LONDON — De Beers LV is ready to storm the U.S. jewelry market.
The diamond jewelry joint venture between the South African trading company and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton will make its long-awaited U.S. debut in June, with a 6,000-square-foot store on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan. In October, it will open a similar unit on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
Over the next five years, the company plans to roll out 20 more stores in the U.S., measuring 2,000 to 2,500 square feet, in cities including Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco and Palm Beach, Fla. The company is also mulling wholesale distribution through department stores and independent retailers.
By 2010, De Beers LV expects the U.S. to be its largest market, generating at least 40 percent of sales.
“The U.S. is clearly our main priority and we have very strong ambitions there,” Guy Leymarie, chief executive officer of De Beers LV, said in an interview, his first since joining the company in March 2004.
“The market makes up 57 percent of the world’s diamond jewelry consumption and we think we can convince those customers to buy De Beers LV,” Leymarie said over a cup of espresso in his spare, functional office next door to the De Beers LV store on the corner of Bond Street and Piccadilly here.
De Beers LV has backup: Leymarie said investment on behalf of the joint venture partners has been raised from $400 million to $500 million for the next 10 years.
The company has named Alyce Alston ceo of De Beers LV USA, a division of De Beers LV. Alston was formerly group publisher of W, W Jewelry and Vitals magazines which, like WWD, are owned by Advance Publications Inc. Alston will oversee the U.S. launch of the brand as well as U.S. retail operations.
The company has also named Hamida Belkadi as vice president of sales and marketing for De Beers LV USA. Belkadi, whose responsibilities include product merchandising and retail operations, will work in the New York office and report to Alston. Belkadi was most recently Cartier’s head of marketing for jewelry in the U.S.
Desiree Charles will work alongside Belkadi as U.S. marketing assistant vice president. She has been in the luxury business for the last 10 years, starting in marketing and communication for Veuve Cliquot USA and later spending five years as product manager for jewelry at Cartier Inc.
Joan Parker will continue in her role as global communications director for De Beers LV and focus on the U.S. launch of the brand.
While Leymarie, who spent the bulk of his career at Cartier, most recently as ceo, acknowledged that the high-end jewelry market is already crowded with big names, he believes De Beers LV will hold a special place and doesn’t see it as a niche brand.
“It’s very simple: De Beers stands for diamonds,” he said. “It is the diamond expert and we expect De Beers LV to be a destination for diamond jewelry — from the very high-end pieces to the very accessible ones, and we don’t plan to diversify into things like pens or glassware.”
Entry prices at De Beers LV are in the $500 to $700 range for small diamond rings, charms and pendants.
Leymarie added that he considers his competitors to run from Graff and Harry Winston to Tiffany, which has some of the lowest entry-level prices in the high-end jewelry business.
“We don’t consider Cartier or Bulgari our competitors because they’re not diamond specialists — and they use a lot of colored stones,” he said.
Both U.S. store launches will be boosted by a global ad campaign that will break in July, De Beers LV’s second campaign since the brand launched in 2002. The ads were shot in color by the British photographer Miles Aldrige and will run in major fashion titles worldwide.
The company also plans to launch two lines later this year: Radiance, which will be in stores in mid-May, and Talisman for Happiness, which will debut in the U.S. in June.
Leymarie said the focus overall is on the cut and shape of the stones themselves, so there’s been a move away from the diamond pavé of days past toward larger stones and shapes. De Beers LV wants to emphasize as much as possible the cut and sparkle of its diamonds.
Radiance features round and oval cut diamonds with a tension setting — no prongs — in order to magnify the diamonds’ brilliance and cutting techniques.
“It’s inspired by the style of the Renaissance, and is a blend of the classic and modern,” he said.
Talisman for Happiness offers primitive shapes and the themes revolve more around innocence and nature, he added.
Last month, De Beers LV launched its Fancy Games collection, which includes princess-cut diamonds arranged in a latticework design for multirow necklaces, bracelet cuffs and rings. There are also simple, Art Deco-inspired chandelier earrings and pendants, and diamond pins in the shape of teddy bears, rabbits and cats.
Fancy Games is the first collection under the aegis of Raphaele Canot, who joined De Beers LV last summer as art director. Canot’s position is new, and she is responsible for brand image and managing the creative team. She was formerly jewelry creative director at Cartier.
All the collections will be available in the U.S. stores, which Leymarie said will have a different feel from De Beers LV’s current units in London and Tokyo. For a start, the lighting is more yellow, and not as cool, and each merchandise area — bridal, high-end, self-purchase — will have its own identity.
“They will be warmer and more welcoming,” said Leymarie. “And customers will walk into the store and know what’s around each corner.”
Last month, De Beers LV opened a shop-in-shop in Daimaru in Osaka, Japan, and next up is a small store at the Royal Exchange in the City of London. There are also plans in the works to open units in Paris and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The company is also substantially beefing up its Web site, although there are no plans to sell from it.
“It’s more about developing a direct relationship with our customers,” he said. “They’ll have the opportunity to chat about diamond engagement rings, for example, and we’ll have the opportunity to explain why De Beers LV diamonds are different from others.”
Leymarie said working at De Beers LV is worlds away from Cartier.
“At Cartier, when you launch a new line it cannot fail,” he said. “The brand always carries the project. There’s very little risk involved. This, instead, is about risk management.”
Leymarie believes the launch of De Beers LV is “not such an obvious leap from diamond leader to diamond jeweler, and no one needs a new brand on the market, but it’s all a challenge, and we’re very confident that we’ll be successful.”