“We’ve gone back to using pencils and paper”

Joan Oliveras, CEO of Bagués-Masriera

Last September, Bagués-Masriera started to sell its products in the Chinese market. The CEO of this family business, Joan Oliveras, sat down with to discuss key issues in the firm’s internationalization. Oliveras, who is also the President of the Associació Amics de la Rambla (Friends of the Rambla Association), spoke to us about current initiatives at this deluxe jewelry brand, which was born more than two hundred years ago as a merger between three important jewelers, Masriera, Carrera and Bagués.


You’ve started to sell your products in the Chinese market.

Yes. Until now, it was a bit of a challenge because our products are more cultural in nature.


Does that limit you?

We know that we have to seek out consumers who relate to luxury from a cultural perspective. In some markets, we have to wait until after the end of a first stage, a period when consumption of materials is more important. At a later stage – our stage – demand for artistic products grows. That’s why a few years ago, when we spent a year doing market research, we didn’t find the local partner we were looking for. Now we have.


This year you also started to sell your products in Qatar. How important is internationalization for your company?

In the ‘90s, we started to sell our products abroad, first in Japan and then in the USA. The early stages of internationalization – before you see success – are quite complicated. We’re a very small business and these types of processes require a lot of effort. That’s why we need controlled growth.


The Chinese and Russians are among the tourists who shop the most when they visit Barcelona. What is the impact of tourism in terms of the business it generates for your company?

Tourism represents about 25 to 30 percent of turnover at our boutique on Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona. It’s therefore quite important for us.


A recent project of Bagués-Masriera was the “hotel-jewel” where we are speaking today, located at the heart of the Rambla in Barcelona.

The hotel is a tribute to the company’s history. For high-end companies, these kinds of projects represent a way to reach out to new market segments related to the “art of living.”


This used to be the site of your workshops and export facility. Why did you decide not to turn the building into luxury apartments?

We view our company as belonging not only to our family but also to the community. Society nourishes us, and we need to give back to it. Our business has always done so. So when a regulatory change in 2001 required us to move our workshops, we decided to collaborate with Derby Hotels to build this hotel. Our goal was more than simply selling real estate, and we didn’t want to move out of the center of Barcelona, which we feel quite connected to.


Figures indicate that luxury sales are growing around the world.

Yes, but where? This growth in consumption is occurring in emerging markets. In mature markets, the drop in sales is not as marked as in other sectors, but the industry is not growing in real terms.


So the financial crisis is also impacting luxury goods?

In the end, the crisis is impacting everything in the entire world. Our consumers also have doubts about the future of Europe. We have to remember that we are seeing a social bipolarization and that we are making a lot of mistakes. Society is being polarized, and the middle class is disappearing. We are killing the chicken that lays golden eggs, since the middle class was the part of society that was best prepared to generate wealth and growth.


What are luxury consumers like today?

Major brands the world over are seeing some important changes in luxury consumers; consumption in this sector is changing because of new perceptions of personal security and social customs.


How so?

More and more, consumers do not want to be seen purchasing goods. Before 9/11, the luxury goods sector sold goods when customers touched our products, which is a sort of worshipful attitude to shopping; it was almost like a personal liturgy. As a result of the insecurity in today’s world, this has changed among some segments of society.


How and when do people shop now?

A growing proportion of luxury shoppers make purchasing decisions based on information they find on the internet and social networks.


Tell us about Bagués-Masriera’s creative process. How do you encourage imagination and creativity?

I have to say that after so many years in which we worked exclusively with computers, we’ve gone back to using pencils and paper.


That’s certainly unique in the 21st century.

Yes, but we realized that technology was becoming a bad habit. Unconsciously, computers were structuring and fostering the creative process, leading, for example, to a repetitive use of forms. It was a tool that limited us, and we have moved away from it during the early stages of the creative process, although we still use it later on.


What gives rise to the Bagués-Masriera collection?

We’re always looking for cultural inspiration, such as Catalan ceramic plates from the 17th century.


What do you do with these inspirations?

First, we immerse ourselves in the culture of our subject. For our collection about musical concerts, our creative team attended music classes for several months. Before you start creating, you have to truly understand a score and a piece of music.


When do you know that you’ve found what you’re looking for?

In the creative process, “obvious” shouldn’t exist. Only when the creative process becomes sophisticated, when you extract its key synthesis, do you know that you have found innovation.


What challenge does Bagués-Masriera face today?

Avoiding aesthetic mimicry. Our products must have roots; otherwise, we cannot be certain that they will be unique.

“The more local art is, the more international it becomes,” said Miró. And we are restoring an art with roots.

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