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Diamonds Are For Everyone

- from an article by Maggie Rosen, Agence France-Presse
The Manila Times


LONDON—London’s streets are no longer paved with gold, they’re paved with diamonds.

Fuelled in part by style icons like footballer David Beckham or hip-hopper Missy Elliot, as likely to wear sparklers with sports gear and jeans as they are at awards ceremonies, the increasing popularity of diamonds has turned them from a "nice-to-have" into a "must-have."

Over the last year or two, London’s retail jewelry market has come to reflect this trend—notably with the arrival of new diamond specialists like Wint and Kidd and DeBeers.

Both on and off Old Bond Street—London’s haute couture and fine gem quartier—forward-thinking jewelry shops have eliminated the daunting bank-vault doors and mannered velvet-pillow presentation that has long characterized jewelry shopping.

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Even established rocks-on-the-block Asprey and Garrard has repositioned as two distinct "luxury lifestyle" destinations —injecting some much-needed "bling" into the otherwise staid niche it shares with traditional neighbors like Tiffany’s, Bulgari and Cartier.

Melanie Flouquet, luxury goods analyst at JP Morgan in London, believes the major force underlying the trend toward making diamonds sexy, youthful and more attainable has been the entry into high-end jewelry by fashion houses such as Chanel, Gucci and LVMH—with which DeBeers formed the joint venture to launch its retail business.

"The key players in "branded jewelry’ have attacked this market aggressively, increasing advertising and celebrity product endorsement," she said. "You see a lot more diamonds on the red carpet these days." 

Indeed if the windows of the 4,200 square foot DeBeers flagship which wraps around Old Bond Street onto Piccadilly are any indication, glitter is here with a new vengeance.

Displayed on simple yet sophisticated props, bold but wearable mix-and-match pieces with themes like wildflowers and grasslands are all reminiscent of the company’s South African roots.

Inside, customers of all ages and dress codes browse in the relaxed, low pressure comfort of a mogul’s safari lodge, where not only are prices marked to save shoppers the perennial embarrassment of asking, but there are also a handful of affordable options well under 1,500 euros (1000 pounds), including diamond-studded leather strips which can be worn as bracelets or chokers.

"I personally believe our shop is a step forward," said Jean-Christophe Gandon, marketing director for DeBeers LV, the first-ever retail project for the 115-year-old diamond mining and wholesale powerhouse. "Many jewelry shops are too unapproachable. Luxury in the 21st century does not have to be intimidating." 

Across town—and even farther away in spirit from the bulletproof glass and security guards of Old Bond Street—Notting Hill-based Wint and Kidd (named for the James Bond villains "Diamonds Are Forever") is a light-filled, chic but low-key boutique. Piles of colored "fancy" diamonds wait to be made into something special.

While a couple of showcases feature ready-to-wear pieces, co-owner Gavin Chengalanee explained that most of the shop’s sales are made to order—a collaboration between the customer and one of the shops stable of in-house designers.

"We are not part of the jewelry elite," he explained. "We don’t tell people what they should be wearing. And because we have so little inventory, we aren’t "sales-y.’ We have the time and patience to help clients get involved in the whole process of creating their own unique piece. Buying jewelry should be like splurging on a great car with lots of options: it should be fun."

This bespoke service enables clients to pick the best possible stone and setting for their budget, even if that budget is 27,000 euros (20,000 pounds) for a small but exceedingly rare pink diamond.

With three percent, or 1.96 billion euros (1.3 billion pounds) of the 46 billion euros (31 billion pound) global retail diamond jewellery market in 2003, according to estimates from the Diamond Trading Company (DTC, the gem diamond marketing arm of DeBeers), Britain has the fourth largest share, behind the US, Japan and Italy.

And although the local market has been growing in both value and volume since the early ’90s, the average price spent on a piece of jewelry is a surprisingly low 411 euros. Analysts attribute this to the mass appeal of value-priced jewelry from companies like Hot Diamonds, which sell tiny diamonds set in silver. 

While the majority of diamond sales still comprise engagement rings and gifts bought by men for women, perhaps the most interesting opportunity for retailers is now single women who buy for themselves, accounting for an estimated 48 percent of volume and 40 percent of value of diamonds sold in 2003.

This trend is perhaps best illustrated by the DTC’s ground-breaking US campaign promoting the "right-hand ring," which suggests that while "your left hand says "we,’ your right hand says "me.’"

English women like Sarah Harrison are part of this segment. Her first purchase was inspired by a painful split with her boyfriend.

"I had thought we were going to get married," said Harrison, 30. "When we didn’t, I thought "sod it, I don’t need some guy to buy me diamonds, I’ll just buy them myself.’"

Harrison spent 3,024 euros on a ring, cross and earrings from British entrepreneur Gracia Amico, who sells directly to women at fairs and through the Internet (www.graciaamico.co.uk).

"It was a lot of money at the time, but I wouldn’t have cared if it was twice that. It was such a liberating, uplifting experience. Now I’ll never have to wait again. I thought, "I never have to wait again.’ Now I’m looking for a nice bracelet."

- from an article by Maggie Rosen, Agence France-Presse
The Manila Times


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