They used to depict pretty nativity scenes and children were thrilled just to open the doors as they counted down to Christmas. If you were lucky they might even contain a little chocolate.
But in recent years the advent calendar has become far more sophisticated — and commercialised. Luxury brands now make calendars with pull-out drawers containing expensive miniature products and treats.
This year, top designers are getting in on the act — from Tiffany and Balmain to Dior and Armani.
Lauretta Roberts, editor-in-chief of theindustry.fashion, a business specialising in fashion and beauty industry insights, says: ‘Advent calendars are a great way to market a range. If people like what they try, they’ll come back for full-size products. If they come back in time for Christmas, you’ll get two bites of the festive cherry.
The Linley Calendar, £15,000 is an exquisitely crafted townhouse, inspired by the architecture of Belgravia in London, with 24 drawers — but no actual gifts
‘The idea is evolving, too, as brands realise there are other opportunities — such as a calendar you start on Christmas Day then keep opening to mark the 12 days of Christmas.’
She says there are two main consumers: husbands and sons looking for an easy gift that offers choice and ‘wow factor’, and the rest of us for whom treating ourselves has become as much a part of Christmas as carols.
And while new designer calendars may be obscenely expensive, they offer an introduction to high-end brands.
But are any good value? ‘Often brands will tell you the cost of the products and all together it will be far more than the price of the calendar,’ says Lauretta. ‘It is in the company’s interest to make them feel value for money.’
Here’s our pick of the money-no-object luxury options . . .
KEEP THIS FOR EVER
An exquisitely crafted townhouse, inspired by the architecture of Belgravia in London, with 24 drawers — but no actual gifts.
Made in the workshops of the furniture company founded by the Queen’s nephew David Linley, this is part-advent calendar, partdolls’ house.
Each is crafted from burr oak and sycamore, with marquetry in woods including eucalyptus and birch. Just 67cm high and 38cm wide, it’s a work of art, with a hidden compartment (Linley is known for these) to find and open on Christmas Day. If you can still afford gifts to fill it . . .
BREAK THE BANK
Tiffany calls this ‘The Ultimate Advent Calendar’, and, yes, most of us could only afford it if we sold our homes. They describe it as ‘an exclusive, diverse selection of 24 must-have Tiffany designs wrapped in Tiffany Blue and housed in a custom-designed, keepsake replica of our Fifth Avenue flagship store.’
Each trinket comes in a Tiffany blue box with red ribbon. Gifts include: diamond and tanzanite earrings, a platinum and diamond pendant — plus, less appealingly, a silver keyring, pen and pencil set and even a silver harmonica.
The gifts range in value from £100 to £13,000.
Tiffany’s Ultimate Advent Calendar, £104,000. They describe it as ‘an exclusive, diverse selection of 24 must-have Tiffany designs wrapped in Tiffany Blue
This is Armani’s first advent calendar. A simple-looking box in the brand’s gold and red colouring, it has two full-size products — Eyes To Kill Stellar eyeshadow in a pewter shade, and Lip Maestro lipstick, plus 17 miniatures such as mascara, scents, eye cream and make-up remover, and accessories including a lip magnet and keyring.
Armani Luxury Beauty Advent Calendar, £249. A simple-looking box in the brand’s gold and red colouring, it has two full-size products
For those who want to channel the glamour of the Duchess of Sussex, Cindy Crawford and Margot Robbie, Missoma — a jewellery brand beloved by the stars — has a 12 Days To Shine advent calendar this year.
If you’re starting it at the beginning of advent, then with just 12 doors it’s only a treat every other day. Or begin on Christmas Day and enjoy a daily gift as you mark the 12 days of Christmas.
The gold-plated jewellery includes earrings, necklaces and bracelets, as well as a notebook, trinket purse and tray and, um, hair clip. However, the company says the value of the items is £695, so arguably it’s a bargain.
Missoma, 12 days to shine, £395. If you’re starting it at the beginning of advent, then with just 12 doors it’s only a treat every other day
With this hand-drawn design by chic French interior des-igner Vincent Darre, the Dior advent calendar is embellished with gold and depicts a bustling Dior store as well as sleighs pulled by lions and mythical centaurs, a giant Christmas tree and even the Arc de Triomphe.
Beautiful to look at (does buying it count as investing in art?) it contains a selection of miniature Dior scents, as well as creams, soaps and candles.
Christian Dior Calendar, £340. With this hand-drawn design by chic French interior des-igner Vincent Darre, the Dior advent calendar is embellished with gold
A comparative snip, this large, colourful fabric advent calendar — a metre long by 60cm wide — comes from homewares designer Sophie Conran and is handcrafted in India. Like the Linley calendar it can be re-used for years to come, meaning it wins sustainability points.
While you can fill it with whatever you like, it’s marketed alongside the Biscuiteers Advent Tin of Biscuits (£58) — the idea being to fill the pockets with biscuits.
Available on the Biscuiteers website, but sold out for now on Sophie Conran’s online shop.
Sophie Conran Calendar, £125. A comparative snip, this large, colourful fabric advent calendar — a metre long by 60cm wide — comes from homewares designer Sophie Conran
DECK THE BOUGHS
Produced to mark the firm’s 260th anniversary — well why not? — the Wedgwood advent calendar is designed to look like an elegant Georgian townhouse, with an interior in classic Wedgwood blue.
Each of the 24 drawers contains a miniature porcelain tree decoration, including a teeny-tiny Grecian urn and miniature teapot, hung on a white satin ribbon — so possibly not for those with dogs or small children who might pull over the Christmas tree.
Temporarily out of stock on the Wedgwood website, but still available at John Lewis.
Wedgwood Porcelain Tree Decoration Advent Calendar, £600. The Wedgwood advent calendar is designed to look like an elegant Georgian townhouse
GREAT HAIR DAYS
Cheaper than many designer calendars, but that may be because it offers just ten treats — a door approximately every two-and-a-half days.
The hair products include a 200ml revitalising mask, 50ml moisturising shampoo and conditioner, 200ml leave-in conditioning spray, as well as a silver comb, mirror, towel and hair clip. Available at Selfridges.
Balmain Paris Hair Couture Advent Calendar, £150, is cheaper than many designer calendars, but that may be because it offers just ten treats
This is beautifully decorated with a hand-drawn design of the iconic Harrods building on a dark background. The department store claims its advent calendar is ‘packed to the rafters with 25 miniature and full-size favourites from our Beauty Halls’.
The website clearly features photos of each product so it’s easy to see if you’ll like what’s inside.
Brands include Laura Mercier, Nars, Becca, Living Proof, Penhaligon’s, Guerlain and Dr Sturm.
You could find a 111Skin Celestial Black Diamond Eye Mask that sells for £75, a By Terry lip balm that usually costs £14, a Huda Beauty liquid lipstick that is on the shelves for £18 and a Byredo Black Saffron Hand Cream, which is sold separately for £29.
The Harrods Beauty Advent Calendar, £250. This is beautifully decorated with a hand-drawn design of the iconic Harrods building on a dark background