New Delhi: Husband and wife team, John Ayton and Annoushka Ducas are well-known names in the British jewellery industry, and have recently been awarded MBEs (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire)—one of the highest civilian honours awarded in Great Britain, short of being knighted.
Their legacy began back in the 1990s, with Links of London, a successful jewellery brand the couple later sold to jewellery manufacturer Follie Follie in 2006. Ayton went on to invested in a quintessential luxury watch brand Bremont Watch Co., owned by brothers Nick and Giles English. Bremont is significant for its legacy of aviation and fine mechanics.
Being entrepreneurs at heart, Ayton and Ducas set up fine jewellery company Annoushka in 2009. With Ducas leading the design, the range at Annoushka extends from classic, timeless pieces to bohemian, bold expressions.
Ayton, who is also chairman of Walpole, an organization aimed at promoting British luxury brands, was in New Delhi for the Mint Luxury Conference 2013. He spoke to Mint about the opportunities for the Bremont and Annoushka in India. Edited excerpts:
Are there any plans of bringing your brands, Anoushka and Bremont, to India?
We would certainly like to bring Bremont to India. We’re looking for a partner. I think it would be a great opportunity to sell luxury watches in India, and a British brand will go down very well here.
With Annoushka, at the moment, we have Indian customers in London, but until such time as the duties come down a bit, it will be difficult to bring Annoushka here.
Do you think the luxury watch market here is more acceptable and open to growth than the jewellery segment?
I see the watch business in India growing really strong. It’s a market where there isn’t much domestic competition. There’s a tonne of beautiful jewellery that’s manufactured here already. So we see a bigger opportunity in the watch market.
As a foreign brand coming to India, would you prefer to be a purist and stick to your brand’s aesthetic or would you consider customizing some designs to local culture and taste?
In bringing Bremont to India, we must remain true to the product, the brand, the engineering that goes behind the product. But I see no reason why we shouldn’t be responsive to local tastes. So in the case of watches, there’ll be a greater collection of bracelets, more gold on the watches than you’ll find in the UK. Also, I think people in India would love the whole military feel of the watches.
During the session at the Mint Luxury Conference, you mentioned that for your jewellery brand, Annoushka, you would love to collaborate with some Indian designers. Are there any of your radar?
At Annoushka, we have a guest designer programme. We invite up to four guest designers at one time to collaborate with us, to bring their interesting pieces to London. We would love to find an Indian designer who’d wish to collaborate with us. If you know of any, tell me! It would be a great opportunity for them to have their designs sell directly with us—we launch them, we have a party, we market them, they get space at some of the best departmental stores in the UK, like Harrods and Selfridges. And it’s great for us to have something different in design, something Annoushka wouldn’t come up with.
You have been approached to invest in a number of high-profile jewellery ventures worldwide, yet you put your faith in a relatively smaller online retailer, Boticca.com. Do you believe online shopping is the future and do the same rules apply to a luxury brand?
I think Boticca.com is fantastic because it is able to offer 330 jewellery designers through its platform. There are some Indian designers selling from there as well. There is opportunity for Boticca to come to India. It allows the buyer and the designer to connect directly. It offers the designer to build a fan base, create an international following, in a way that would be impossible to do from a retail point of view. It’s offering designers an effectively risk-free route to the market. Such marketplaces are going to become more and more significant, and the luxury industry has been slow in adopting the Internet. But I do think it’s going to happen more and more.
How it is to work as a couple, and how long have you and your wife Annoushka been working together?
My wife Annoushka is a jewellery designer, and I look after the business side of it. We started working together in 1990, the year we got married. I would thoroughly recommend it. As long as I don’t criticize her designs and she doesn’t criticize my business decisions, it works brilliantly. It’s great fun!