Fashion designers have long jazzed up their runway shows with fine jewels to add a bit of extra glamour and panache. Now, many designers have taken the next step, introducing signature jewelry lines as a way to expand their business and build their brand name.

As one of fashion’s best-performing sectors — and highest-margin businesses — fine jewelry is a natural for designers who want to offer customers a head-to-toe style.

Most of the action in the past few years has come from the established European design houses such as Gucci, Christian Dior and Escada. This year, however, more Americans are joining the scene: Vera Wang is readying her first full fine-jewelry collection, set to debut next year, and Polo Ralph Lauren recently introduced a collection of upscale jewels it’s calling Estate Jewelry.

Here, a look at the fine-jewelry businesses of 10 big-name designers.

Designer: Gucci

Fine jewelry launched: Although some pieces were introduced in the early Seventies, Tom Ford designed the first real collection in 1997. In 2002, the jewelry collection accounted for $117 million or 6.3 percent of Gucci’s sales. Over the past three years, sales for the jewelry division grew 40 percent and the first quarter of 2003 increased 18.4 percent against the same period of 2002.

Produced by: An in-house project produced in Italy by local jewelers.

Design philosophy: Contemporary design based on iconic Gucci shapes such as the logo G. Gucci recently introduced a small collection of one-of-a-kind pieces, highlighted by labor-intensive craftsmanship with precious and semiprecious stones set in white or yellow gold or platinum. The newest offerings include a yellow gold and diamond snake bracelet that Tom Ford used in the spring 2004 collection. To better showcase its fine jewels, Gucci opened its first jewelry store in Rome in 2002 and plans units in Florence and Beverly Hills in the coming months.

Prices: They start at $1,172 for the Icon Ring and rise to about $70,362 for the one-of-a-kind pieces. The most expensive piece ever sold is a gold and diamond choker that raked in $445,600.

Bestsellers: Pieces that epitomize the Gucci style. The younger crowd favors the Icon ring, a yellow gold band etched with the double G logo, while older consumers opt for the Horsebit ring in white gold that features a stylized horse bit in pavé diamonds.Designer: Louis Vuitton

Fine jewelry launched: June 2001

Produced by: In house.

Design philosophy: Designed by creative director Marc Jacobs, Vuitton’s jewelry melds tradition with innovation. The jewelry includes travel themes, as well as hearts or can feature the LV monogram. Also successful are the funny cartoon-like animal charms, designed by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. For spring, the line is being expanded to include earrings and a wider selection of necklaces.

Prices: Range from about $2,300 for a small 18-karat gold charm bracelet up to $22,000 for styles with diamonds.

Bestsellers: The charm bracelet that allows you to add up to nine small charms and the monogrammed bracelet.

Who wears it: Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Connelly and Salma Hayek are all fans, to the point that they joined forces with Marc Jacobs to design an exclusive charm bracelet that will be donated to the United Cancer Front.

Designer: Gianfranco Ferré

Fine jewelry launched: This fall and available only in the Ferré boutiques in Milan, Paris and New York.

Produced by: In house.

Design philosophy: The design is focused on luxury and exclusivity. The first collection was inspired by the safety pin because designer Gianfranco Ferré loves tie bars. Ferré worked many variations on the theme, including pin-shaped earrings, brooches, rings and bangles, with or without diamonds, and a choker made with small pins assembled together.

Prices: From $317 for a small pair of gold earrings to $1,466 for a rose and yellow gold safety pin ring, and to $39,871 for a diamond and gold choker.

Expected bestsellers: Already the most popular pieces are the white gold and diamond baby safety pins that men use on their tuxedos, the larger version for women, and the choker in white gold and diamonds.

Designer: Vera Wang

Fine jewelry launched: Previewed at the designer’s recent spring collection presentation. A full collection launching for spring 2004.

Produced by: Under license by diamond concern Rosy Blue Fine Jewelry.

Design philosophy: The jewelry includes delicate and intricate pieces designed to convey a sense of lightness. The collection is full of floral themes, with pink and white diamonds and yellow tourmalines and is set in gold, platinum or titanium.Prices: From $1,000 to $50,000.

Company: Escada

Fine jewelry launched: October 2000

Produced by: In collaboration with Antwerp diamond concern The Pluczenik Group.

