By  on January 24, 1994

NEW YORK -- Regardless of the tough economy, fine jewelry is one of the hottest things going right now for several major specialty retailers. Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue each recorded double-digit increases in fine jewelry over the holidays.

These stores already attract an affluent audience, and they have found fine jewelry to be a natural area for expansion, especially since the category itself has become more designer-conscious.

To keep this momentum going through this year, these retailers are planning more of the same tactics they used to draw Christmas shoppers -- in-store events and aggressive advertising.

Tim Braun, precious jewelry and watch buyer for Neiman's, said catalog promotions and billboard advertising, as well as the addition of strong new resources, contributed to the store's big gains at Christmas and are expected to keep fueling growth this spring.

While Neiman's has traditionally had a strong fine jewelry business, it was only a year ago that the store went heavily into designer jewelry collections, giving the business an additional boost.

According to Braun, Neiman's fine jewelry sales had already surpassed its planned figures for last fall, even before Christmas. Overall for the fourth quarter, precious jewelry scored double-digit increases, but watches in particular were a standout, with sales doubling over a year ago.

Part of the success with watches has come simply from offering shoppers plenty of options. Through the holidays, stores ran programs called "watch extravaganzas," where all fine watch inventory was showcased together.

"These events really increased customer awareness of what we were carrying, particularly in terms of the newest watch lines we brought in," Braun pointed out. Exclusive offerings, such as the Henry Dunay watch that was launched last October, also stirred interest.

During the extravaganzas, Braun said, "We saw increased sales in all gold watches, retailing from about $7,000 to as high as $100,000, with $15,000 to $25,000 being the best-selling range."

To give in-store events an added push, Neiman's also ran a billboard campaign featuring luxury watch brands such as Audemars Piguet, Piaget, Chopard and Cartier.

Having found a good formula, the merchant will continue promoting watches this spring. The next series of extravaganzas, in April, is set to coincide with the release of Neiman's watch catalog, which will be mailed to 100,000 customers and distributed over the counter.

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