updated 3 Jul 2014, 11:55
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Wed, Jun 25, 2014
Urban, The Straits Times
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Star bright
by Leslie Kay Lim

Diamonds, perhaps more so than any other gemstone, are known and prized for their sparkle and shine. But for Italian jewellery brand Damiani, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, its brand ambassadors are just as dazzling.

Since the 1990s, the diamond jewellery brand has used celebrities as part of its marketing efforts. Damiani president and chief executive Guido Grassi Damiani claims that the company was one of the first to do so.

"Celebrities help people become closer to the brand," he says in an interview.

The 46-year-old Italian was in town to open the second Damiani store in Singapore, at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands and as part of a series of events around the world celebrating the 90th anniversary milestone.

Actress Isabella Rossellini was a face of the brand in the 1990s, as were household names such as Sophia Loren, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sharon Stone later on.

Eva Longoria of TV show Desperate Housewives fame, who was also in town for the opening, is the latest star to lend her star power to the brand.

Mr Damiani, who is married with three children, emphasises that the partnerships are organic in nature, saying "we don't just 'hire' them. We strike up friendships and, sometimes, they are customers first".

This year, the brand is planning to announce an Asian male celebrity as the latest face of the brand, but Mr Damiani declines to say who it is.

Some, such as Loren and Stone, go on to co-design collections for the brand as well.

"They are artists," says Mr Damiani, who has been at the head of the label since 1996.

Actor Brad Pitt also co-designed collections for the Italian brand, though the collaboration began with a bit of controversy.

According to a report by the BBC, the American actor and his then wife, Jennifer Aniston, sued the jewellery label for US$50 million (S$63 million) for reproducing and selling their wedding rings he had designed with Damiani.

But the parties reached a settlement agreement and Pitt went on to design for Damiani and Aniston to model Damiani jewellery.

Building brand awareness in Asia

Mr Damiani, along with his older sister Silvia and younger brother Giorgio, are the third generation of the family to take over the reigns of the business. His grandfather, Mr Enrico Grassi Damiani, founded the brand in 1924.

Mr Damiani, who gives off a slight rock and roll vibe with his unusually shaggy hair and wristful of diamond bracelets, grew up in Valenza, Italy, the jewellery capital of Italy and where the Damiani company is still based.

The city is full of jewellers and artisans, to the point where if children left secondary school to work, the question would be "goldwork or setter?", he recalls of his time in school.

"Normal children might play with wooden toys but I remember playing with gold bars," he says of growing up with a family in the jewellery business.

"There's even a picture of me at three years old, looking at a diamond through a loupe," he adds.

He feels a profound sense of responsibility, having his name on the door, he adds. "It's a different point of view. It's not just about profit."

Damiani is best known for its use of pave diamonds and white gold. Bestsellers include its Belle Epoque Cross necklace, which starts from $5,840 and its D Icon Ceramic Ring, which costs from $1,390 onwards.

Both use diamonds mixed with other stones and materials. Prices can go up to six figures.

While the Damiani name is well known in Italy, it is still working on building brand awareness in Asia.

The company has been in Japan for about 20 years and has entered markets including South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China and Malaysia in the last decade. It arrived in Singapore two years ago.

Mr Damiani hopes more high profile events, such as the store opening with Longoria, as well as travelling displays of limited-edition pieces, such as its 90th anniversary collection, will help grow Damiani into a household name here.

The 90th anniversary collection consists of 10 pieces of jewellery, each reflecting a decade in the brand's history.

For example, the 1920s-inspired Charleston feather necklace alludes to the work of founder Enrico Gracci Damiani and art nouveau, while the 1960s-inspired Optical earrings feature a black and white graphic design with elements of Pop Art.

"It takes time," says Mr Damiani with a sweep of his arms over the glowing displays.

"But the consumer will see the difference."

Damiani brand ambassador Eva Longoria on...

The first piece of jewellery she received

I think it was a little promise ring, when I was in junior high, from my boyfriend. It was a tiny little ring, like a cat, I think.

Her most treasured piece of jewellery

My Damiani earrings - diamond studs. They're classic and my favourite. I wear them with everything.

Why diamonds are a girl's best friend

There is just something so romantic about diamonds and women. And there's something so creative about the process of jewellery-making.

Every piece of jewellery has a story behind it - whether it's a memory of who gave it to you or where you bought it - it's always a fun conversation.

This article was first published on June 6, 2014.
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