De Beers sees gold in city

14 08 2010

”This is our big guy in the store right now,” said Lindsay Curington, brand ambassador at the De Beers in the Galleria.

She was referring to a 21.8 carat “fancy yellow” diamond ring.

That big guy can be yours for a little more than $1 million. Wait a while, and you’ll be able to spend a lot more on rings and other things.

The retailer whose parent company made the phrase “A diamond is forever” famous plans to offer pieces costing more than $20 million.

In town about a month, De Beers Diamond Jewellers chose Houston as its fourth location in North America, joining such high-profile luxury jewelry chains as Cartier and Tiffany & Co. in the city.

Other De Beers are in New York City, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas.

“Houston was a natural choice because it’s the fourth-largest city in the U.S., and the Galleria is the fourth-largest mall in America,” said Hamida Belkadi, chief operating officer of De Beers Diamond Jewellers.

The jeweler is scheduled to open stores in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco before the year ends. Altogether, De Beers has 23 stores worldwide.

Newcomer to retailing

Though De Beers has been mining and selecting diamonds since 1888, it’s only been in the retail business for six years.

And according to one analyst, it is getting in at the right time.

“With the explosion of the luxury retail sector, jewelers at the top end are reporting tremendous numbers,” said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a national retail consulting and investing banking firm in New York City.

He noted that retailers in the upscale market like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Ave. are also selling more and more very high-end jewelry.

The luxury market is “far from peaking,” Bear Stearns analyst Taposh Bari, who follows publicly traded Tiffany & Co., said in a report.

De Beers also was wise to open its Houston store in the fall, giving itself time to prepare for the Christmas season, Davidowitz said.

While most retailers do 20 to 22 percent of their annual business in November and December, jewelers take in 30 to 35 percent of their revenue in those months, he said.

Building a brand

For its retail stores, De Beers Diamond Jewellers, which is jointly owned by De Beers SA and LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is pushing the notions of quality, credibility and security.

An in-store “Beauty Scan” machine provides customers with magnified views of each facet of a stone. And each jewelry item sold comes with a passport and a hidden mark identifying the gem.

“When people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on diamonds, the level of perfection of the stone is of tremendous importance, and De Beers’ reputation for quality is a big advantage,” Davidowitz said.

One of De Beers’ more popular lines, Talisman, features a mosaic of polished and unpolished diamonds in different shapes and colors. The least expensive item in the store earlier this week was a $550 Talisman pendant.

Since opening, the Houston De Beers store has displayed a $3.7 million necklace from the Marie Antoinette line.


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