By  on August 20, 2007

While Manhattan has long been known for its powerful but gritty Diamond District, a flurry of retail openings is due to turn 10 blocks of Madison Avenue into the center of high-end jewelry.

While thousands of diamonds and gemstones are traded and set in the caverns of West 47th Street each year, New York hasn't been able to match the luxurious splendor of the Place Vendôme in Paris, which houses the flagships and workshops of storied brands including Van Cleef & Arpels, Fred and JAR, or the elegant strip of London's Bond Street that is home to the likes of Asprey, Graff, Tiffany & Co. and Cartier.

Several high-end jewelers are either expanding or opening stores on the stretch of Madison Avenue between East 60th and 70th Streets. Graff and Chopard are moving into larger quarters, Kwiat has plans to open its first store nearby, Ivanka Trump is slated to open a diamond jewelry store next month, Bulgari recently renovated its Madison Avenue boutique, Asprey has opened a gem-infused flagship and estate jeweler Kentshire Galleries is opening a retail shop.

One of the most notable additions to the lot is Leviev, a two-year-old diamond jewelry brand that is going up against rarefied houses Graff and Harry Winston with its large and impressive stockpile of colorless and colored diamonds.

All this news is in addition to an existing stable of jewelry boutiques on the avenue such as Cartier, Fred Leighton and Judith Ripka.

"People laughed in our face when we opened our store on Madison years ago," said Henri Barguirdjian, president and chief executive officer of Graff in America. "But look how everyone followed. Fifth Avenue is very touristy, but here you have a higher volume of traffic. Sixty-third and Madison will become the most important sector for high jewelry."

The exodus to Madison reflects the high-low mix that Fifth Avenue has become. Whereas stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Piaget, Bulgari and Harry Winston once signified the totally patrician nature of the famed shopping street, now it's chockablock with everything from the steroid-infused, tourist-packed flagships of Abercrombie & Fitch and Disney to fashion brands like Prada and Louis Vuitton and soon-to-open megaflagships from Giorgio Armani and Gucci.While it remains important for a big jewelry brand to have face time on Fifth, even Bulgari, which recently renovated and expanded its 3,590-square-foot flagship at the corner of 57th Street, is stocking more of its precious diamond and vintage pieces in its Madison Avenue locale for the more serious clientele that street attracts.

Cartier also has a store on Madison in addition to its iconic Fifth Avenue boutique.

"Over the past 18 months, we have seen many deals in the jewelry sector," said Joel Isaacs, president of Isaacs and Co., a real estate brokerage that specializes in representing fashion and high-profile brands. "Jewelry is very much in demand today. Creation of wealth has been huge in the past few years and there are many more consumers buying things like jewelry and art. Landlords feel comfortable that a big-ticket tenant like Graff, for example, will be able to pay the rent."

Isaacs said rents in the neighborhood span from $800 to $1,200 per square foot, representing some of the largest increases in the city, although Fifth Avenue remains the most expensive.

In October, Leviev will make its U.S. debut here with a 6,200-square-foot boutique at 700 Madison Avenue that will resemble the contemporary, antique-dotted style of the London shop, with vitrines to showcase the rarefied pieces. An average sale in the store is expected to run from $200,000 to $400,000, though prices can go well into the millions.

The firm is owned by Lev Leviev, the 50-year-old chairman of the Leviev Group of Cos., which controls myriad businesses such as diamond mines in Angola, Namibia and Russia. Leviev, who resides in Israel, is involved in enterprises such as real estate, gas stations, hotels, telecommunications firms, supermarkets and shopping centers, and builds highways. He has a stake in the fast-fashion chain Zara and owns swimwear brand Gottex.

Kwiat, a diamond jewelry company that celebrated its 100th year in business this year, is opening its first store in New York in early 2008. A 1,000-square-foot store will be located at 725 Madison Avenue and will offer its jewelry at prices ranging from $1,000 to more than $1 million.

"For growth, it's critical to be a brand," chief financial officer Greg Kwiat told WWD in April of the brand's consumer push and the desire to open a store.The 147-year-old brand Chopard revealed plans for a new look at its 3,000-square-foot flagship opening in October at 709 Madison Avenue, designed by Interior Design Hall of Fame designer Thierry W. Despont. The firm said it outgrew its former 900-square-foot store at 725 Madison.

"We really wanted to establish a retail flagship in New York City," Marc Hruschka, Chopard's U.S. president and chief executive officer, told WWD in January. "We really like Madison Avenue. We've had a lot of success there."

Madison Avenue was a must for Ivanka Trump's new venture in diamond jewelry with Dynamic Diamond Corp., a Diamond Trading Co. site holder. Ivanka Trump will offer a range of jewelry, from $750 for a ring of white gold-enameled ovals to about $350,000 for a necklace of pavé diamond spheres.

"Madison Avenue has a different vibe than Fifth Avenue," said Robin Kramer, founder and president of Kramer Design Group, which created the Trump brand's positioning, merchandising, graphic design and packaging for the store.

"[Ivanka] wanted the first store to be an intimate setting, a place where her clients could feel comfortable spending time," Kramer said. "Madison Avenue is both a world stage and a local neighborhood. The architecture is smaller, narrower. With no office buildings above 60th Street, [Madison] lends itself to a more intimate, Old World, luxury feeling. So, while some very prestigious global companies have built major stores on Madison Avenue, the architecture keeps the street very intimate."

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