even if I don’t work with them. I think stores appreciate that I do that. I think the one thing I’m known for is taking on brands that are different and unique. When I point out someone that I think is great, they will listen.

Sharon: Do you only work with people who work in gold or emeralds? You mentioned John Hardy. He only works in silver.

Lionel: No. For John Hardy, I went for the one-of-a-kind collection that was very stone oriented. No, I don’t. The next big thing I did, I worked with Hearts on Fire, which was kind of relaunching and just hired a new designer. That was very interesting, to work with a big company. The idea of bringing this new designer on and kind of starting from scratch was an interesting thing. We worked on opening different stores and more classic, more bridal. That was an interesting strategy to implement.

Sharon: Did you advise them of a designer or did you walk in and they introduced you to a new designer?

Lionel: They already had the designer in mind, so we looked at the collection. They asked me about their archive and what I thought they should bring back on. I think my background with fashion and jewelry always interests people because they know I still have a foot in the fashion industry in a way.

Sharon: If somebody is in the fashion industry now, can they segue?  How can they segue to doing what you’re doing if they got tired of fashion?

Lionel: I think I know people who did the transition from fashion to jewelry. In the end, it’s the same actors. In the press and the stores, it’s the same people, except for the jewelry stores. But if you talk about all the concept stores that carry jewelry as well, it’s easy to do. It’s the same work, basically.

Sharon: So, they wouldn’t be getting away from that. Do you do pop-ups? They have become popular here.

Lionel: They do. I don’t necessarily do pop-ups. They call it differently. For example, Vishal did something at Bergdorf called the Residency. We were in for three months, and it was very successful. It is now going to be permanent for Vishal. We’ll be at Bergdorf all the time.

I think the model of trunk shows is a bit overused. It’s kind of difficult to make typical trunk shows today. Again, in a certain world, once you’re at a certain price point, some stores are doing a lot of them, and it’s the same people that you’re soliciting over and over. There’s only so much you can do.

Sharon: With Vishal, what do you consider successful? You said he was successful in this residency. Was that Vishal?

Lionel: Vishal. The brand is called VAK.

Sharon: What was successful? What was the purpose of the residency?

Lionel: The jewelry is very well-made. It’s a beautiful product and not terribly expensive. I think the proposal is that the value is great, and it was new. It’s a new look. The salespeople were excited about it, and I think they really reached out to their clients. That’s what made it successful in the end.

Sharon: You say now he’s there permanently.

Lionel: Yes.

Sharon: He has what, a cabinet?

Lionel: Yeah, a vitrine. There’s a vitrine now in the salon.

Sharon: Do you ever have to pay to have prominence?

Lionel: No.

Sharon: What are your favorite things to sell?

Lionel: I like two things. I like rings, and I like earrings. Sylvie Corbelin has a quote that I always liked. She’ll say that earrings are a gift for the other. You don’t see it on yourself, but it’s the people who see you, see the earrings. My mother, for example, would never go out without earrings. She would put on a pair of earrings to match, and it was for her to feel dressed. She didn’t feel that she was dressed if she was not wearing earrings. And I like big cocktail rings.

Sharon: What kind of jewelry do you like for men? Do you like bracelets or necklaces?

Lionel: I do like bracelets for men or a nice pinky ring, I guess.

Sharon: I was surprised. I went out to lunch with somebody who had what I consider a fabulous necklace, but I would never consider it for a man. He got so many comments on it.

Lionel: I’m sure. A lot of guys now are buying diamond pieces. I think there’s a way to wear it that’s chic.

Sharon: How long have you been in the jewelry business?

Lionel: 18 years.

Sharon: It’s a long time. What changes have you seen over that time?

Lionel: A lot of jewelry coming. A lot more jewelry.

Sharon: Really?

Lionel: Yeah. You see all the brands. Now the big trend—I was just saying yesterday, Prada is launching fine jewelry. Saint Laurent has launched fine jewelry. There’s Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci. Everybody’s betting on jewelry being the moneymaker. I think the biggest growth we can see right now is men’s. Men are buying jewelry.

Sharon: Would you say there are a lot more independent jewelers today than there were?

Lionel: Not only independent, but also all the houses are launching their own lines. Clothing houses, like Prada is launching a line. Saint Laurent is launching a line. Dior did it 20 years ago, but everybody’s hopping on the jewelry train.

Sharon: Why do you think that is?

Lionel: I think there is a real interest again for jewelry. A wider interest than just buying, but as an investment. I think also during Covid, jewelry kind of proved to be Covid-proof. I think a lot of people got the idea that jewelry was the next big thing, because it’s true that 2021 was an extraordinary year for jewelry. However, I don’t think it’s really a trend. I think it was at the moment, and we’ve seen since that the numbers have been down. The money that women would put in clothes and handbags and shoes, they were not going out, so that money went to jewelry, which was great. But I think it was instant. It was not necessarily a trend.

Sharon: Did your business go up because of Covid?

Lionel: Huge. We saw a huge difference.

Sharon And you’ve seen it go down or be flat?

Lionel: Go down and then flat. But go down, definitely.

Sharon: When you take on new clients, do they have to be making a certain amount? What do they have to have? What criteria do you use?

Lionel: Well, yes, I make sure they have enough finance to launch a business and to make it start. First of all, you need to have at least three or four years in front of you. There’s no instant success. However, I’m always conservative in their growth. I’m not going to ask them to put out a lot of pieces. I think it’s always about opening two or three key stores that are generating enough buzz as marketing, if you will, to help grow. But try not to overflow the market.

Sharon: What if they’re independent and making things you usually don’t represent, but you think there’s something there, an innovation or a passion? Maybe they make pieces that sell for $3,000 or $5,000. That’s their niche. Would you take somebody like them on?

Lionel: Yeah, I do. All the jewelers I work with, the price point starts at $5,000, $6,000.

Sharon: I won’t even ask you how much it goes up to. Thank you so much for being here today.

Lionel: Thank you.

Sharon: I feel like I roped you in from a plane ride or something.

Lionel: No, no. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me.

Sharon: Thank you for being here.

We will have photos posted on the website. Please head to TheJewelryJourney.com to check them out.

Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.

Sharon Berman