Design philosophy: The collection is devoted to diamonds of the best quality due to its partnership with Pluczenik, a high-profile diamond dealer based in Antwerp. From a design standpoint, it spans from takes on Art Deco and stylized hearts to chunky rings.

Prices: From $22,000 up to $15,000

Bestsellers: The heart motif and especially the ring set with two mirrors that form the backdrop for the diamonds. The resulting reflection multiplies the stones light and reflection.

Designer: Christian Dior

Fine jewelry launched: In May 1999 by designer Victoire de Castellane.

Produced by: In house.

Design philosophy: Playful, colorful and poetic jewels that tell a story and that are inspired by themes such as childhood and love.

Prices: From $340 for the Mimioui ring, a chain with one small diamond, to

several millions for a white gold and diamond bow motif choker, set with 37 carats of Burmese sapphires.

Bestsellers: The Incroyables rings — one-of-a-kind styles that feature a 70-carat central stone such as aquamarine, set in gold and sprinkled with diamonds — and the Gwendoline rings, which feature two roses, in either red coral, white coral or onyx set in yellow gold.

Who wears it: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Judith Godrèche, Juliette Binoche.

Designer: Hermès

Fine jewelry launched: 1927

Produced by: In house.

Design philosophy: Timeless classics with pieces such as yellow gold necklaces and silver chains. Many feature equestrian and nautical-inspired themes. Collection also includes pendants, brooches and cuff links.

Prices: Jewelry ranges in price from $395 to $30,000, including a silver chain bracelet for $1,300 and a yellow gold necklace for $13,000.

Who wears it: Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Glenda Bailey.

Designer: Versace

Fine jewelry launched: First launched by Gianni Versace in 1989.Produced by: In house.

Design philosophy: Versace’s style is decidedly contemporary with loads of colored stones and diamonds. Many pieces have etched details such as the Greek-inspired touches, the signature “V” and iconic Medusa.

Prices: Jewelry carries an average price of $2,345. Prices start at $938 for white and yellow gold rings, but the same model with diamonds jumps to $2,697. The gold and diamond earrings from the new Globe collection retail for $8,912.

Bestsellers: The timeless Medusa collection as well as the new Globe and Dome collections.

Who wears it: Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé Knowles, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jennifer Lopez.

Designer: Chanel

Fine jewelry launched: Coco Chanel had a true passion for jewels and launched her own collection called Bijoux de Diamants in 1932, marking the start of the fashion house’s fine jewelry activity. At that time, Chanel said, “If I’ve chosen diamonds, it is because they represent the greatest value in the smallest volume.” The first boutiques dedicated to watches and fine jewelry opened in Paris in 1993 and a year later, Chanel started its international retail rollout.

Produced by: In house.

Design philosophy: The jewelry revisits Coco Chanel’s favorite symbols: the camellia, Leo (her birth sign), four-leaf clovers and stars.

Prices: Opening prices start at $997 for a simple gold band, but range up to $586,350 for a white gold choker set with diamonds and sapphires and to $1.9 million for a white gold choker adorned with 3,387 diamonds for a total of 36.09 carats and 14 cushion-shaped Burmese rubies that weigh 30.46 carats.

Bestsellers: Iconic pieces along with the trendier collections that include Etoile, star-shaped pieces in gold and diamonds; Coco, rings adorned with citrines, peridots and amethysts, and Camellia, floral shapes crafted with onyx and other materials.

Who wears it: Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliette Binoche have sported pieces in recent films.

Company: Polo Ralph Lauren

Fine jewelry launched: Has long had small collection of antique fine jewelry. A full collection of fine Estate Jewelry launched at retail in September 2003.Produced by: In house.

Design philosophy: The fine jewelry line is inspired by vintage pieces and old-world charm.

Prices: Collection ranges from $250 to $5,950, including gold paisley tourmaline earrings for $795, a garnet mesh choker for $895 and a crystal five-strand necklace for $1,350.

ALSO IN THE GAME: While they might not have fine jewelry collections — at least not yet — plenty of other American and European designers sell fashion jewelry bearing their name, often produced under license. Givenchy, Polo’s Lauren division, Emporio Armani, Calvin Klein, AK Anne Klein, Guess, DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger are among the brands with licensed costume jewelry businesses. There’s more coming: Diesel and Bottega Veneta have just unveiled new costume jewelry lines, and Tod’s is readying a collection set to make its debut early next year.

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