By and  on May 7, 2007

Love is in the air, from Paris to New York — or so believe executives at Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.

The two Compagnie Financière Richemont-owned jewelry houses have opened bridal sections in their respective stores: Cartier in its New York boutique and Van Cleef in Paris.

Cartier, the 160-year-old jewelry firm, opened its first bridal salon in Manhattan last Wednesday in the Fifth Avenue flagship. The 607-square-foot room showcases the brand's classic bridal collections, including engagement rings, wedding bands, earrings, necklaces and bracelets, as well as its new band collections that start at $1,100.

The salon aims to provide clients with a special, airy space to view the jewelry and provide one-on-one service with bridal specialists.

";We wanted to truly create a special and intimate setting for clients to experience the world of Cartier bridal jewelry during such a special moment," said Frédéric de Narp, Cartier North America president and chief executive officer. ";Buying an engagement ring is one of the most significant decisions in a person's life and one of the biggest investments."

In tandem with the bridal salon opening, Cartier is launching a service in all U.S. and Japan boutiques called ";Set for You by Cartier" that will put a client's preferred round stone in any of Cartier's three most popular settings. The ring will be ready in 10 days.

Cartier's bridal jewelry sales have risen more than 30 percent in the last year and the brand is adjusting accordingly, in service and product, de Narp said.

";We see this [buying engagement rings] as a growing activity all over the U.S. market," he said, ";so, we're drastically increasing our assortment and drastically increasing our service very quickly in each of our stores. We are dedicating much more space to bridal."

Cartier's Fifth Avenue location is the first and only to house a bridal salon, but the concept will begin rolling out to other stores in June. Next on the list is Cartier's 6,000-square-foot store in San Francisco, followed by Dallas, and Boca Raton and Palm Beach, both in Florida.

";We are doing it where space allows," said de Narp. ";One of the projects we are working on is to increase the layout of our stores by 50 to 100 percent. We want to make sure the service is most welcoming and can allow people to relax and have space in stores. People these days want not only exceptional quality and design, but the best customer service."Service is indeed the focus of the salon and, de Narp said, the most important element in clients' shopping experience.

";People today don't have time on their hands," he said. ";We want to make the experience as exact and precise as possible and in a way they desire. There is a change in the way that people really focus on service. It's crucial. People want to be guided and not waste time."

While de Narp could not estimate what percentage bridal jewelry contributed to Cartier's overall sales, he described 70 to 75 percent of sales as ";gifts of love."

";People love love, and the more people are in love, the more they want to celebrate love," he said. ";It's coming back in a very positive sense."

Van Cleef unveiled a new shop on Paris' Rue de la Paix on Thursday also targeting the wedding business, featuring a so-called Bridal Bar with dozens of wedding bands and engagement gifts, from necklaces to earrings.

Stanislas de Quercize, the firm's ceo, said special pieces would be created exclusively for the bar, a single, long elevated display case with stools placed alongside.

";There's a larger selection of bridal pieces here than in any of our other stores," he said.

The store, which stocks watches and other jewelry items, is special for another reason — it stays open until 8:30 p.m. in a city where most stores close at 7.

";We want to be more modern and to tailor the store to our customers," said de Quercize. ";The idea is to have people come after work, sip a glass of Champagne and pore over the rings. You want the customers to be in the right mood."

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