By  on April 4, 2008

The Mouawad Group is starting to rack up prominent partners the way Nike does shoe deals.

The celebrity-related line introductions for the company's U.S. division this year includes Nicole Richie, Gabrielle Union and Seal, whose wife, Heidi Klum, kicked off Mouawad's celebrity involvement five years ago with the Heidi Klum Collection for Mouawad. Another line, called Pop Watch, will harness record producer Jermaine Dupri's creative talents behind the scenes.

The noncelebrity assortment isn't shabby, either. Walt Disney Co. and candle brand D.L. & Co. will get the Mouawad fine jewelry treatment this year.

"In today's market, if you don't have a strong marketing angle, even if you have a beautiful product, you are going to have trouble selling it," said Pascal Mouawad, a fourth-generation member of the family-led Mouawad Group that was established in Lebanon in 1890.

Now based in Geneva, the company continues to be a global purveyor of large diamonds.

When Mouawad entered the U.S. in 2000, the goal was to make the brand accessible to a broader consumer base. Pascal Mouawad discovered Klum's passion for jewelry through making diamond bras for Victoria's Secret. Soon after, a new business model developed hinging on two jewelry price tiers, fine and fashion, for collaboration collections.

"In terms of getting visibility and accelerating the brand-building process, I thought the affiliation with celebrities would be advantageous," he said.

To further its Hollywood connections, the Mouawad Group last year moved its U.S. offices to Los Angeles from New York and celebrity interest mounted. Meanwhile, the company was seeking to diversify its repertoire to reach various ages and price points. Although the majority of Mouawad's U.S. business is in fine jewelry, Mouawad said it is closing in on his preference for an even split between fine and fashion categories.

"I want to maximize revenues, and in the celebrity market, the money is where the masses are," he said.

The Nicole Richie Collection for Mouawad is targeted at girls in their teens to women in their 30s who admire her. Like Mouawad's other fashion collections, including Union's and Klum's, the prices range from $30 to $150, compared with $500 to $50,000 for Mouawad's fine jewelry. Mouawad is aiming to put Richie's pieces, which feature fabric, leather, silk strings, chains, rivets, feathers and gold-plated metals, in chains such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's.In June, Mouawad will unveil Seal's fine jewelry collection centered around diamond lockets and the musician's signature lyrics. The same month will see Mouawad unveil the Disney pieces that translate iconic motifs for luxury customers. In the fourth quarter, Union's fashion jewelry collection will launch and may be sold via television. Pop Watch timepieces based on pop culture for urban audiences are also slated for that quarter.

"I feel that '09 and '10 will be very good years," said Mouawad, cautioning that celebrity-affiliated collections usually take two to three years to mature.

He said the U.S. division's revenues increased 35 percent from 2006 to 2007, but wouldn't disclose figures.

Aaron J. VanDerMaas, a buyer for Van Gundy Jewelers, which has two stores in Southern California and carries Klum's collection, said choosing celebrity lines can be difficult because an oversaturation gives jewelry cases an undesirable "Hollywood Walk of Fame" feel.

However, he acknowledged that celebrity cachet does entice customers and having the Mouawad stamp on jewelry ensures quality on celebrity-related jewelry that can otherwise be questionable.

"We all are fascinated with celebrity," he said. "Knowing that stars can design clothing, accessories and jewelry can be a way we can become closer to that particular star."

With the success of its existing partnerships, most notably Klum's collection on QVC, Mouawad said the brand's growing reputation in Hollywood allows it to be selective about its celebrity collaborators.

"It is about looking for A-list people," he said. "I have a lot of C- and D-[list] people coming to me all the time, and I have to say, 'I am not interested in smaller collaborations. I am looking for big names.'"

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