By and  on August 14, 2006

Graff AND Audemars Piguet are bringing their fine touch to Florida's Bal Harbour Shops.

The 50-year-old, London-based diamond jewelry firm and the 131-year-old Swiss watch brand are both opening up retail spaces in the luxurious shopping mall that is already home to Tourneau, Piaget, Cartier, Chopard, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari, Harry Winston, Graff, Chanel Joaillerie and David Yurman.

Graff, known for its large yellow and white diamonds and high-quality rubies, emeralds and sapphires, opens its Bal Harbour boutique on Tuesday. It wll be the fifth U.S. store for the brand.

"We've been opening one store per year, which is unheard of for a high jewelry company," said Henri Barguirdjian, president and chief executive officer of Graff in America.

The company also has stores in Las Vegas, Chicago, Palm Beach, Fla., and Manhattan. Plans for a 2,500-square-foot store in Beverly Hills in October have been pushed to 2008.

The 1,000-square-foot Bal Harbour store follows the theme of all other Graff shops, with neoclassical styling featuring bespoke furnishings, frescoed ceilings and mahogany wall vitrines.

"The Bal Harbour mall is one of the most successful malls per square foot in America," Barguirdjian added. "Miami is going through a fabulous change these days."

The average price point within a Graff store is $200,000 and the vertically integrated firm mines and cuts its diamonds in Johannesburg.

Also on Tuesday, the company will unveil its 400-square-foot in-store shop at Saks Fifth Avenue's Manhattan flagship, where it has had a small selling area since 2003.

"Graff offers some of the finest diamonds in the world and represents an important luxury brand within the jewelry world at Saks Fifth Avenue," Jennifer deWinter, senior vice president of Saks, said in a statement. The retailer carries Graff jewelry in eight of its doors.

"Florida is a big market for us," said François-Henry Bennahmias, president of Audemars Piguet North America. "First of all, Audemars Piguet has always been a strong brand with South Americans and this area is a gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean. Also, as opposed to say, Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, here you will get people who walk into the store and are interested in buying. It delivers the real business."The new Audemars store, which had a soft opening last month and will celebrate a grand opening toward the end of the year, is the firm's second U.S. store, following the opening of a 1,600-square-foot retail space in 2003 at 40 East 57th Street in Manhattan. The new store, at 875 square feet, has already seen an increase in traffic compared with its New York sibling. Bennahmias said on average 30 to 40 people a day enter the store on Fifth Avenue, while the Bal Harbour store is welcoming 60 to 70 visitors.

"The luxurious ambience of the environment makes people want to buy," said Bennahmias, adding the store's neighbors include Giuseppe Zanotti, Tod's and Judith Ripka. "We are putting a big effort toward developing the women's collection, so having stores that women would visit nearby is a great opportunity for us."

Audemars based the design of the new space on the boutique that it recently opened on Milan's Via Montenapoleone. It includes matte white oak floors, showcases built from sapphire glass and wenge wood, a wenge wood shelving unit and a lounge area.

"We wanted a store that is luxurious, but also warm and welcoming," said Bennahmias, adding that Audemars is updating its New York location with this direction, as well.

Audemars — which also retails through Westime in Los Angeles, East Coast Jewelry in South Florida, Swiss Fine Timing in Chicago and Cellini in New York — reached sales of $60 million last year in the U.S., a $54 million increase from when it first started pursuing business in the U.S. in 1999. Bennahmias said the firm's goal is to hit the $100 million mark in three to four years.

Bennahmias said Audemars' target for opening its next store is 2008 in Las Vegas. It is also in negotiations with a boutique hotel chain to form a partnership that may include opening shops in its new locations.

"We still want to keep the brand very exclusive," said Bennahmias. "Although we hit that sales figure last year, we didn't sell a lot of watches. In fact, fewer than 3,000 watches were sold in this country during that period. It's because the watches that are selling have high average price points."Audemars' watches begin retailing at $10,000. In addition to its two stores in New York, it has 10 retail locations worldwide.

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