Interview with Charles Leung, CEO of Fred Jewelry

  • Publish date: Monday، 05 June 2023
Interview with Charles Leung, CEO of Fred Jewelry

Introducing Charles Leung, the Chief Executive Officer of the French Jewellery Maison FRED, since November 2018. Born in Hong Kong and educated in both the Chinese University of Hong Kong and ESSEC in Paris, Charles has a multicultural background and 10 years of experience in retail and marketing roles at Cartier. He then joined Chaumet in 2006 and led the brand's fast development in Asia. From 2012 to 2018, he was Chaumet's Global Vice-President in charge of international sales and distribution. Now, Charles is dedicated to continuing the expansion of FRED, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, with his modern and mixed vision of jewellery.

Charles has been a driving force behind the expansion of FRED since 2018, leveraging his international experience and vast jewellery expertise to promote a modern and mixed vision of jewellery through iconic and versatile collections. His commitment to reinforcing the singularity of FRED to a young and dynamic clientele has been unwavering.

Charles Leung visited to Kuwait to celebrate the grand opening of FRED Jewellery store in Salhiya, in partnership with Trafalgar Luxury group, where had the opportunity to interview him.

Charles Leung, CEO of Fred Jewelry

1. Can you tell us a little bit about the history of FRED in the middle east and specifically in relation to Kuwait?

That's a deep question. The brand has come to the Middle East a long time ago. I think the family, the brand, has a lot of links with the middle-eastern clients since a long time, for decades. Actually, a lot of the biggest clients of FRED, they come from the region including one of the most legendary stones in the house is a 275-carat sapphire sold to a client from the region by Mr. Fred himself. So, we always have a nice following of very high-end clients in the region. And we used to commercialize the brand here maybe 20, 25 years ago. And then we took a rest maybe 10 years ago. And we came back in 2021 with the first free-standing flagship store at Dubai Mall. And that was really a decisive moment for the brand to decide to come back to the Middle East with a new image and to bring back all range of jewelry, especially high jewelry to the region and to re contact the clients and recruit new clients.

Now with Kuwait, very recently that we decided to come to this city. But we have already experienced Kuwaiti clients in different stores in Paris, in London, in Dubai already, so we know them. But now we think that is a time for us to come to Kuwait.

2. What strategies have you employed to ensure FRED Jewelry's success in the region? And How do you ensure that FRED Jewelry remains competitive in the Kuwaiti jewelry market?

The advantage of FRED is that we are different and we want to play this difference in the market meaning that this is a French contemporary jewelry house with a legacy, with a heritage…

It is nearly 90 years of legacy of the brand. And the interesting part of FRED as a jeweler is that it is inspired by the French Riviera, the lifestyle of the French Riviera. So it is effortless, luxury, but at the highest quality. And it is proposing high-end jewellery for people to enjoy on an everyday basis, whether it is a big event or small moments in life to be shared, to be enjoyed. You can be any age to wear and enjoy a piece of FRED 's jewelry. And this is not so much the same as other jewelers who could be very exclusive, who could be only for a certain purpose like marriage. But FRED is more relaxed in that sense. And we have a very special association with sport values as well. And this is a very interesting part of it because the founder, Fred Samuel, he liked sports very much.

And sports helped him a lot in his life in different challenges. His two sons were European champions of Flying Dutchman, a sailing competition, and really good.

Sport inspired the family to keep going in the business and doing so well. And in return, the Sport values has been infused in the collection creation. And the brand decided to spread this very positive message to all the collectors of FRED about never giving up, about being determined, and having faith in yourself, and just going beyond.

this is very different from other brands as well. It is true for men, it's true for women as well. It is true for younger people, it is true for mature people.

there's also this contemporary idea of jewelry that could be worn in different occasions with this transformability so a big necklace could become a bracelet, it could become a brooch, it could be a part of the earrings and in general pieces that goes from day to night, something that you could wear at any occasion.

So, this makes FRED maybe a little bit different compared to the others, and that's a plus. And we have met with a few key players here, and think very positively about the brand. So that's why we decided to come.

3. Knowing that the brand as well is addressed to both men and women, how do you think this is going to be reflected in Kuwait and in the Middle East region in general?

I hope that it will be as welcoming to the male customers as elsewhere, for sure. First of all, we have to make sure that the ladies, if they love us, they’ll make sure that the men will love us!

It is true that men's wearing jewelry is kind of a new trend because boys got cars, got nice watches, and after a while, they would want a nice ring, a nice bracelet, and to express their identity and to be cool. And FRED is a cool brand.

And Fred Jewelry, we say that you can wear street wear with, you can do sport with, you can do a lot of things with. And we actually have a lot of celebrity sportsmen wearing FRED Jewelry both Men and women. So we are quite confident that those who are more than trendsetters, sporty, energetic and stylish will find FRED very interesting.

4. Can you tell us, being the CEO of the brand, what are the main challenges that you face in terms of the business itself?

It's about being agile all the time and to have some vision two steps ahead because I think as a CEO it is also our responsibilities to guide the company a little bit ahead because while the team is focusing on delivering operational excellence for the present launch. The CEO should step back a little bit to see what he or she could improve in the organisation, in the way that we function. And think ahead already, what clients in the future would be like. we are living in a world with so much uncertainty So we got to be careful, because we are responsible for our clients, we are responsible for our colleagues as well. So this is the major challenge, we don't know what more challenges will come, because every day, there's something new happening. Now it's AI, And do we use chatbots to replace the human? this is a big challenge, actually, to really think AI applies to a lot of things, we are doing a traditional craft and art, could we use a little bit of AI to help some tedious job? It could as well.

5. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in the jewellery industry? Because you know in our region in the Middle East there are so many people that are very inspired by big brands being on the fashion industry or on the jewelry industry creating their own business. Any advice from someone with your experience would be extremely important to know.

I've been in the business for 27 years. What I would say is that you've got to have passion in what you do and go for quality. Because at the end, especially for jewelry, this is something that will last. That's why good quality is the most important. I think if we're in the luxury jewelry business, We have to go for it. There's no alternative. We also have to think of clear brand positioning, where we want to be in the market, because, as you said, there is very fierce competition everywhere. And I believe that there will be a few global fashion, perfume, jewelry brands coming out from the region.

I'm so positive it will happen. Because this is a region with a long history of craft and art. You're so good in architecture, in so many things already. It will happen. Because you have this aesthetic in the culture.

today if we're going to say how a brand will continue to grow like FRED with so much family history and how things are growing for the brand, do you think this is a brand that will be challenged or people will relate to it more created by family, there's lots of connection with storytelling.

Last year we organised the first retrospective exhibition of the brand,to tell its story. And you cannot imagine how people are fascinated by the transformation of the brand also, but the transition and the passing on of a heritage, of a passion from generation to generation.

In That part of our history, we are very strong because it is not about 200, 300 years ago that nobody remembers. I think this is a family that people still remember very well.

people still remember Fred Samuel in Paris. Now, we know that we cannot always stay in the past, because we have to be relevant in the present, especially to prepare for the future. This is up to the company itself, because a lot of brands, they come from a family, and some, don't exist anymore. Because they stop being relevant to the present clients and they fail to prepare for the future, this

is something we have to be careful with because its important to understand the spirit and the vision of the founder, and keep it alive for the future.

we are sure that there will be challenges, there will be more people coming into the industry but what is interesting about this industry is that customers are changing as they more towards a guarantee of quality, they long for a story, they crave a certain style that is constant and that lasts for a long time. So this is what’s going to make the Jewelry businesses keep growing in the future. Now for the existing established brands to go further, we have more customers worldwide especially in this region as well, It is up to us to define how we are going to continue in terms of styles, what kind of style we're going to propose, in terms of functionality. there's something very important, it's about innovation.

We cannot always hold on to the past. We have to innovate, innovate in a lot of things, in products, in services, in the way that we communicate with the clients, in the way that we interact with the customers, all these count.

6. In the region, in some families, for special occaisions, mostly weddings, they would prefer to have exclusive pieces. Is this something that FRED will be offering?

Actually, we are talking about special order tailor-made and jewelry commissioned by high-end clients. This is the essence of high jewelry and the Maison FRED has been doing that even though we seem to be a contemporary looking brand, but for somethings we are very traditional and we have done very well.

it was the beginning. When I went back to the archive, our archives team have discovered boxes of previous creations for the region. I was astonished by the richness in design and the stones that the customers are looking for. We have sets of rubies, sets of emeralds, sets of sapphires, sets of colored diamonds.

They're photos, they're drawings, so meaning that they were made and delivered. it has been a tradition of the house. for example, our artistic director at the Maison, who is also our Vice President, Valerie Samuel, is a fantastic jewelry designer, as well as the granddaughter of the founder. So, there is a family trace there, and she's very ready to discuss with any client in the world on what kind of jewelry will make them feel good, and they would like to keep on, to be able to really bring to reality what they're thinking of and what they need.

there's another thing I realized when coming to Kuwait is the importance of children, the importance of education, and the importance of celebrating graduation. This is my second time to Kuwait. Last time when I was here, I saw graduation parties here. Last night when I arrived, I saw people greeting relatives coming back to Kuwait for the celebration of graduation of family members. I saw pictures of young girls and boys wearing their graduation robes and all these, balloons, flowers, it's very festive.

it is great to celebrate youthfulness, celebrate being an adult, celebrate education. And this is something very interesting because FRED is about celebrating the big and small moments of life.Our iconic collection is called Force 10, which I like very much. I gave my godson a Force 10 bracelet for his graduation. He's becoming a doctor this year.

The story of Force 10 is about sailing. It's about sailing in very bad conditions because we never know what is going on when we start sailing. Nobody guarantees you a smooth and an easy voyage anything can happen but what is important is that no matter what happens, keep your faith, don't give up, keep going. with a bit of luck, with determination, you will arrive. this is a very strong message to any young person coming to the adult world. you have to be brave, courageous, and you reach a success.

And I think this is a perfect, beautiful graduation gift. And the good thing is, there's so many different styles.

Something like that is going to last for a long time and it is a super nice message that will carry someone through all his or her life. And this is something I think we can relate to the present world.

7. with the opening of the boutique in Kuwait, first boutique for FRED, what is your message for the Kuwaitis? What do you want them to know about FRED?

we are extremely honored to be in this very interesting market of Kuwait.

We know that Kuwait is a trend-setting market in the Middle East, and the Kuwaitis, they have open-minded ideas about luxury, about style, they're super stylish, and they know fine things. we would like to provide them an option, an alternative, into some French contemporary jewelry with a big legacy and heritage behind, we would like to welcome Everybody, from all walks of life to discover the Riviera inspiration of FRED Jewelry.

FRED Jewelry is about joy, that is what Mr. Fred has always thought about. Jewelry is not about being selfish and showing off, it's about a message, it's about sharing the moments with the people you love.

we would like this positive image and positive message to be spread all over to the Kuwaiti clients. And for them to enjoy the fine craftsmanship and design of maybe a new jewelry brand in the country.