By  on January 23, 2006

NEW YORK — It is said that cats have nine lives, and for Hello Kitty, the 32-year-old pop culture icon originally created by Ikuko Shimizu for Japan-based Sanrio Ltd., those lives are becoming increasingly more pampered.

Kimora Lee Simmons last week unveiled a line of limited-edition necklaces, rings, earrings and a watch for the 10-month-old fine jewelry collection Kimora Lee Simmons for Hello Kitty, a partnership between Sanrio and Simmons Jewelry Co., an affiliate of M. Fabrikant & Sons. The six initial pieces each feature an oversized Hello Kitty head crafted from 18-karat white gold and encrusted with diamonds. Accents include onyx eyes, a brushed yellow gold nose and a bow of shiny rose gold and pink diamonds perched at the feline's ear. Prices range from $20,000 to $80,000.

"The new pieces are really pieces I originally designed for myself and wear every day," said Simmons. "They are the KLS special. We never thought we'd sell Hello Kitty at high price points, but we've been getting a great response to more expensive pieces, so we thought we'd give this a try. After all, Hello Kitty is a real diamond diva."

Neiman Marcus, which has exclusively distributed the fine jewelry line since April in the U.S., will choose select doors, such as its Beverly Hills unit, for the new pieces starting Valentine's Day. Neiman's at the same time will roll out nationwide the spring collection, including a selection of watches that have pink sapphires or blue topazes around the bezel's circumference and in a flower at the 12 o'clock position, and enamel and diamond charms featuring a range of Hello Kitty's guises, such as Geisha Kitty, Rocker Kitty or Yoga Kitty, that are created to be easily added to or removed from a charm bracelet or necklace. The watches retail from $1,000 to $2,000, and charms start at $800.

Scott H. Rauch, president of Simmons Jewelry, which also designs the Simmons Jewelry men's line and Baby Phat watches, said the response to Hello Kitty fine jewelry has been a big surprise.

"The Hello Kitty fine jewelry customer generally falls into one of two categories," Rauch said. "The first is the woman who grew up with Hello Kitty and is now 30 to 50 years old. She buys it for herself, her daughter or her friends. There is also a Hello Kitty collector who carefully monitors the collection for new items each season. With the momentum the fine jewelry is currently experiencing, this could be a $50 million business in five years."Simmons said that, when Sanrio first approached her about working on a Hello Kitty line, the company left it up to her to decide the category.

"I wanted my main priority to be about broadening Hello Kitty's horizons," said Simmons. "I knew a lot of my friends, like Tyra Banks, Janet Jackson, Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton, were huge fans of Hello Kitty, and some were already wearing rhinestone pieces. However, when my husband [Russell Simmons] first suggested I create fine jewelry, I thought he was crazy. Then I realized perhaps it could work. Grown-up women want to feel whimsical at times."

Simmons, who also designs women's apparel for Baby Phat, which incorporates a sleek cat logo, said she sees the two kitties as different, but still a part of who she is.

"The Baby Phat cat is a little slinkier and very sexy, while the Hello Kitty cat is fun, flirty and feminine," said Simmons. "Those are all qualities that I admire."

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