By  on September 14, 2006

JOHANNESBURG — Since emerging from the shackles of apartheid over a decade ago, the South African economy has experienced unprecedented growth, with consumer spending and retail sales leading the way. As luxury labels such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci gradually began to establish a presence in the country, the native De Beers brand was conspicuously absent from the retail landscape.

This month, De Beers will launch KYA, its own local brand of jewelry, throughout South Africa. Backed by a 2.5 million rand, or $358,000, advertising campaign appearing primarily in upmarket female glossy magazines and targeted specifically at women, De Beers aims to accelerate diamond jewelry sales.

Thoko Modisakeng, marketing manager of the Diamond Trading Co., De Beers' sales and marketing arm, explained that "our task was to create a South African brand that would give a compelling reason to buy diamonds and create huge desirability and preference for diamond jewelry among the domestic consumer target segment."

Modisakeng said that, although it had always run a marketing campaign, De Beers hadn't quite taken the plunge in the domestic market before "because diamond jewelry sales were mainly driven by the tourist market. Now, our research is telling us that the domestic market is the segment that is promising more growth, comprising in fact 75 percent of sales today, while tourists make up the remaining 25 percent."

The South African diamond jewelry market generated $362 million in sales last year, according to the DTC.

She noted the country has witnessed incredible social, economic and cultural changes. "The last five years, especially, have been boomtown years," she said. "In launching KYA, we are simply responding to consumer demand."

Market research also has told the company that today's South African woman is successful, independent and driven — very much the kind of woman KYA jewelry has been designed to appeal to. The ads are a departure from the romanticized sentiment of De Beers' long-running international "A diamond is forever" campaign. One ad asks, "Who am I trying to impress? Me." Another declares, "I have the world wrapped around my little finger."

"The collection, which consists of earrings, rings and pendants, are well designed, wearable and affordable," Modisakeng said. Prices start at 3,000 rands, or $428. "For that you could get a fantastic pair of studs, or a pendant." Designs are understated and modern. "The central stone represents the power and individuality of women, while the smaller diamonds radiate the beauty, the mystique, the diversity and the brilliance of a diamond," she said.The KYA collection is produced in conjunction with four DTC clients, or sightholders, and are available at selected jewellers including national chains such as American Swiss and Galaxy & Co. Jonty Kramer of Geffens Diamond Cutting Works, the only South African among the four appointed sightholders, is excited about KYA.

"I just hope it will be fun. This is a totally new venture," said Kramer. "We are selling the brand together with De Beers, and I do want this retail concept to work."

He admitted, however, to feeling like "guinea pigs in this test project. But the time to do this kind of thing is now."

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