QUICK FACTS
LOCATION:
Houston, TX
URL: deboulle.com
OWNERS: Denis and Karen Boulle
FOUNDED: 1983
OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2015
STORE DESIGN: Gensler
AREA: 1,800 square feet
COST OF BUILDOUT: $2 million
EMPLOYEES: Six
BRANDS: De Boulle Collection, Patek Philippe, David Webb
ONLINE PRESENCE: 12,971 Likes on Facebook; 4.5 Stars on Yelp

DE BOULLE DIAMOND
& JEWELRY

A SECOND LOCATION MAKES A SPLASH IN THE FOURTH LARGEST CITY

STORY BY Eileen McClelland

OWNERS
DENIS AND
KAREN BOULLE

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 edition of INSTORE.

DENIS AND KAREN BOULLE’S first priority has always been to make clients feel comfortably at home. At the same time they want to make sure everything they do is associated with exquisite quality, from the fine jewelry and watches they sell to the quality of materials used in the design of their stores. In creating a second home for de Boulle, their Dallas-based business, which was named a Cool Store in 2007, the Boulles had the opportunity to roll out the welcome mat for Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S.

PLAYLIST
➜ Pop, alternative, acoustic rock, such as John Mayer and Michael Buble.
TRY THIS
Work with a Store Planner from the Beginning
➜ Are you preparing to work with an architect or store designer on your own cool store to be? Always get design professionals onboard as soon as possible, even before selecting your space. “People who have been doing it a long time understand the pros and cons and opportunities of certain spaces vs. other spaces,” says Lisa Pope-Westerman. “They will consider ceiling heights and other existing conditions. Assessing and analyzing those kinds of things gives store owners more information about which space is the better longer term investment.”
Brand Power
➜ De Boulle relies on brands to differentiate itself in a crowded luxury market.
★★★★★
5-STAR FACEBOOK REVIEW
MAY 21: “They had a water bowl outside and gave me a treat while I was walking by their Houston shop! I hope someday they sell doggie collars.”
— Molly McKinney
5-STAR GOOGLE REVIEW
MAY 2016: “Best of the best in Dallas and Houston! Owners and staff treat you like one of their own.”
— Bo Zhou

While the de Boulle Diamond & Jewelry Patek Philippe Showroom introduces Houston to the de Boulle Collection of jewelry, designed or selected by Karen, the location also houses the first official Patek Philippe showroom in the world. That calling card has gained them immediate entrée into Houston’s elite shopping and social scene.

“Patek Philippe is our biggest drawing card,” Denis says. “Our brand is not big enough to open into Houston by itself and succeed. We found very select brands that can’t be found elsewhere that we can use to differentiate ourselves. That is the key — offering pieces that they can’t get anywhere else.” The boutique is also the only David Webb dealer in Houston.

They chose as their location the new River Oaks District, where their heavy-hitting neighbors include Cartier, Chopard, Harry Winston, John Hardy and Van Cleef & Arpels.

They wanted the store to be welcoming but also elegant and bespoke enough to outshine competitors on the global luxury-brand level. “We were coming up against all the big boys in the industry,who had an unlimited pocketbook,” Karen says. “We had to create something that had to be special and not cookie cutter. We had to compete as the little bitty independent, and we were going to do the best that we could. And so we spent money more freely than was probably wise.”

And they also wanted to be able to use the Houston store as a prototype for future ventures. “We wanted the store to be open and welcoming, but elegant. Not intimidating,” Karen says. “Not too cutting edge or too old fashioned. Classical and timeless.”

They turned to the Houston office of Gensler, a global architecture, design and planning firm. Gensler architect and designer Lisa Pope-Westerman pulled together elements of residential and retail design to achieve an engaging balance.

Denis says the Gensler team poured their heart and soul into the project, which, at less than 2,000 square feet, was relatively small in the grand scheme of architecture and design.

