How China’s US$31m ‘wedding of the decade’ boosted sales for a 200 year old French jeweller

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2016, 5:10pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2016, 10:57pm

It was called the “wedding of the decade” in China – a US$31 million extravaganza that saw Shanghai-born movie star Angelababy wed actor Huang Xiaoming in October last year. The six-carat, US$1.6 million wedding ring ignited an unexpected but long-lasting frenzy after the bride posted photos of it on social media. The ring, designed by French jeweller Chaumet, was called the “Angelababy Ring” by millions of Chinese netizens.

One year after the spectacle, Chaumet chief executive Jean-Marc Mansvelt recalls that the overwhelming response from Chinese clients to the so-called Joséphine Aigrette Impériale ring was “even more than we had thought.”

“It is really an acceleration in terms of our visibility,” the 52 year old former Louis Vuitton veteran, who took over the reins of the jewellery house in 2014, told the South China Morning Post.

The cost of the wedding rivalled the US$34 million nuptials of British royals Prince William and Kate Middleton – and was roughly five times what Hong Kong superstars Carina Lau and Tony Leung shelled out when they tied the knot in Bhutan in 2014.

The elaborate gala, attended by over 100 big names including movie star Lin Chi-ling and Wanda Group’s heir apparent Wang Sicong, generated a buzz on both mainstream and social media platforms, including Weibo and Wechat.

The venue for the ceremony, the Shanghai Exhibition Centre, was adorned with tens of thousands of fragrant roses, with a a holographic castle and 10-foot tall cake adding to the feel of a modern Chinese “fairytale romance”.

But behind the scenes, the wedding was a text book case of how a Chinese celebrity couple leveraged their fame into money-making ventures for both themselves and the brands that took part in the multimillion-dollar bonanza of product placement.

The custom wedding gown for the 26 year old bride took Dior five months to craft, while several sets of dress couture that appeared in her wedding photos – taken in Paris – came from Lebanese tailor Elie Saab.

Still today there are people stepping into Chaumet stores... saying where is the ‘Angelababy ring’
Jean-Marc Mansvelt, Chaumet chief executive

Perhaps the priciest pieces that helped Angelababy complete her look were two antique diamond-and-pearl tiaras from Chaumet, which is known for creating ceremonial jewels for Napoleon I and Empress Josephine as well as other European monarchs since late 1700s. Prior to their wedding the Chinese couple visited Paris to rent what Mansvelt called “patrimonial” jewels from the French jeweller’s own museum.

Days before the wedding, the bride used Weibo to showcase the ring that was named in honour of Napolean’s empress Josephine – a five-carat pear-shaped diamond surrounded by smaller diamonds with a thick intertwining bands, leaving thousands of netizens stunned by the extravagance.

The tie-up with the actress seen as China’s answer to Kim Kardashian put the little-known European jeweller in the spotlight, so much so that “still today there are people stepping into Chaumet stores in Singapore, in Hong Kong, in Taiwan, in the mainland saying where is the Angelababy ring?”, said Mansvelt, a little surprised how quickly the Chinese discarded the ring’s original French name. “It is not something that was originally designed for her,” he said.

Mansvelt said Chaumet has seen “more than double digit growth” in revenue in greater China from its 20 boutiques on the mainland, five in Hong Kong and four in Taiwan. “We are absolutely untouched by the China economic slowdown.”

While the jeweller now expects China to become its biggest market on back of the long term interest aroused by the wedding, the extravaganza also brought the high-flying star couple even more fame and fortune.

Huang told reporters at the time that some items were gifts or on loan from friends, and that the couple had signed lots of endorsement deals – meaning their out of pocket expenses would have been far less than the US$31 million cost.

In comparison, Zhang Lan, a Beijing entrepreneur whose son Wang Xiaofei married Taiwanese singer Barbie Hsu, told mainland media in 2011 that their entire lavish wedding banquet cost only 1 million yuan, after taking into account all the sponsorships, from accommodations to dining.

The gift box received by the 2,000 some guests at Huang’s wedding included a Meitu smartphone and Dove chocolates – both brands that have employed Angelababy, whose real name is Yang Ying, as their spokeswoman in order to entice millennial customers. The giant wedding cake was provided, at no charge, by Shanghai bakery 1001 Bakery.

In fact, with the bride and groom being investors behind a number of the product and service providers for the wedding, they may have even made money from it.

Earning a combined 120 million yuan a year in 2014, according to the Forbes China Celebrity List, the couple have since launched their own venture capital fund that invests in business ranging from e-commerce sites, mobile apps, and an express delivery agency.

Huang also holds shares in Beijing Yan, the restaurant that organised the wedding’s banquet, and he owns the Chinese partner of Spanish vinter Bodegas LAN, which supplied fine wines to the 2,000 guests, and has funded online car leasing platform Aicai that deployed a fleet of luxury sedans to transport the VIP guests.

And on the wedding day, all these brands backed by the bride and groom rolled out aggressive promotional campaigns, drawing thousands of likes on Weibo, and sharing in the publicity spike enjoyed by the long-established French jeweller.