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Foreign Buyers Boosting Harry Winston U.S. Sales

Business at Harry Winston's U.S. salons is jumping, but it isn't Americans who are snatching up the diamond jewelry.

Business at Harry Winston's U.S. salons is jumping, but it isn't Americans who are snatching up the diamond jewelry.

Foreign buyers shopping in the U.S. were the force that drove fourth-quarter U.S. sales up 38 percent to $46.5 million, said the company, which is increasingly taking a worldwide approach to the luxury business.

"For both our jewelry and watch businesses, emerging markets are becoming more important to us as our client is increasingly the global customer," said Thomas J. O'Neill, president of Harry Winston Diamond Corp., which also has mining operations. "The U.S. only accounts for approximately one-third of our worldwide business today. This diversification of our customer base is important as we are no longer dependent on one dominant country."

Sales in Asia shot up 46 percent to $21 million for the three months ended Jan. 31, while European sales fell 31 percent to $17.4 million, primarily due to disruptions following an October 2007 robbery in the Paris salon. Overall sales for the company's retail segment rose 15.9 percent to $85 million as operating losses weighed in at $1.5 million.

The Harry Winston retail footprint expanded to 18 doors last year, up from six stores when the company formerly known as Aber Corp. bought the fine jewelry retailer in 2004.

Though the company is looking to Japan, China and India for growth, it is also expanding its U.S. presence this year with a new store slated to open in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Robert A. Gannicott, Harry Winston's chairman and chief executive, said investors expecting the luxury market to suffer from a U.S. slowdown are making too broad an analysis.

"[The] silver lining to the tumultuous changes in the world is that the customer base for our high-end jewelry product has shifted substantially toward those who are the recipients of the revenues from high commodity pricing and rapid economic expansion," said Gannicott.
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