NEW YORK — De Beers’ new 2,158-square-foot flagship at 716 Madison Avenue between 63rd and 64th Streets here, on the first two floors of a town house, represents the company’s unique approach, which involves “solely and purely selling only diamonds,” said Francois Delage, chief executive officer of De Beers.
The retailer wants to demystify diamonds while keeping their transcendent qualities intact. It’s a delicate dance, but one De Beers believes it can achieve with the new flagship. The Madison Avenue store replaces De Beers’ flagship on Fifth Avenue, which it opened in 2005.
“Fifth Avenue became less and less a reflection of the brand,” Delage said. “Madison is more in line with what we want to offer our customer and what our customer wants.”
In Delage’s view, Fifth Avenue has become more about mass premium brands — even though it is home to Tiffany, Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels, H. Stern and the recently redone Cartier flagship. “We’ll have less traffic on Madison Avenue but more qualified traffic. Our conversion rate will be higher.”
The retailer left no stone unturned in its search for a flagship. “Every facet had to count,” Delage said, adding that he wanted a location on the block of Madison Avenue where the store is located and waited 18 months to get it. “It had to be on the west side of the street. We believe the west side of Madison Avenue has a better energy,” he said. “Barneys is there. There’s more exposure from the sun, which lifts you up.”
Delage said clients are looking for a more intimate experience, hence the consultation room on the main floor. “Acquiring a piece of diamond jewelry is an emotional experience,” he added. “This has salons for more intimate experiences.”
A display of diamond solitaires in the front room is followed by high jewelry. On the wall are photos of exceptional diamonds once owned by De Beers. The Millennium Star has 205.05 carats and “is with a very happy client in Europe,” Delage said. The Oppenheimer blue diamond, which was sold a few months ago, weighs 14.62 carats and is owned by an Asian client. The 273-carat Centenary diamond is one of De Beers’ legendary diamonds. Meanwhile, a 55-carat yellow diamond was sold to a client in Taiwan.
De Beers specializes in beautiful white diamonds in all hues. “The marvelous beauty of the diamond universe includes fancy colored diamonds,” Delage said. “The colors go from white D to Z. Other houses will say that there’s no beauty beyond the F designation. This is not our view.”
For example, an 8-carat oval U color diamond has a warm yellow tint. Delage said De Beers seeks perfection in each diamond. Diamonds lower in the alphabet of colors are priced lower than the same grade of D-colored diamond. The 8-carat oval U color ring is $239,500, while a D color diamond of that size would be priced much higher.
“Fancy colored diamonds have a wide and diverse universe,” Delage said, pointing out a 50-carat fancy yellow diamond ring for $5.9 million, and a blue emerald-cut diamond ring, $16 million. There’s also a striking necklace made with 119.72-carats of yellow diamonds, $1.5 million.
Talisman, a collection launched in 2005, mixes rough diamonds with polished ones for highly tactile pieces. The jewelry is made using a technique whereby artisans push the metal over the stones. A 3.03-carat Talisman medallion necklace is $16,000.
In a subsequent case, a “Wow” display features a rough 109-carat Type IIA diamond, which customers are encouraged to touch. “There’s practically no nitrogen in the stone,” Delage said, explaining its clarity. “It has few inclusions in the skin. It will be polished and eventually mounted.”
Bespoke is becoming increasingly important for De Beers. Clients first select a stone and then are shown 3-D images and mounts.
“It’s becoming a significant part of the business,” Delage said. “In this day and age, the client is looking for something made for them.”
But Delage wants customers to know that De Beers does not sell only high jewelry. “We wanted to have jewelry priced like a pair of those shoes with the red soles,” he said, referring to Christian Louboutin. “Around $800. The You & Me Talisman yellow gold bands contain a single diamond in the rough for $950 and $1,500.”
Enchanted Lotus, a collection inspired on the flower, which is a symbol of eternity and purity, features a brand with the lotus motif in white gold with round brilliant diamonds and fancy-colored diamonds in the center, $5,500. The range has been updated with a black open work ceramic band and diamonds, or white ceramic band with pink gold and diamonds, $4,150 each.
“We’re using natural materials in the store because our DNA is the natural beauty of the diamond,” Delage said.
Environmentally friendly wood from sustainably managed forests was used for the parquet floors. Walls in the high jewelry ground floor salon are covered with a silver silk fabric shot with metallic threads. An artisan manipulated the fabric to give it texture. Elsewhere, plaster walls were finished by artisans with sponges to create nuances.
On the second floor is the range of engagement rings, shown by setting, stone shape and stone size. Delage — who advises “never choose a diamond on paper but with your eye — said the De Beers Iris technology helps consumers make educated decisions. “We expose a diamond to a source of light to show how the facets illuminate,” he said, adding that the facets will only light up if they are perfectly aligned.
“We’re introducing the experience where a customer can touch and feel rough diamonds,” Delage said, pulling from his pocket a small paper parcel containing eight rough diamonds, some untreated but polished in different shades of white, yellow, brown. “We want to give you an understanding of what a rough diamond is,” he said. “A diamond is fire, life and brilliance.”