By  on January 9, 2006

MIAMI — Bal Harbour Shops is bulking up with a bunch of new tenants in the American jewelry and European luxury categories.

In line with its expansion plans, Harry Winston staged a grand opening for its Bal Harbour salon last month. The store falls under the company's mission to court new clients while satisfying regulars who have been demanding a local unit for years, and, perhaps most importantly, to dip its toes into the Latin American market before opening a shop there.

James Seuss, president of Harry Winston, said the company doesn't traditionally have a large customer base in South America or Mexico. "It's the right next step for us, since they're confident with big stones and appreciate large looks," he said.

A Palm Beach, Fla., location wasn't necessary, as residents there shop the New York store or arrange private home viewings, according to Seuss. The jeweler also participates in an annual antiques and art fair that reaches its Palm Beach customer.

The new store brings Old World luxury to Miami. Its plush residential feel and custom-designed furniture and fixtures are already creating talk among shoppers and the local media that it has raised the bar in the shopping center. Despite the holiday shopping grind, many ogled two peacocks perched on holiday greenery in the 1,100-square-foot store's windows. Inside awaited a jewel-box decor — chocolate silk velvet walls set into a bronze framework, brass vitrines with hanging bow motifs like those designed by Stephane Boudin for the Fifth Avenue flagship during the Sixties and an octagonal, center case of ebony lacquer and gilt. The ceiling's ruffled, lit tiers are reminiscent of the Raleigh hotel's famous baroque pool in Miami Beach.

Seuss said South Florida doesn't require a flagship, which generally are housed in whole buildings such as the one on Paris' Avenue Montaigne or an upcoming town house on London's Bond Street. "Bal Harbour represents our smallest format. There's great potential for us here, but we won't see the same level of traffic or level of purchases as New York or Paris," he said.

The same quality and merchandise are available, just without the depth. As an example, Seuss said there may be three blue diamonds as opposed to 20. The company also made sure to stock equally unique and iconic pieces, like a 71-carat Lesotho diamond ring and a diamond necklace in Harry Winston's original wreath pattern. The selection ranges from $5,000 for a pair of loop earrings to $6 million for the Lesotho. But Seuss said core strength lies in items retailing between $20,000 and $100,000."With the exception of New York, we see the opportunity here to equal our Las Vegas or Beverly Hills stores in sales," he said.

Following a cocktail party at the store, chairman Ronald Winston, chief executive officer Thomas J. O'Neill and Seuss feted the community's ardent jewelry buyers and American Red Cross supporters at Ambassador Steven and Dorothea Green's island estate. The jewels on display included a $4-million, pink sapphire and diamond suite, which contributed to the event's Winter Wonderland theme.

Always game for a store opening, Judith Ripka also opted for a formal entrance in mid-December. The New York-based jeweler blew into town for a luncheon at her 1,000-square-foot boutique, which opened in late November. "But I'm coming back soon for weeks," said Ripka, a Miami regular turned resident. "There's something special about this city. It's changed."

Janice Winter, president of The Judith Ripka Cos., reported the company's overall business is doubling every three years, and South Florida's luxury market from Naples to its East Coast is "growing like crazy." In addition to the skyrocketing accessories industry, the region's growth equals strong sales projections for Bal Harbour, according to Winter. "We expect it to be a top performer in a short time. We're looking forward to doing first-year sales of more than $5 million," she said regarding the company's 11th U.S. store.

Though the firm already owns a freestanding store in Boca Raton, Fla., Bal Harbour was always its first choice, according to Winter. The store's atelier-inspired design mirrors the company's new flagship and prototype on Madison Avenue in New York. Crystal sconces and chandeliers balance hand-painted wallpaper depicting birds and branches. Leather, padded walls, a blush pink and chocolate color scheme and mirrors, door handles and furniture decorated with her signature jewelry designs add to its nest-like setting.

Launching with the full product range, the store carries the 18-karat gold and Two collections, as well as engagement rings and styles custom-designed for the store. The 18-karat gold collection retails between $1,500 and $100,000, whereas Two, a diffusion line with gold and sterling silver, sells for $350 to $2,500. "The store will introduce more color since it's Miami. There will be more coral, turquoise and other warm, rich stones," said Winter.Ripka expects pink and yellow sapphires, 18-mm. bronze pearls and day-to-evening looks will shine most with locals. "I'm getting lots of requests for pricy, custom pieces too," said Ripka.

Also operating on a small scale is the 1,000-square-foot Pucci store, which opened in the first week of December. The area's sunny disposition attracted the company, according to image director Laudomia Pucci. "Along with our Palm Beach location, Miami underlies the importance of tropical, bright climates for the brand. Bal Harbour also is the most important mall in America," she said of the location of the company's 27th store worldwide and fifth in the U.S.

Both Florida cities have a clientele that appreciates color and prints, yet Pucci reported the markets differ regarding demographics. Miami draws more South Americans, whereas Palm Beach services the same customer as the New York store.

The Bal Harbour store is being launched with the pre-spring collection, which highlights a sweet, subdued floral print rather than a signature bold graphic. The store also stocks basics like printed cotton beach towels, lightweight cashmere sweaters and printed jean jackets and triangle bikinis.

"Americans like to match shoes and bags to the dress, so it was important that we give them a total choice here," said Pucci.

She said the store's Mod design reflects other Pucci locations opened during the last five years. Aqua flooring, walls of backlit, white fabric, and Plexiglas floating shelves and hangers leave enough breathing room for brightly colored items. "The decor's softness, depth and respect for the merchandise work together nicely," said Pucci.

Tim Crout, U.S. retail manager for Pucci, projected first-year sales at the store of more than $2 million. "This location is obviously important for the brand," he said.

As much as Pucci adds a dose of color to the center, Anne Fontaine, the French upscale blouse maker that's forging across the U.S. with more than 20 freestanding stores to date, is calm in decor and merchandise. The company's 1,000-square-foot store of French Burgundy cream-colored stone, dark-stained walnut cabinets and natural linen curtains accented with frosted glass and stainless steel houses the designer's signature white blouses, with a few items in black or pastels."We'd been waiting for the right space in Bal Harbour to open in South Florida," said ceo and co-owner Ari Zlotkin, who already launched a boutique in Tampa, Fla., and plans to open another in Naples, Fla., this spring. "We appreciate that the center is family-owned and that they widened the second floor's walkway."

According to initial sales, Zlotkin predicted the location will be a winner. "We're looking at more than $1 million in sales the first year despite a bad hurricane season," he said.

Teresa Bravo, the U.S. retail director, considers it one of the chain's major markets, on par with New York, Chicago and Las Vegas. "We're really excited to see what happens when all the snowbirds return," she said.

Bal Harbour carries the full line, including spring and fall collections as well as smaller cocktail, summer and basics groups. Starting at $160 and averaging $225, blouses range from classic tailored styles with touches of ruching and three-quarter sleeves to heavily ruffled and embroidered looks.

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