By  on September 3, 2012

NEW YORK — Monique Lhuillier is launching fine jewelry,beginning with engagement rings and wedding bands, in a licensing dealwith Blue Nile, the Seattle-based online jeweler.

Thecollection, called Monique Lhuillier Fine Jewelry, will be availableexclusively at Blue Nile in October. It marks a milestone for bothLhuillier, who launched her bridal business in 1996, followed byready-to-wear in 2002, and Blue Nile, for which this is the company’sfirst designer-branded partnership.

“It’s a naturalprogression,” said Lhuillier, who has kicked her business into expansionmode recently, introducing shoes for spring, with a Madison Avenuestore opening this month. “We reflected on how we wanted to grow ourbusiness and our company. It just took us a while to find the rightjewelry partner.”

Lhuillier designed 40-plus setting stockkeepingunits, which reflect her signature lacework via engraving and micropavé details. Prices range from $2,500 to $5,000. Many of the rings areset with a pink sapphire, hidden in most cases so only the wearer knowsit’s there. Stones are sold separately and range in price from a fewthousand dollars up to $1 million, but cuts and sizes are suggestedbased on the chosen setting. “Usually the bride gets her dress after theengagement ring,” said Lhuillier. “With the rings, we’re getting infront of the bride earlier in the process.”

She noted that today athird of brides steer their fiancé toward the ring of their choice, apractice that has evolved since Lhuillier married her husband andbusiness partner, Tom Bugbee, 18 years ago. “I have a very classicemerald cut stone with four prongs and two triangles on each side,” shesaid of her own engagement ring. “I was a very young bride and didn’thave much say. Now the trend is women are getting married when they’reolder. She knows what she wants and she’s aware of my brand.”

BlueNile launched in 1999 under the direction of founder Mark Vadon. HarveyKanter, who took over as chief executive officer in March, called thecompany “the biggest online jewelry retailer in the world,” doingbusiness in 48 countries with 2012 sales projected at $384 million to$417 million. Engagement and bridal jewelry represents between 65 and 75percent of the business. As part of Kanter’s new strategy, the companywill be moving into fashion jewelry for 2013, including a collection byLhuillier that extends beyond bridal. Partnering with Lhuillier is thefirst step in that direction.

“Monique is one of the hottestbridal designers out there,” said Kanter. “So we went out and looked fora partnership and she made a lot of sense. It’s all part of ourcontinued pursuit to continue to take advantage of and create aninteractive experience with the woman who comes to our site but doesn’tfind the level of fashion she’s looking for.”

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