By  on June 27, 2005

NEW YORK — Drawn by the rare Millennium Star Diamond, more than 1,500 visitors strolled into De Beers LV's new flagship here on its opening day Thursday.

The 6,000-square-foot space at 703 Fifth Avenue is the company's first store in the U.S. and premiers its selection of diamond jewelry in the American market. The Millennium Star Diamond was on display for four days as part of the store's opening.

The turnout Thursday came on the heels of the store's opening-night gala on Wednesday that drew some 500 guests, including Teri Hatcher, Kathy and Rick Hilton, Vanessa Carlton and Lindsay Lohan. It also drew 15 protesters, including Gloria Steinem, who stood across the street at 55th Street and Fifth Avenue and publicized allegations that De Beers SA has forced the relocation of native Bushmen from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana to clear the way for mining. De Beers SA is a shareholder in De Beers LV, along with LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, but has no direct control of the retail venture.

In a statement regarding the protests, De Beers LV chief executive officer Guy Leymarie said the company is a privately owned jewelry firm that buys its diamonds on the open market, just like any other retail jewelry store.

"We do not mine our own diamonds," he said.

He added that De Beers LV is not entitled to speak on behalf of its shareholders, but the retailer knows that De Beers SA has never sought or required the removal of people from the reserve and that there is no mining occurring or planned for the future in the area.

De Beers has fought back against the allegations since 2002; its statements that it has no involvement in the relocation of the Kalahari Bushmen have been upheld by third parties, including European Members of Parliament and the president of Botswana. In 2002, it said it owned two small diamond mines in Botswana, neither of which was located in the Kalahari Reserve.

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