By  on December 20, 2006

LONDON — Bec Astley Clarke was no expert in precious gems — and had never worked in fashion or design — when she launched her namesake fine jewelry Web site in July.

Her experience had been mostly in Internet-related deals: She worked at tesco.com, the online business of the British supermarket giant, and subsequently for the London-based venture capital firm Venrex, focusing on Internet and new media investments.

The nascent site has been drawing about 75,000 unique visitors each month, including Nicole Kidman, who ordered Carolina Bucci sparkle gold bangles a few weeks ago when she was in London shooting the film "The Golden Compass."

While working in venture capital 18 months ago, Astley Clarke spotted what appeared to be a niche in the market. "I was looking at what part of the luxury space was not being attended to," said the Web site founder over a coffee at the Wolseley on Piccadilly. "A lot of the jewelry sites I saw were oriented to the big-name brands, and they weren't really e-commerce sites."

Astley Clarke said she felt fine jewelry designers with small businesses were underserved and had limited choices when it came to selling their collections. So she launched the online store at Astleyclarke.com to give fine jewelry's smaller names another outlet, one with a broad customer base.

The site carries works of 30 designers, its maximum, from Europe and the U.S., including Pippa Small, Catherine Prevost, Coleman Douglas, Flora Astor, Yossi Harari, Carolina Bucci, Vinnie Day, Phillipa Holland and More from New York.

About 80 percent of the collections are exclusive to Astley Clarke in the U.K., including all of the U.S. brands. Prices range from $120 to $20,000. "I wanted as broad a customer base as possible — something for everybody. I want people to buy from the site, no matter how much money they happen to have," Astley Clarke related.

Same-day delivery service in central London, even on Christmas Eve, reflects the venture's emphasis on customer service. "It's so that no one, especially men, gets caught without a gift," Astley Clarke said. U.K. customers receive items via the Royal Mail and take their returns, which are free, to the nearest post office. In most of the U.K., outside central London, deliveries are next-day.

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