By  on April 8, 2008

Interest from deep-pocketed consumers in China, Russia and the Middle East helped drive sales up 15.9 percent at Harry Winston Salons in the fourth quarter, but that wasn't enough to ward off operating losses at the high-end jeweler.

The retail business, which is part of the Toronto-based Harry Winston Diamond Corp., on Monday posted operating losses of $1.5 million for the quarter ended Jan. 31. That compared with year-ago operating earnings of $3 million.

Quarterly sales for the division rose to $85 million from $73.3 million a year earlier.

"Demand for our highly designed jewelry continues to be very strong despite uncertain domestic economic conditions," said Thomas J. O'Neill, president of the corporation, which changed its name from Aber Corp. last year. "Our customers are truly international clients. We have experienced a noticeable shift in our customer base from what had been a U.S. dominated market to one where the U.S. customer accounts for one third of our global sales."

The overall company, which also has significant mining operations, saw net profits shoot up 231.1 percent to $90.4 million, or $1.55 a share, from $27.3 million, or 47 cents, a year ago. Sales rose 22 percent to $188.2 million from $154.3 million.

The company said it is reaping the benefits of having operations that extend from the mine to Main Street.

"Our two premium assets, at the most profitable poles of the diamond business, inform each other with respect to pricing and polished diamond supply," said Robert Gannicott, chairman and chief executive officer. "This enables rough diamond sales from the mine to be priced quickly and accurately against market changes. It also connects the jewelry and watch business directly to the diamond polishers that are the mine's customers making a more efficient supply chain."

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