NEW YORK — Monique Lhuillier is launching fine jewelry, beginning with engagement rings and wedding bands, in a licensing deal with Blue Nile, the Seattle-based online jeweler.

This story first appeared in the September 4, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The collection, called Monique Lhuillier Fine Jewelry, will be available exclusively at Blue Nile in October. It marks a milestone for both Lhuillier, who launched her bridal business in 1996, followed by ready-to-wear in 2002, and Blue Nile, for which this is the company’s first designer-branded partnership.

“It’s a natural progression,” said Lhuillier, who has kicked her business into expansion mode recently, introducing shoes for spring, with a Madison Avenue store opening this month. “We reflected on how we wanted to grow our business and our company. It just took us a while to find the right jewelry partner.”

Lhuillier designed 40-plus setting stockkeeping units, which reflect her signature lacework via engraving and micro pavé details. Prices range from $2,500 to $5,000. Many of the rings are set with a pink sapphire, hidden in most cases so only the wearer knows it’s there. Stones are sold separately and range in price from a few thousand dollars up to $1 million, but cuts and sizes are suggested based on the chosen setting. “Usually the bride gets her dress after the engagement ring,” said Lhuillier. “With the rings, we’re getting in front of the bride earlier in the process.”

She noted that today a third of brides steer their fiancé toward the ring of their choice, a practice that has evolved since Lhuillier married her husband and business partner, Tom Bugbee, 18 years ago. “I have a very classic emerald cut stone with four prongs and two triangles on each side,” she said of her own engagement ring. “I was a very young bride and didn’t have much say. Now the trend is women are getting married when they’re older. She knows what she wants and she’s aware of my brand.”

Blue Nile launched in 1999 under the direction of founder Mark Vadon. Harvey Kanter, who took over as chief executive officer in March, called the company “the biggest online jewelry retailer in the world,” doing business in 48 countries with 2012 sales projected at $384 million to $417 million. Engagement and bridal jewelry represents between 65 and 75 percent of the business. As part of Kanter’s new strategy, the company will be moving into fashion jewelry for 2013, including a collection by Lhuillier that extends beyond bridal. Partnering with Lhuillier is the first step in that direction.

“Monique is one of the hottest bridal designers out there,” said Kanter. “So we went out and looked for a partnership and she made a lot of sense. It’s all part of our continued pursuit to continue to take advantage of and create an interactive experience with the woman who comes to our site but doesn’t find the level of fashion she’s looking for.”