By  on February 28, 2008

HONG KONG — After two years of searching for an ideal spot, De Beers has opened its first store here, a 2,200-square-foot unit located in the bustling Central district.

"We have been looking to open a store in Hong Kong for a while, considering what Hong Kong is to the luxury market, but we waited until we found the right location," said Guy Leymarie, De Beers chief executive officer. "For us location is decisive — we would rather open later and have the right location rather than be in the wrong location."

The store is situated in the city's premiere luxury shopping mall, The Landmark, with neighbors that include competitors Tiffany & Co. and Dickson Watch & Jewellery (which sells such brands as Rolex, Bulgari and Chopard) as well as the Christian Dior, Valentino and Harvey Nichols flagships. While the new De Beers store also enjoys a ground-level location and can boast of excellent frontage on Des Vouex Road, the only thing it doesn't have is direct access into the pedestrian-filled mall.

"We would have been pleased if there were a location inside the mall, but the visibility is great here and we think we're going to be very successful. We are very pleased with the location," said Leymarie.

The store is operated as a franchise by Lane Crawford Joyce Group, which will open a second De Beers store in the shopping district Tsim Sha Tsui later this year, as well as a store in Macau, slated to open in a few months at one of the major hotel-casino developments. A spokesman for LCJG said the three shops will serve as an initial step toward entering the Mainland China market.

"We will open in China in the future," said Leymarie, "But for now we put the priority on Hong Kong."

Leymarie declined to provide a sales projection for the store, but remarked, "We are looking for substantial sales. [We expect] Hong Kong to be in our top five stores in the world."

Currently, De Beers has 23 stores, with plans to expand to 49 by the end of this year. Leymarie said the company, which has only had a retail arm since 2002, is rolling out stores across the globe, including adding two more units to Taipei, Taiwan, more stores in Russia and additional locations in Europe and the U.S. (including shops in San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas and Naples, Fla.).

"We are going to be in all of the prime locations. These are all the places to be," said Leymaire, who added that, so far, the company has not been affected by the U.S. economic downturn. "Frankly, to date, we haven't observed [any impact]. It doesn't mean we won't observe it, but for the time being we are quite lucky. We are doing big business in Houston and in Washington — and New York is doing amazingly well. I think this is also because there are a lot of tourists shopping in New York due to the attractive dollar," said Leymarie.

As for Hong Kong, long a major market for luxury brand jewelry, Leymarie thinks the city's sophisticated customers will be eager to add De Beers pieces to their collections. "We currently sell only diamonds — priced from $500 to several million U.S. dollars — and we believe Hong Kong is a place where such purchases happen," he said. "Here you have a very knowledgeable clientele who knows about jewelry and who knows about diamonds, and who can afford to buy."

The store features a product mix that is 50 percent high jewelry and 50 percent "accessible." Zurich-based architect Christophe Carpente, who creates the interiors for all of De Beers stores worldwide, designed the store. To facilitate "side-by-side" selling, the loose stones, watches and jewelry are displayed in cases that can be approached from all sides. The layout has an open plan, and modern touches — like etched glass and sleek black display forms — but also features two VIP rooms for private viewing. While the use of mahogany and a deep palette are De Beers' signature style, the dramatic red-black lacquer walls in the back of the shop are a nod to China. "We have used this rouge-noir lacquer in all of the shops, but here it's more evident, it gives a more Chinese flavor," said Leymarie.

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