Pope-Westerman says she was immediately impressed with how lovely and hospitable the Boulles are. “The biggest thing I noticed visiting them in the original store in Dallas was that they treated you as if they were welcoming you into their own home,” she says. “They wanted to carry that through to the prototype Houston store, that very personal feeling.”

A homey lounge between the jewelry showroom and the Patek Philippe shop in shop serves as a visual icebreaker with its comfortable furniture, coffee bar and relaxed vibe. Bright yellow chairs provide energetic splashes of color while echoing the trademark tone of de Boulle gift bags. The curtains are a replica of those used in their Dallas store, providing a unifying feature and an extra residential flair. The lounge serves as a transitional portal between the two sides of the store — the subtly masculine Patek Philippe enclave and the slightly more feminine front of the store, where Karen’s jewels take center stage.

The light fixtures in the front window are an ode to the residential side of the store’s personality. They act like flickering sconces that might be found on the front wall of a stately home, flanking the front doors.

“The lanterns in the windows are welcoming and warm, and they invite you to take a closer look,” Pope-Westerman says. “When you do, you notice there are beautiful jewels perched on top of those fixtures. So you are engaged at different levels; you see something to attract you and lure you in, and as you get closer you see more of the beauty inside.”

One of the first objects of beauty shoppers will notice inside is the Italian crystal chandelier that looks like it would be at home in the grand foyer of an opulent residence.

Brightly polished brass reflects the high-karat gold in Karen Boulle’s jewelry. While the brass on the façade is polished, brass finishes inside the store are matte, to take a back seat to the brilliant jewelry.

Immediately to the left and right of the entry are lifestyle cases, designed to accommodate jewelry that is curated to reflect the changing seasons.

The herringbone wood floors and plaster walls also provide a matte background. Choosing plaster walls over painted gypsum elevates the quality of the entire interior in a subtle way that quickly wins over guests, who can’t quite put their finger on why exactly the space is so warm. “It’s been really amazing to watch people come in and hear them say, ‘It just feels so wonderful in here. Something is so special,’” Pope-Westerman says.

The wall color is a carefully crafted blend of warm and cool gray tones, combining residential warmth and modern crispness. While the palette is simple and neutral, the variety of texture and patina adds interest.

A rich marble half wall separates the lounge area from the Patek boutique in the back of the store.

A big budget-busting splurge for the Boulles is a two-panel logo divider wall designed by a local artisan. Each of the plates within the screen is hand-cast and set within a framework that divides the front retail portion from that of the lounge space. Because it’s intricately fashioned out of solid brass, the initial price estimate was $100,000 per panel. But by making the framework a little more airy, that expenditure was toned down to a more manageable $100,000 for both panels.

The DEB logo on the screen also makes an appearance on the base of store fixtures.

“It’s very subtle,” Pope-Westerman says. “It’s not in-your-face. It’s almost like when you’re looking for a brand name on a piece of jewelry. It subtly signifies that it’s quality.”

STARTING FRESH WITH DISTINCTIVE INVENTORY

OPENING A SECOND STORE has been not only a creative outlet, but also an opportunity to start fresh, to get back onto the sales floor and talk to people. Denis enjoys personally greeting everyone who walks in the door.

Although custom design is an option, the Boulles say that the pieces on display are so distinctive and unique that most shoppers find something they can’t resist waiting for them in the boutique’s custom cases.

They also carry estate watches, and take jewelry and watches in trade.

“We can value a piece of jewelry that someone isn’t wearing, and they can trade it for a Patek or for a new piece of jewelry,” Denis says. “It’s amazing how much trading we do. We looked at a beautiful 55-carat aquamarine this morning.”

Although the Boulles recognize the rivalry between Houston and Dallas and don’t want to take sides, they have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly Houston has embraced them, at how receptive and welcoming and diverse its residents are.

“The barrier to entry here is a lot lower,” Denis says. “Dallas will watch you more before they accept you. If you come to Houston, and you are hard working with good ethics and the store creates something of a swagger, then Houston people will give you a try. It’s very open, surprisingly so.”

They are also enjoying the international nature of the city.

They commute regularly between the two locations.

