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Baubles Galore: Luxe Firms Seek Piece of $100B Jewelry Sector

A new gold rush is on as luxury firms look to strike it rich with high-end, branded jewelry collections aimed at fashion customers.

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The next De Beers LV store is set to open in Tokyo in the second half of 2003, while the third will open in New York, but not before 2004.

The Oppenheimers aren’t the only investors banking on the power of name recognition. Lawrence Stroll and Silas Chou, the longtime friends and business partners who built Tommy Hilfiger into a $1.88 billion empire, are planning to work similar magic with the Asprey and Garrard brands.

Stroll and Chou, who built up the Polo business in Europe and helped transform Tommy Hilfiger into a mega-brand, bought Asprey & Garrard a little more than two years ago and separated the briefly merged labels. Their goal is to build Asprey and Garrard into luxury lifestyle brands.

The same thing that happened in the fashion business is going to happen in the jewelry business, Stroll declared in an interview with WWD last September, noting: "There’s going to come a time when the consumer who buys fashion apparel is going to recognize and want branded jewelry, and they’re going to turn to true jewelers like ourselves."

Instead of an anonymous diamond ring and setting bought from a neighborhood jeweler, Stroll suggested, customers are going to want the security and status of a brand name. "That’s one reason why we’re laser-engraving our diamond rings, for example," he pointed out, "so you will always know you have a Garrard diamond."

Rita Clifton, chairman of Interbrand Corp., said companies that hope to stimulate demand with wider distribution and innovation are embarking on a "high-risk" strategy, one that’s based on "push rather than pull." However, she allowed that "any market can be stimulated by innovation," and that fashion trends are coalescing in support of greater ornamentation.

Paris-based trend forecaster Li Edelkoort agreed, saying a comeback in jewelry was inevitable. "We’ve been starving ourselves of jewelry for about 15 years," she said, referring to the minimalist trend from which fashion is now emerging. "I remember when I could not go out of my house without earrings. I would feel naked. For a while, that totally disappeared."

But not all jewelry experts are convinced that big branding is the answer to consumers’ — and investors’ — dreams. Leo De Vroomen, the high-end jewelry designer who opened his first freestanding store on London’s Elizabeth Street last summer, said consumers may very well resist the branding trend.
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