By  on December 6, 2004

CHICAGO — Visitors to the new largest-of-its-kind Graff store in Chicago could barely contain their awe.

“It’s so jaw-dropping,” said Heather Farley, who visited the luxury jeweler on its first day of business along upscale East Oak Street here last Wednesday. “It’s absolutely breathtaking. It’s not every day you see these kinds of pieces.”

Indeed, it is not. Near the store’s entrance, the 100.57-carat Star of America diamond, along with a 45-carat pear-shaped diamond on its own $5 million necklace, greet visitors from a gleaming golden-framed mahogany display.

Just steps away is an impressive assortment of rare blue diamonds, including a 13.78-carat deep blue heart-shaped diamond ring valued at $15.45 million.

“You won’t see that anywhere else; it’s very special,” noted Henri Barguirdjian, Graff’s president in the U.S.

The jeweler believes Chicago will be a special market, as well. That’s why Graff, with two U.S. stores, in New York and Palm Beach, built its largest unit here.

Purchasing the property that once housed BCBG Max Azria, Graff tore down the building and created its own not-to-be-missed signature four-story, limestone 7,500-square-foot town home. Its marble floors, archways, winding staircase and golden-framed displays built into the stone-finish walls may at times give visitors the feeling they’ve entered an intimate, centuries-old European museum or exclusive Swiss bank.

“As soon as we started to trade in New York,” Barguirdjian said, “we encountered a vast clientele from the Midwest. We thought we could bring something that didn’t exist here, something really exceptional.”

Chicagoans agree. Graff sold a few pieces, including a $200,000 yellow diamond bracelet and a $110,000 charm bracelet, during its grand-opening party Tuesday night. It followed those sales with brisk business on its first full day of trading Wednesday, Barguirdjian said.

“It’s been nonstop,” he said, noting four sales that morning. “If everyday is like today, business will be terrific.”

The average sale in a Graff store is $200,000, Barguirdjian said, adding that most clients are not necessarily the society set or celebrities but rather private entrepreneurs and business people who enjoy collecting art and fine jewelry.

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