“In Dallas we see locals and regular customers and there’s a loyal following,” Denis says. “Here, it’s the United Nations. Every day. We love that aspect of it.”


PHOTO GALLERY

5 QUESTIONS WITH
DENIS DE BOULLE

1. Is it tough to sell fine watches to millennials?
“Many Patek Philippe customers are 25 to 35 years old, earn good incomes and have developed a passion for timepieces. My son is 27 years old and his friends all love watches. The perception that the next generation rely on iPhones and gadgets at the expense of watches is totally wrong. They have a bigger passion for watches, almost, than older people. Watches are a point of differentiation for young professionals.”

2. Did you have any setbacks during construction?
“The floor is the obvious one. There had been a lot of rain and there was water leakage before we even started. The concrete was soaked and we had to get a special machine to dry it out.”

3. Have you faced other challenges?
“If it were easy to open a second location, everyone would do it. We opened in Dallas right before 9/11. And in Houston we moved in in November while the price of oil crashed. But oil is coming back. People are very positive. Houston is going to be a bigger market than Dallas for Patek. And we created a template we can reproduce.”

4. Where did the store’s name come from?
“The Boulle name stems from Parisian André Charles Boulle. (1642 to 1732) who became known for his skillful work in the field of marquetry. His style of work was eventually dubbed ‘Boulle.’ In French, ‘de’ means ‘of’ or ‘from’ — ‘of Boulle’ or ‘from Boulle.’ Having ‘de’ in front of your last name in France also carries stature in the French language and in Europe.”

5. What sort of advertising have you done?
“Patek has been instrumental in every way, using their PR machine to get stories for us, for example. There’s been a tremendous amount of media exposure, every major magazine in the city.”

5 COOL THINGS

1. DISTINCTIVE DESIGNS
de Boulle Diamond & Jewelry has distinguished itself through Karen Boulle’s eye for luxury and talent for design. The de Boulle Collection is inspired by Karen Boulle’s childhood spent traveling the world — England, Singapore and elsewhere in the Far East — when her father was in the diplomatic service.

2. AWARD-WINNING ENVIRONS
The location isn’t just cool in the jewelry world. It has won two awards for excellence in design: First Place in Retail Design Institute Hard Line Specialty Store Category from the Retail Design Institute and a Silver Finalist at the 2016 Association of Retail Environments Design Awards in the Hardline Specialty Store up to 3,000 square feet category.

3. EXPERTS IN THE HOUSE
de Boulle’s versatile staff are experts on both fine jewelry and Patek Philippe watches, and have been trained in Switzerland. The Houston staff also spent four months training in Dallas before the new store debuted.

4. SUCCESS IS IN THE AIR
The store has a subtle, custom-designed scent that is light and clean and spa-like and contributes to the overall comfortable, special feeling.

5. DRIVING AMBITION
de Boulle has a racing team that participates in amateur and professional races. Denis’ son, Nick Boulle, was sponsored by de Boulle Motorsports and Vista del Mar of Perdido Key, FL, in the 2016 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona where his team finished second. Through events, press and social media, this kind of national publicity and marketing exercise has created local buzz for de Boulle, and its partners in their motorsports endeavors.

what the judges say

Debbie Fox:
Their minimalist look with clean lines, light wood casework and open floor plan gives an upscale, but comfortable, feeling. Keeping the color palette to three neutral colors allows them to add interesting patterns and pops of color to draw the eye where they see fit. Blending their passion for race cars brings that demographic into their business and garners additional publicity.

Becky Stone:
De Boulle has a particularly good Instagram presence — the photos are all appealingly composed, in-focus and on brand. They clearly have a better understanding of Instagram than many others in the industry.

Todd Reed:
De Boulle has a aesthetic that is elegant and refined at every turn, and they do the things from basic to complex that make one want to trust them and get into their world.

Brandee Dallow:
The coolest thing about de Boulle is its amazing and elegant Patek Philippe showroom and the fact that it was the first official Patek Philippe Showroom in the world!

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