When it comes to relative value for size, both tangible and sentimental, jewellery is unmatched. Crafted using rare earth materials that tend not to depreciate, pieces of jewellery are symbolic and innately human. Wedding bands denote marriage, and heirlooms reinforce family identity. Even political power finds expression through mayoral livery collars, crowns and papal rings.
Jewellery making is one of the oldest forms of art, predated only by cave painting and clay sculpture. While the earliest examples date back as far as 100,000 BCE — when pre-historic humans constructed crude beads made from snail shells — today’s pieces are as elaborate as the human imagination will allow.
Today, the jewellery industry is worth an estimated $271 billion worldwide, a number that is predicted to grow as Asian economies continue to expand.
Here’s a list of the ten largest jewellery companies in the world by revenue in US$, six of which are owned by families.
10. Harry Winston
Revenue (2011): $279 million
Number of Employees: 500+
Known as the “King of Diamonds” in the US, Harry Winston established his eponymous New York atelier in 1932. He quickly gained notoriety as a “jeweller to the stars”, travelling the world in search of rare and precious uncut gemstones.
Harry Winston internationalised by opening his first overseas salon in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1955, and followed it up with another in Paris, France, shortly after.
With its founder’s death in 1978, the Harry Winston company passed to the second generation, Ronald and Bruce. Ronald eventually bought his brother out for $54 million in 2000.
Despite selling to the Swatch Group in 2013 for $1 billion, Harry Winston remains synonymous with fine diamond jewellery and maintains 40 concept stores around the world.
Revenue (2018): $800 million
Number of Employees: 2,000
Founded in 1860 by Louis-Ulysse Chopard, the brand is famous for producing luxury jewellery and timepieces for women. It counts some of the world’s most famous actors as its patrons.
While the company’s headquarters remain in Geneva, Switzerland, it has been owned by Germany’s Scheufele family, who are also renowned watchmakers, since 1963.
Prior to the transition, the company was run by Louis-Ulysses’ son Paul-Louis Chopard and grandson Paul-Andre, who took the company over in 1943. When the fourth generation was unwilling to take on a leadership role, Paul-Andre was forced to look elsewhere.
A perennial favourite on the red carpet, Chopard’s owner Karl Scheufele has a personal net worth of $1.9 billion as of March 2019. His two children, Caroline and Karl-Friedrich, continue to act as co-presidents.
8. Pandora Jewellers
Revenue (2017): $3.47 billion
Number of Employees: 24,000
Pandora began in 1982 with one family-owned jewellery store in Copenhagen, Denmark. Now, they boast a network of over 2,400 concept stores worldwide.
Founded by Danish goldsmith Per Enevoldsen and his then-wife, Winnie Enevoldsen, Pandora started as an import business, bringing jewellery pieces from Thailand to sell to a loyal European customer base.
Eventually, the Enevoldsens built a large manufacturing site in the Southeast Asian country allowing them to sell their popular assortment of rings, necklaces and earrings to a mass market.
In 2008, Danish private equity group Axcel purchased a 60 per cent stake in the business, and shares totalling $1.84 billion were sold in October 2010, making it one of the biggest IPOs in Europe that year.
Pandora’s popularity has surged in the wake of celebrity endorsements. In 2018, it posted a net profit of $2.58 billion worldwide.
7. Chow Tai Fook
Country: Hong Kong
Revenue (2018): $3.7 billion
Number of Employees: 30,000+
Founded in 1929 in Guangzhou, China, this Hong Kong-based, privately owned conglomerate is also engaged in property development, hotels, transportation, energy and telecommunications.
The group, however, is still best known for its jewellery, especially in mainland China, where (according to its interim report for 2018/19) it has over 2,600 retail outlets alone.
Its founder’s son, Chow Yu-tung, recently died at age 91 in 2016. The group is now in the hands of his son, Mr Henry Cheng. In the six months to September 30, 2018, he oversaw a year-on-year increase in core operating profit of 24.7 per cent to 2.9 billion HKD (approximately $369.4 million).
