It has been a strong year for high-end jewelry and watch firms thanks to rapidly expanding sales in the emerging Chinese and Russian markets. Add to that a propitious climate for luxury in America, Japan and the Middle East, and most executives predict a solid end of the year with momentum spilling over into 2005.

So it’s no wonder that, when Bernard Fornas, president of Cartier International, sets foot in China, he gets excited.

“It’s incredible,” he explained. “You arrive and look around, and everything has changed. There are more luxury cars, higher buildings, more stores, and more clients. When you come from Europe, where things hardly change ever, it’s literally amazing.”

Fornas said Cartier’s sales exploded 77 percent in China from April to August. This month, an important Cartier flagship will open in Shanghai. By yearend, Cartier plans to operate 10 boutiques in China with as many as another 20 shops planned to open over the next years.

Elsewhere, Cartier said sales also have been robust.

“We expect the trends to continue barring major geopolitical problems or terrorism,” said Fornas, noting that Chinese tourism had returned after the SARS scare. Russian tourism is also strong, Fornas said.

“Both of these countries have a newly affluent class who is hungry for luxury brands,” he said.

With its rapidly evolving business and social climate, many jewelry and watch houses look to China as one of the most important new gold mines.

“China mirrors the Japan of 10 or 15 years ago,” said Fred Reffsin, president of Concord. “They are hungry for aspirational international luxury brands.”

Reffsin said Concord has targeted mainland Chinese customers by building a strong presence in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan because the Chinese spend heavily abroad.

“There has been very strong double-digit growth this year — even after the impact of SARS — and we expect it to continue,” he said.

Chopard, the family-owned jewelry and watch house, opened its first shop in Shanghai in September. “The potential is huge,” said Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele, vice president and creative director of the house.

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