By  on February 7, 2007

CHAMONIX, France — With a glitzy party at this French ski resort, Mont Blanc showcased its desire to become a player in the highly competitive diamond jewelry market.

The launch event last Friday, in a "palace" built of 180 slabs of ice at the foot of Mont Blanc, was a lavish affair attended by celebrities, including Naomi Watts, Lucy Liu, Juliette Binoche and Dita Von Teese.

Welsh opera crossover star Katherine Jenkins (who is the line's spokeswoman) performed during the four-course meal — replete with an outdoor fireworks display and a fashion show headlined by Naomi Campbell, while rocker Bryan Ferry took the stage later as expensive Havana cigars were passed around.

Mont Blanc, the second-largest company in Riche­mont's stable of luxury brands after Cartier, has been diversifying its product range over recent years as its core writing instruments market matures.

Most of those extensions — from leather goods to watches — have been skewed to the male market, the brand's traditional customer. Watches have been particularly successful, with its production facility in Switzerland, purchased in 1995, producing 100,000 watches annually.

But in fall 2005, Mont Blanc introduced its first collection of small silver jewelry for women, which has been a success so far, and it has since beefed up its offering of female watches.

"The silver jewelry collection immediately made 15 to 16 percent of sales in our stores during the first Christmas season," offered Lutz Betghes, Mont Blanc's executive vice president, in an interview before the diamond jewelry launch here.

"The share of female customers in the shops is growing," he added. "Now 40 to 50 percent of our clients in the stores are ladies, though they are not only shopping for themselves or buying women's products."

And it wants to appeal to those customers, while growing the percentage, via the new diamond jewelry collection.

The new line also is a potentially lucrative dive into the fast-growing branded jewelry market, which currently represents only 6 percent of overall jewelry sales worldwide. Though overall branded jewelry sales are growing by more than 10 percent a year, growth in branded high-jewelry is even larger. (Houses from Cartier to Boucheron all reported banner years in 2006 thanks to increased wealth around the world.)

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