6. Tiffany & Co.
Revenue (2018): $4.17 billion
Number of Employees: 14,200
The iconic American jeweller better known as Tiffany’s is headquartered in New York City, and was founded in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young.
Entrenched in the lexicon of American pop culture thanks to the 1961 Audrey Hepburn film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Tiffany’s locations occupy some of the most sought-after real estate globally. As of 2018, the company had 321 locations worldwide, of which 124 are in North and South America.
Early in 2019, CEO Alessandro Bogliolo announced sales that were short of expectations, declining during the all-important holiday period that ended December 31, 2018 by 1 per cent to $1.04 billion.
5. Rajesh Exports
Revenue (2018): $4.7 billion
Number of Employees: 383
Rajesh Exports specialises in the export of gold and the sale of gold jewellery. Founded in 1989 by the current executive chairman, Rajesh Mehta and his brother, Prashant, the Rajesh was ranked 405th on the Fortune Global 500 in 2017.
Headquartered in Bangalore, the company refines over 35 per cent of the world’s gold according to its latest investor presentation information. It also claims to be the world’s largest manufacturer of gold jewellery, which cements is positioning in India where gold is culturally significant.
In 2015, the company acquired Swiss gold refinery Valcambi SA for $400 million, bringing its total refining capacity to 2,400 tonnes annually.
Revenue (2018): $7.4 billion
Number of Employees: 2,500+
Almost a by-word for luxury, Cartier was founded by Louis-François Cartier in Paris in 1847 and remained under the family’s control until 1964 with the death of his grandson, Pierre.
Now a subsidiary of the Swiss Richemont Group, Cartier operates more than 300 boutiques in 125 countries. Forbes ranked it as the 59th most valuable brand in the world in 2018, with a brand value of $10.6 billion. Its flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York, which recently re-opened after a two and half year renovation, is part museum, part retailer.
Revenue (2018): $6.25 billion
Number of Employees: 29,000+
The largest retailer of diamond jewellery in the world, Signet operates more than 3,300 retail locations worldwide, trading under a milieu of different brand names including Kay Jewellers, Zales, H. Samuel and Piercing Pagoda.
Founded in 1949, the group, previously Ratner, expanded via a series of acquisitions through the 1980s and 90s. It also moved its headquarters from the United Kingdom to the United States in September 2008, changing its primary stock listing from the London to the New York Stock Exchange.
Revenue (2017): $9.6 billion
Number of Employees: 20,000
Another privately owned luxury goods conglomerate, Chanel began as the House of Chanel in Paris in 1909, when Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel opened a millinery on the ground floor of her lover’s flat.
Offering chic simplicity in place of convoluted late 19th-century aesthetics, Coco Chanel catered to women’s taste for elegance in fashion and accessories, including a line of jewellery which continues to this day.
Today, Chanel operates over 300 concept stores worldwide and retains some of the world’s most famous women as brand ambassadors. Until recently, their creative director was Karl Lagerfeld, who died in February 2019, aged 85. In 2017, the company posted a profit of $1.79 billion.
1. LVMH – Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton
Revenue (2017): $52.9 billion
Number of Employees: 145,000+
LVMH, a multinational luxury goods conglomerate based in Paris, is the result of a 1987 merger between fashion house Louis Vuitton and drinks brand Moët Hennessy.
The French company’s portfolio includes 70 iconic brands, making it the market leader in fashion, leather goods, wine and spirits, perfumes and cosmetics. Its flagship jewellery brands include Bulgari, Hublot, de Beers and TAG Heuer.
LVMH, a family-owned company, boasts a robust retail presence around the world. Its Chairman and CEO, Bernard Arnault, is France’s richest man, with an estimated personal net worth of $95 billion.
The first two quarters of 2018 saw LVMH record a 10 per cent increase in revenue to €21.8 billion (approx. $24.7 billion), including profit of €4.64 billion (approx. $5.27 billion).